The Hechinger Debacle

A Clockwork Orange has attracted more than its share of controversy, both as book and later as movie. Little wonder then that, when the film was attacked in the New York Times op-ed pages as an example of what the author, Fred Hechinger, called 'the voice of fascism', no less an exigiter of the film than Stanley Kubrick himself joined in the debate. Usually reticent regarding his personal interpretations, Kubrick, in this instance, reveals himself to be a passionate exponent of specific thematic ideas, and the way in which film can be used to exposit them. It all began with a relatively harmless promotional piece; from the January 4, 1972 issue of The New York Times<.....

by Bernard Weinraub
Special to The New York Times

LONDON, Jan. 3 -- Stanley Kubrick grew up on the Grand Concourse and 196th Street in the Bronx, attending Taft High School with some infrequency but eagerly showing up at the Loew's Paradise and R.K.O. Fordham twice a week to view the double features.

"One of the important things about seeing run-of-the-mill Hollywood films eight times a week was that many of them were so bad," the 43-year-old filmmaker said. "Without even beginning to understand what the problems of making films were, I was taken with the impression that I could not do a film any worse than the ones I was seeing. I also felt I could, in fact, do them a lot better."

Few critics and moviegoers would dispute this. As the creator of Paths of Glory, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and now A Clockwork Orange, Mr. Kubrick has firmly placed himself in the highest rank of international filmmakers. Last week the New York Film Critics named A Clockwork Orange the best movie of the year, and Mr. Kubrick was voted best director.

Office at Home

Mr. Kubrick now lives in a sprawling home in Borehamwood, 30 minutes out of London, with his third wife, Christiane, an artist, and their three daughters, together with seven cats and three golden retrievers. The house, enclosed by a brick wall, also contains the director's offices and editing facilities.

"It's very pleasant, very peaceful, very civilized, here," Mr. Kubrick said in an interview. "London is, in the best sense, the way New York must have been in about 1910. I have to live where I make my films and as it has worked out, I have spent most of my time during the last 10 years in London."

Mr. Kubrick discusses his work -- and his career -- with some difficulty. He speaks gently, and unaffectedly, with a New York accent, but remains tense and somewhat distracted.

At a restaraunt near his home, he sat down wearing a heavy wind- breaker, polished off his lunch in 15 minutes, then absently removed the coat. He relaxed slowly and discussed A Clockwork Orange, which was taken from the chilling novel by Anthony Burgess.

"The book was given to me by Terry Southern during one of the very busy periods of the making of 2001," he recalled. "I just put it to one side and forgot about it for a year and a half. Then one day I picked it up and read it. The book had an immediate impact."

>A Merciless Vision

"I was excited by everything about it, the plot, the ideas, the characters and, of course, the language. Added to which, the story was of manageable size in terms of adapting it for films."

The film itself is a merciless vision of the near-future. Roving gangs rape, kill, maim and steal. Citizens live in a vandalized pop art culture, gaudy, icy and filthy. Politicians and the police are vicious. The film's central character, Alex (Malcolm McDowell), is transformed by scientists from an underworld tough to a defenseless model citizen only to be resurrected, at the end, to his savage original state by the "good" forces.

"The story functions, of course, on several levels, political, sociological, philosophical and, what's most important, on a kind of dreamlike psychological-symbolic level," Mr. Kubrick said.

"Alex is a character who by every logical and rational consideration should be completely unsympathetic, and possibly even abhorrent to the audience," he went on. "And yet in the same way that Richard III gradually undermines your disapproval of his evil ways, Alex does the same thing and draws the audience into his own vision of life. This is the phenomenon of the story that produces the most enjoyable and surprising artistic illumination in the minds of an audience."

"I think an audience watching a film or a play is in a state very similar to dreaming, and that the dramatic experience becomes a kind of controlled dream," he said. "But the important point here is that the film communicates on a subconscious level, and the audience responds to the basic shape of the story on a subconscious level, as it responds to a dream."

Man in Natural State

"On this level, Alex symbolizes man in his natural state, the way he would be if society did not impose its 'civilizing' processes upon him.

"What we respond to subconsciously is Alex's guiltless sense of freedom to kill and rape, and to be our savage natural selves, and it is in this glimpse of the true nature of man that the power of the story derives."

