Actor Malcolm McDowell has said the film he starred in over 44 years ago -“A Clockwork Orange” – is becoming a reality in today’s world.
The film by Stanley Kubrick depicts “a world in which all older people stayed indoors with their televisions on,” McDowell says. “And that’s basically what happened“.
“It’s just the young people out there doing drugs — and he foretold all this before the drug explosion.”
The film, like the book, depicts a dystopian future filled with “ultra-violence,” gangs of “droogs” and depravity at every turn. The four main characters — including McDowell’s lead character Alex — spend their free time in a bar where they drink drug-laced milk in preparation for an evening filled with violence, mayhem and even rape.
The book was released in 1962 and shooting for the film began in 1969, “so this is really before huge gang violence and drugs happened,” McDowell said.
With some of the most iconic scenes set behind bars, the prison system looms large in the world of “A Clockwork Orange” — much like in modern America.
“I don’t see any aversion therapy thank god, but it’s amazing how there’s so many people incarcerated in America,” McDowell said. “We are so backward in our thinking, we are so medieval.”
Though “A Clockwork Orange” imagined an entire future world, the inspiration for it was based on a chance encounter at a Moscow coffee shop — which Burgess later recounted for McDowell.
“He told me it came to him while he was in Moscow on an exchange visit. He was sitting in a coffee bar on a warm night.” He was sitting near the window with a group of Russian friends when a menacing group of “Muscovite thugs” creepily pressed their faces against the window. That triggered the idea for the book, as well as for the creation of Nadsat, the strange English/Russian/Yiddish slang language used by the youth of “A Clockwork Orange.”
Although Kubrick brought that world to the big screen in his visually stunning retelling of the novel, McDowell says Burgess doesn’t get enough credit.
“Nobody comments about Anthony Burgess anymore but he is the real genius here,” he said.
Regardless of which genius deserves the most credit, the film didn’t garner rave reviews.
Acclaimed movie star critic, Roger Ebert, panned it with a two-star review at the time of its release. When asked about Ebert’s take on the film, McDowell sighed and murmured, “Dear Roger,” in his charming British accent.
“Just shows you how wrong the critics are,” he added.
Another critic who wasn’t a big fan was McDowell’s mother.
“I don’t think my mother ever saw the film but I do know that I made another film a couple of years later and my mother said, ‘I don’t know why you don’t play more nice parts. Those other films that you do are so awful.’”
Good ol’ mom’s opinion notwithstanding, McDowell said he knew he’d made a good movie when “A Clockwork Orange” was completed — but had no idea how transcendent it would become. It became so popular, in fact, that it annoyingly overshadowed all his other roles.
“I’d make a new movie and they’d only want to talk about ‘Clockwork Orange’ which was a little frustrating,” he said.
For 44 years now, he’s faced the same litany of questions about the film. The most persistent and annoying of those repeat questions, he said, is what Kubrick was like.
“Well, do we have a year?” he quipped.
“He was extraordinary man… a lot of fun to be with.”
He also had a distinct sense of humor that informed his work.
“As a person he had an extremely black sense of humor which comes out in the film,” McDowell said. “It wasn’t supposed to be a humorous film at all but both my and his sense of humor was very dark.
“The other time that happened was in (‘Dr. Strangelove’) with Peter Sellers. I don’t think that was supposed to be a comedy when they first started out.”
Because of his work on films like “A Clockwork Orange” and “Caligula,” McDowell became best known for his depraved characters in dark movies — but today he’s in comedy.
“I’m doing a show for Amazon called ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ which I’m very proud of — it just won a Golden Globe for best comedy,” he said.
The show follows a New York orchestra’s struggles to adapt to a new director, and the show’s ad-line is “Sex, Drugs and Classical Music.”
“That was the exact ad-line for ‘A Clockwork Orange’ when it came out,” McDowell said. “Somebody pointed this out to me and I had forgotten and I just went, ‘Oh my god.’”
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