In early 1968, Hollywood producer Si Litvinoff was trying to find a director for Terry Southern’s screenplay adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novella, A Clockwork Orange. He sent the script around to the likes of John Boorman, Roman Polanski, Tinto Brass, Ken Russell, Nicolas Roeg and John Schlesinger with cover letters suggesting that The Beatles were interested in doing the soundtrack and that Mick Jagger or David Hemmings would be good for the lead Droog “Alex,” the role that went to Malcolm McDowell in Stanley Kubrick’s film.
At one point Jagger actually owned the rights to the Burgess novella—he bought them for about $500 at time when Anthony Burgess was apparently flat broke—and then later sold them at a nice profit to Litvinoff.
When the news reached the Stones camp that Hemmings was the favorite for the role, not Mick, Marianne Faithfull, all of The Beatles, Candy director Christian Marquand, artist Peter Blake and several others sent a note to Terry Southern:
DEAR MR SOUTHERN, WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, DO HEREBY PROTEST WITH EXTREME VEHEMENCE AS WELL AS SHATTERED ILLUSIONS (IN YOU) THE PREFERENCE OF DAVID HEMMINGS ABOVE ****** MICK JAGGER ****** IN THE ROLE OF ALEX IN ‘THE CLOCKWORK ORANGE’...
Death often inspires the most remarkable hyperbole. At the memorial service for Anthony Burgess in 1994, novelist William Boyd eulogized the author of A Clockwork Orange as “a genius,” “a prodigy, a daunting and awesome one,” who “would compose a string quartet in the ten minutes he allowed himself between finishing a novel and writing a monograph on James Joyce,” whose “polymorphous abilities are genuinely amazing.”
High praise indeed. Yet, Mr. Boyd wasn’t finished, Mr. Burgess, he said, was “one of our great comic novelists.” Boyd gave, by way of example, that off-used line from one of the Enderby novels. This was the line with which Burgess proved (allegedly for a bet) he could write a sentence where the word “onions” appears three times.
‘Then—instead of expensive mouthwash—he had breathed on Enderby—bafflingly—(for no banquet would serve, because of the redolence of onions, onions) onions.’
Hardly a knee-slapper, rather the kind of literary snobbishness that epitomizes Burgess, and by association Mr. Boyd.
Burgess was low comedy. He was for the cheap fart jokes, like Dudley Moore when competing against the loquacious comic invention of Peter Cook on Derek and Clive, or like the trademark raspberry (“Bronx Cheer”) used by Goon Harry Secombe when confronted with the manic genius of Spike Milligan.
Burgess’s idea of comedy was to have a dog called the n-word (The Doctor is Sick), or a “hero” poet (Enderby) writing his verse (blast) on the toilet; or where Shakespeare is cuckolded by his brother and catches the clap from his “Dark Lady” (Nothing Like the Sun)
Though I like Burgess, I would hardly call his work comic. Too often his books present an author more interested in flashing his learnedness to an audience, rather than his imagination—which is why his books lack emotional resonance, and his characters rarely have an interior life.
Burgess always wanted to be seen as smarter than everyone—when readers pointed out to the master the mistakes in his magnum opus Earthly Powers, Burgess claimed he had deliberately included these errors to see who would discover them, which is like ye olde Thelwell cartoon of the riding instructor who when thrown by his horse, asked his pupils, “Which one of you spotted my deliberate mistake?”
Perhaps aware of this lack, Burgess was usually quick to take offense—watch any interview and he types himself as the victim, the Catholic in a oppressive-Protestant society, a northerner in a London-centric world, a student from a red-brick university rather than the hallowed groves of Cambridge or Oxford. Burgess is Jimmy Porter, full of petty grievances against the world. Which all makes for an interesting character, and author, but not a great one.
Burgess’s best known novel is A Clockwork Orange, which became an international success once it had been filmed by Stanley Kubrick. Burgess came to hate it and told Playboy in 1971, of all his books it was the one he liked least. But without A Clockwork Orange would anyone have taken an interest in Burgess?
The secret code contained in Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, after the jump…
The iconic phallic “Rocking Machine,” as seen in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, has been reproduced by Medicom Toy Life Entertainment for $1,836.05 and is for sale on eBay. It’s three-feet long and little over a foot wide.
Everyone needs a penis-shaped murder weapon, right me droogy buddies?
Malcolm McDowell contemplates how much it costs for him to sit on the toilet when making a movie, in this interview with Denis Tuohy from 1976.
The desk-to-desk style of this interview makes Mr. McDowell look like he is visiting his bank manager for a loan. Indeed, money prays on McDowell’s mind, as he reveals his next film Caligula was already budgeted at $7million, which is a lot of weight to have “riding on his neck.” (It ended-up costing $22m.)
