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Classic Film Reviews

September 6, 2012
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By Cole Smithey

A Clockwork Orange

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

1971, Rated R, 136 minutes

There’s Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” and then there’s everything else. Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s complex literary satire of crime and punishment is an earth-shattering cinematic experience that elicits an unprecedented visceral response from its audience. Malcolm McDowell plays British thug and sociopath Alex De Large, who wanders around a futuristic, economically ravished Britain where trash fills the streets. Alex lends friendly narration to the audience that he calls “brothers” as he incites violence with a band of delinquent misfits (called “droogs”) at his command.

McDowell’s complex characterization is simultaneously replusive and alluring. His daringly over-the-top performance gives the film its unique thematic hook. Alex gets imprisoned after viciously raping and murdering an upper-class woman in her home with a large plastic phallus. Rather than go to prison our unfortunate anti-hero opts to undergo a torturous rehabilitation therapy (the “Ludovico technique”) involving forced viewings of Nazi war films accompanied by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The proven effects of the treatment lead to Alex’s release into a society where he is repeatedly punished for his past transgressions.

“A Clockwork Orange” proved a crucial touchstone for significant cultural shifts in music and film. ‘70s era filmmakers like Coppola and Scorsese were liberated by Kubrick’s visionary approach to style, form, and subject matter. Many aspects of the punk rock movement are directly attributable to it. The film is intoxicating in its use of atmosphere, music, and irony to excite the viewer’s imagination at a palpitating tempo. Everything comes as surprise for the voyeuristic viewer who is implicated in every criminal act of citizen and state. We are all victim, killer, police, and legislator. Sleep on that, if you can. CV

Jaws

Directed by Steven Spielberg

1975, Rated PG-13, 124 minutes

Spielberg’s opening sequence in “Jaws” pushes the second-act shocker from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” up to the start of a terrifying horror movie that also borrows from Hitchcock’s other masterpiece “The Birds.” A sexy nude woman goes for a midnight swim in the pitch-black ocean off Amity Island, where the most phallic of creatures lurks below. John Williams’ pulsing musical score sends shockwaves of fear deep into the central nervous system of the audience. Suddenly all teetering apprehension erupts into sheer panic as the vulnerable girl is thrashed about in the open sea like a rag doll by an unseen monster of enormous strength and fury. The ferocity of nature must return to attack children before local police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) calls upon the salty-dog shark-hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) and a geeky oceanographer named Matt (Richard Dreyfus) to go after the fish that threatens the livelihood of the resort town.

In 1975 “Jaws” made Steven Spielberg a household name by delivering on an unpredictable primal threat and fear of the unknown. For as many women who refused to take showers after seeing “Psycho,” just as many stayed away from the ocean after seeing “Jaws.” Peter Benchley’s characters are exquisitely fulfilled by Scheider, Shaw, and Dreyfus, who carry out the literary portent of their archetypes to the letter. In the end, the shark is a MacGuffin necessary for the men to bond and test themselves against what they fear most--their own mortality. CV



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