As an artist, Mr. Kubrick has a point of view that is undeniably bleak. "One of the most dangerous fallacies which has influenced a great deal of political and philosophical thinking is that man is essentially good, and that it is society which makes him bad," he said. "Rousseau transferred original sin from man to society, and this view has importantly contributed to what I believe has become a crucially incorrect premise on which to base moral and political philosophy.

A film craftsman who associates say is obsessed by his work, Mr. Kubrick rarely goes to parties or takes vacations. (His last one was in 1961 when he completed Lolita). Characteristically, he is now spending days and nights checking prints of A Clockwork Orange, and expects to view about 50 in the next few months as the film is released around the world.

"The laboratory is quite capable of making dreadful mistakes," said the director, who was a Look magazine photographer at 17. "Just the other night I saw Paths of Glory on television, and the lab had printed several reels a word out of synchronization. Printing machines can make the print too dark, too light or the wrong colors. There are many variables involved."

Providing the Right Ideas

Discussing his role as director, Mr. Kubrick said: "In terms of working with actors, a director's job more closely resembles that of a novelist than of a Svengali. One assumes that one hires actors who are great virtuosos. It is too late to start running an acting class in front of the cameras, and essentially what the director must do is to provide the right ideas for the scene, the right adverb, the right adjective.

"The director must always be the arbiter of esthetic taste," he added. "The questions always arise: Is it believable, is it interesting, is it appropriate? Only the director can decide this."

Mr. Kubrick said that film criticism, good or bad, rarely affected him. "No reviewer has ever illuminated any aspect of my work for me," he observed.

The director said that his next film will deal with Napoleon, but that someday he hopes to do a film in New York. "I would like to capture some of the visual impressions I have of the Bronx and Manhattan," he said. "I love the city -- at least I love the city that it used to be."

...but, even as SK waxed rhaspsodic over the charms of Olde New York, the natives had begun cranking up their siege-engines...another interview with Kubrick conducted by Craig McGregor formed the basis for the following article; despite Kubrick's valiant efforts to explain, with all modesty and no small effort at lucidity and reasonableness, his purposes in making the film, McGregor manages to make his article a model of slanderous innuendo (or something close to it, anyway). From The New York Times, Sunday, January 30, 1972, Part II, Page 1...

by Craig McGregor

So what is a nice Jewish boy from The Bronx like Stanley Kubrick doing making bizarre films like A Clockwork Orange? Well, says Stanley, everybody starts off being a nice boy from somewhere. He smiles. He has a good sense of humor. He is eating halibut in a restaurant, he is wearing his habitual drab olive flak jacket, and with his brooding, bearded face he looks not unlike the Napoleon he is going to make his next movie about. He doesn't look like a genius, no apocalyptic lumina haloes his head, and with his soft New York accent he could almost still be that mythical nice boy from The Bronx.

But by the time you're 43, and Movie Director of the Year, and a Cult Figure as well, you change. You live in a big manor house with a high wall around it, and you drive a Mercedes, and communicate through a radio-telephone, and what you do see of the real world you often don't like; and so you end up, years later, making a movie like A Clockwork Orange: a macabre, simplistic, chillingly pessimistic film whose main themes are rape, violence, sexual sadism, brutality, and the eternal savagery of man.

"Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage," says Kubrick, reaching for the iced water. "He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved - that about sums it up. I'm interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it's a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure."


Like what? "Well, many aspects of liberal mythology are coming to grief now -- but I don't want to give any examples or I'm going to sound like William Buckley...."

Kubrick's vision of society is just as bleak -- it can make man even worse than he naturally is. "The idea that social restraints are all bad is based on a utopian and unrealistic vision of man," he says. "But in this movie you have an example of social institutions gone a bit berserk. Obviously social institutions faced with the law-and-order problem might choose to become grotesquely oppressive. The movie poses two extremes: it shows Alex in his precivilized state, and society committing a worse evil in attempting to cure him."

Though A Clockwork Orange is ostensibly about the future, Kubrick thinks it is of immediate relevance to cities in the United States. "New York City, for example, is the sort of place where people feel very unsafe. Nearly everyone seems to know someone who's been mugged. All you have to do is add in that a little economic disappointment, and the increasingly trendy view that politics are a waste of time and problems have to be solved instantly, and I could see very serious social unrest in the United States which would probably be resolved by a very authoritarian government.