McDowell is one of the finest actors in the world, who has made more than a handful of cinema’s greatest and most important films. But overall, he seems to have been often let down by his choice of roles. He talks positively about his intuition when deciding whether a script is worth doing, just by reading its first few pages. Yet, this hardly explains why he made Jezebel’s Kiss or Where Truth Lies, Disturbed or some of the other straight-to-video fodder he has appeared in since 1990.
That said, it’s probably not McDowell’s fault, rather the terrifying lack of intelligence and imagination that runs Hollywood film studios. Personally, I’d watch McDowell in anything, even The Mentalist (where, let’s be clear, his character Bret Stiles would piss on Patrick Jane from a great height, as Jane was caught by the Police, while millionaire Stiles wasn’t). Compare McDowell’s American TV work with his British TV performances: he may thrill in CSI: Miami, but he is brilliant in the BBC’s Our Friends in the North.
For years, McDowell has tried to make Monster Butler, the true story of infamous killer butler, Archibald Hall. As of November this year, this film was once again put on hold (canceled) due to lack of funds. I sincerely hope that in 2013, the year of McDowell’s 70th birthday, some producer out there has the intelligence to finance what is sure to be one of McDowell’st greater films.
Anthony Burgess chose Beethoven as the favored composer for his character Alex in A Clockwork Orange, because dear olde Ludwig van was a rebel, a romantic, a revolutionary who struggled all of his life against poverty, injustice and ill health to produce genius art.
His struggles took many forms, but his greatest one was physical. When Ludwig van Beethoven realized he was going deaf he contemplated suicide. His deafness had started when he was twenty-six with severe tinnitus - a constant ringing in his ears. This was followed by gradual and then profound hearing loss.
By 1802, the severity of his deafness had caused him great frustration and unhappiness. He therefore removed himself from society to a peaceful house in the countryside of Heiligenstadt, then an independent municipality, now the 19th district of Vienna. It was here, between April and October 1802, that Beethoven wrote a final letter to his brothers Carl and Johann, in which he explained his ‘wretched existence’ and his terrible sense of isolation and despair.
I can understand this. I have tinnitus and hearing impairment, which means I will eventually go deaf. It’s of little consequence when compared to Beethoven’s suffering, or indeed my own Grandfather’s, who spent his final years not only deaf but blind. Yet, I like to think it gives me a small understanding of the isolation and frustration deafness can bring.
Beethoven was only twenty-nine when he faced this severe crisis. His deafness was an attack on his very being, his very existence, greatly impeding his ability to create. Unable to hear the notes he played, he would rest his head on the piano so he could feel their vibration.
After writing his testament, Beethoven decided against suicide, and hid the letter amongst his papers, where it was discovered after his death in 1827. instead of death, Beethoven chose to accept his fate bravely, and focus on his Art, and went on to compose some of his greatest work.
Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament is a deeply moving and highly personal letter, that is also a powerful reminder of the human will to succeed - no matter the obstacles or consequences.
For my brothers Carl and [Johann] Beethoven
‘O ye men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do ye wrong me, you do not know the secret causes of my seeming, from childhood my heart and mind were disposed to the gentle feelings of good will, I was even ever eager to accomplish great deeds, but reflect now that for six years I have been a hopeless case, aggravated by senseless physicians, cheated year after year in the hope of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible), born with an ardent and lively temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was compelled early to isolate myself, to live in loneliness, when I at times tried to forget all this, O how harshly was I repulsed by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing, and yet it was impossible for me to say to men speak louder, shout, for I am deaf.
‘Ah how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in highest perfection, a perfection such as few surely in my profession enjoy or have enjoyed - O I cannot do it, therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would gladly mingle with you, my misfortune is doubly painful because it must lead to my being misunderstood, for me there can be no recreations in society of my fellows, refined intercourse, mutual exchange of thought, only just as little as the greatest needs command may I mix with society. I must live like an exile, if I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, a fear that I may be subjected to the danger of letting my condition be observed - thus it has been during the past year which I spent in the country, commanded by my intelligent physician to spare my hearing as much as possible, in this almost meeting my natural disposition, although I sometimes ran counter to it yielding to my inclination for society, but what a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life - only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence - truly wretched, an excitable body which a sudden change can throw from the best into the worst state - Patience - it is said that I must now choose for my guide, I have done so, I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it please the inexorable parcae to bread the thread, perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not, I am prepared. Forced already in my 28th year to become a philosopher, O it is not easy, less easy for the artist than for anyone else - Divine One thou lookest into my inmost soul, thou knowest it, thou knowest that love of man and desire to do good live therein.
‘O men, when some day you read these words, reflect that ye did me wrong and let the unfortunate one comfort himself and find one of his kind who despite all obstacles of nature yet did all that was in his power to be accepted among worthy artists and men. You my brothers Carl and [Johann] as soon as I am dead if Dr. Schmid is still alive ask him in my name to describe my malady and attach this document to the history of my illness so that so far as possible at least the world may become reconciled with me after my death.
‘At the same time I declare you two to be the heirs to my small fortune (if so it can be called), divide it fairly, bear with and help each other, what injury you have done me you know was long ago forgiven. to you brother Carl I give special thanks for the attachment you have displayed towards me of late. It is my wish that your lives be better and freer from care than I have had, recommend virtue to your children, it alone can give happiness, not money, I speak from experience, it was virtue that upheld me in misery, to it next to my art I owe the fact that I did not end my life with suicide.
‘Farewell and love each other - I thank all my friends, particularly Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmid - I desire that the instruments from Prince L. be preserved by one of you but let no quarrel result from this, so soon as they can serve you better purpose sell them, how glad will I be if I can still be helpful to you in my grave - with joy I hasten towards death - if it comes before I shall have had an opportunity to show all my artistic capacities it will still come too early for me despite my hard fate and I shall probably wish it had come later - but even then I am satisfied, will it not free me from my state of endless suffering? Come when thou will I shall meet thee bravely. - Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead, I deserve this of you in having often in life thought of you how to make you happy, be so -
Ludwig van Beethoven
October 6th, 1802
For my brothers Carl and [Johann]
to be read and executed after my death.
Heiligenstadt, October 10, 1802, thus do I take my farewell of thee - and indeed sadly - yes that beloved hope - which I brought with me when I came here to be cured at least in a degree - I must wholly abandon, as the leaves of autumn fall and are withered so hope has been blighted, almost as I came - I go away - even the high courage - which often inspired me in the beautiful days of summer - has disappeared - O Providence - grant me at least but one day of pure joy - it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart - O when - O when, O Divine One - shall I find it again in the temple of nature and of men - Never? no - O that would be too hard.
I guess in an effort to get people to read more, New Zealand online bookseller Whitcoulls came up with this interesting ad campaign which incorporates every word from Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel “A Clockwork Orange” on posters. I wouldn’t mind owning one of these.
Glasgow-based artist Angela Tiara makes these incredible custom order plushies. Here’s her stuffed rendition of Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange. I checked Angela’s Etsy account, and it looks like she’s no longer selling her work there. However, it does appear you can still contact her on Etsy and she’ll make one for you. Her dolls sell for around $50.
Makes the perfect gift for that troubled child in your life. (Now I know what to get for my troubled child’s husband’s birthday.)
This is rather good: An Examination of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, with Malcolm McDowell, looking like a beautiful fallen angel, and Anthony Burgess, looking like a slightly suspect Classics teacher, discussing A Clockwork Orange.
Made a year after the film’s release, this informal discussion avoids much of the controversy surrounding the film, focussing instead on the book’s genesis, its themes, the making of the film and McDowell’s experience of working with Kubrick. All jolly interesting stuff, but a few more probing, difficult questions would have been real horrorshow. That said, it’s an important historical and cultural record, and there’s also a brief section on the film’s music by Wendy Carlos, together with a fine selection of clips, which makes this well worth watching.
After its release in 1971, Stanley Kubrick’s film version of A Clockwork Orange was linked to a series of violent crimes. The first was the murder of a tramp by a 16-year-old youth; the second involved another 16-year-old who, dressed in the film’s distinctive gang uniform, stabbed a younger boy; the third was the brutal and horrific gang rape of a Dutch girl by a group of youths from Lancashire, as they sang “Singin’ in the Rain”.
Sentencing the 16-year-old for assaulting a child, a judge described the attack part of a “horrible trend” prompted by “this wretched film”.
Following death threats and warnings from the police over revenge attacks, Kubrick asked Warner Brothers to pull the film from its UK release.
But banning the film didn’t have the desired effect, for when the film was eventually released in the UK on DVD, it led to another spate of copycat crimes, the most notorious of which, was the murder of a bar manager by a “Clockwork Orange gang”.
Whether movies can make people commit crime, is a moot point, but as director of American Psycho, Mary Herron points out in the documnetary, Still Tickin´: The Return of A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s film is a “dangerous work of art,” one that some have suggested seduce “viewers into its violent world and implicates them in its protagonist’s crimes.”
Produced by Channel 4, Still Tickin´: The Return of A Clockwork Orange examines the controversy over Kubrick’s iconic film, explaining the film’s “demonic level of attention,” and its influence on culture, politics and society, which led to the director’s self-imposed ban.
Looking for the Chrome video posted below, unsurprisingly I was also shown various YouTube clips from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Check out this trippy trailer for the film. Nice. Also, take a gander at the various posters for A Clockwork Orange at Posterati or look on Google images for book covers. I especially like some of the minimalist Eastern European posters and covers you can find out there. What a great project to be thrown if you’re a designer.