"And then you could only hope you would have a benevolent despot -- rather than a Stalin of the Right."


So Kubrick's kept away. He's been living in England for 10 years now. He hasn't been back to New York for four years, even to fly through it -- though he keeps talking to "refugees." About the closest he ever gets is San Diego, where his parents live; he sees them a couple of times a year. Has he ever thought of going back? Kubrick shrugs the idea off. If he did, it wouldn't be to New York City -- "I guess one could always live in, heaven forbid, Connecticut or Long Island!"

In A Clockwork Orange, then, Kubrick feels he is satirizing both Man and Society. The trouble is, for most of the film, it's impossible to tell from what standpoint the satire is being made; Kubrick has deliberately changed Anthony Burgess's novel to make all the victims of Alex's aggression even more detestable than Alex himself. Such values as appear to exist are shifting, ambiguous, perverse: satire is a moral act, but Kubrick's film ends by being glitteringly amoral.

The closest it gets to a point of view is the prison chaplain's thunderous proclamation of the need for choice, which has the weight of Kubrick's own deeply held belief behind it: "It's the only non- satirical view in the film, I mean he's right!" says Kubrick. But the film's ending which also celebrates free will, is "obviously satirical -- you couldn't take it seriously." We (and Alex) are back to where we started.


Maybe one of the problems is that all the people in A Clockwork Orange, aggressors and victims alike are merely caricatures, cardboard targets for Kubrick's satire; even when Alex and his "droogs" remain clockwork cutouts with no history, no character, nothing to relate them to the society which nurtured them. We learn nothing from them: no insight into the way man's violence may be created, triggered or changed by the world he lives in, not even anything about the nature of violence itself. In his last three films Kubrick has portrayed hardly a single normal relationship between people. HAL, the computer in 2001, is probably the closest he has come to creating a human character.

Yet Kubrick maintains he doesn't feel "isolated" from people. "I have a wife, three children, three dogs, seven cats. I'm not a Franz Kafka, sitting alone and suffering." In fact, he says he would like to make a movie, sometime, about contemporary life -- if only he could find the right story. "A great story is a kind of miracle," he says. "I've never written a story myself, which is probably why I have so much respect for it. I started out, before I became a film director, always thinking, you know, if I couldn't play on the Yankees I'd like to be a novelist. The people I first admired were not film directors but novelists. Like Conrad."

As for the critics -- "I find a lot of critics misunderstand my films; probably everybody's films. Very few of them spend enough time thinking about them. They look at the film once, they don't really remember what they saw, and they write the review in an hour. I mean, one spent more time on a book report in school. I'm very pleased with A Clockwork Orange. I think it's the most skillful movie I've made. I can see almost nothing wrong with it."

Given his despairing view of man and society, it's hardly surprising that Kubrick has turned away from the contemporary world. He immerses himself in his work. His last three movies have been set in the future, his next will be set in the past. And in recent years he has moved into his own private form of transcendentalism.


"2001 would give a little insight into my metaphysical interests," he explains. "I'd be very surprised if the universe wasn't full of an intelligence of an order that to us would seem God-like. I find it very exciting to have a semi-logical belief that there's a great deal to the universe we don't understand, and that there is an intelligence of an incredible magnitude outside the earth. It's something I've become more and more interested in. I find it a very exciting and satisfying hope."


"Well, I mean, one would hate to think that this was it."

How did Kubrick come to such a pessimistic view of mankind? "From observation," he replies laconically. "Knowing what has happened in the world, seeing the people around me." He says it has nothing to do with anything that's happened to him personally, nor with his Jewish background. "I mean, it's essentially Christian theology anyway, that view of man."

He's wrong, of course. Kubrick's concept of man as essentially evil is straight Manichean, one of the most perverse yet persistent of Christian heresies, and it's hardly an accident that he should seize upon a novel from the tortuous Catholic conscience of a writer like Burgess: says Kubrick, "I just found I responded emotionally to the book very intensely."

He doesn't believe that a work of art should have as its primary purpose "a political or philosophical policy statement," and Burgess's novel had everything: great story, great ideas, and a main character, Alex, who summarizes what Kubrick thinks natural man is all about. "You identify with Alex because you recognize yourself," he says. "It's for this reason that some people become uncomfortable."

And so, for the first half of the movie, Kubrick throws endless, garishly imagined scenes of sadism, gang rape, torture and terrorism onto the screen; dwelling on each with loving and lascivious detail. To the criticism that this is gratuitous, because it has little intellectual and no satiric point behind it, he has a standard reply: "It's all in the plot." He continues: "Part of the artistic challenge of the character is to present the violence as he sees it, not with the disapproving eye of the moralist but subjectively as Alex experiences it."

Kubrick believes the cinema is a sort of daydreaming, wherein we can enact fantasies which our conscious mind normally represses. But for some reason or other he doesn't believe he's doing that in A Clockwork Orange, neither for himself (though he admits he is fascinated by violence) nor for those who might like a bit of the old vicarious rape, torture and ultraviolence in superscreen glory-color.

"That wasn't my motivation. I don't think it has that effect."

Yet surely the violence and sexual sadism was one of the reasons Burgess's novel appealed to him? Kubrick is plainly ambivalent about that. "Anyway, I don't think it's socially harmful. I don't think any work of art can be," he concludes. "Unfortunately, I don't think it can be socially constructive either."

But don't works of art affect people at all? "They affect us when they illuminate something we already feel, they don't change us. It's not the same thing." Art doesn't influence us? "I certainly wouldn't have said my life has been influenced by any work of art."

So what does that leave Stanley Kubrick doing?

Making entertainments, I guess. And, come to think of it, that's all A Clockwork Orange is: a marvelously executed, sensationalist, confused and finally corrupt piece of pop trivia, signifying nothing. The old horrorshow (Burgesspeak for "good") has always been a surefire theatrical recipe, and Kubrick's mod sci-fi movie will probably be a great success. It's like a high class Russ Meyer pornyshow (no wonder these lipsmacking stills should seem so perfectly at home in this month's Playboy) with some Andy Warhol freakery thrown in for shockpower. But, like 2001, its intellectual poverty limits it to popfad art. Ultimate effect? None.

And, saddest part of all, that's just how Stanley Kubrick seems to think it has to be.

...and that was not all -- on page thirteen of the same section in the same issue, there was this, written from an interview with Malcom McDowell; The New York Times, Sunday, January 30, 1972, Part II, Page 13....

by Tom Burke

There is literally nothing about Malcolm McDowell that remotely suggests the dashing ogre Alex of A Clockwork Orange, or even the more earthly, recognizable paraplegic of Bryan Forbes's Long Ago, Tomorrow, none of the odd, sardonic, almost Gothic intensity he is capable of on camera. In this quiet hotel suite, he could be a forthright, articulate scholar just in on holiday from Oxford. But you note something erratic behind the alert eyes, which are the color of West Point uniforms.

And then, abruptly, from one of his brief contemplative silences, comes this: "People are basically bad, corrupt, I always sensed that. Man has not progressed one inch, morally, since the Greeks. Liberals, they hate Clockwork because they're dreamers and it shows them realities, shows 'em not tomorrow but now. Cringe, don't they, when faced with the bloody truth?"

Not that those are his opening remarks: there's a gentlemanly reserve about him at first. Though he has been famous for three years, since his striking impersonation of a young revolutionary in Lindsay Anderson's if...., he's not accustomed to talking about himself.

Of the dawn of A Clockwork Orange, for instance, he simply says, "Uh, well, Kubrick rang me up one day two years ago; we'd never met. 'Can you come and see me?' he said. Out at Borehamwood, where he lives, we chatted, then he said, 'Got a book for you to read, by Anthony Burgess.' Asked him what it's about. 'You tell me after you read it,' he said. Read it three times, told him I thought it a modern classic. He said, 'Great, Malc, great.' Asked him to come to my house and talk, not realizing that Stanley never leaves home unless absolutely forced to, but he came, and again we chatted. Finally I said, 'Uh, Stanley, you're going to make a film of this? And you want me to play it?' He looked quite startled. 'Oh, yeah, Malc, that's what this is all about.'"

Kubrick, who vastly admired if...., hadn't considered anyone else for the role, but by the time shooting began nine months later, Malcolm had finished Long Ago, Tomorrow and had studied the Clockwork script relentlessly, "and still I had no idea of how Stanley would handle this story, and no idea of how to play my part. I couldn't draw on experiences of my own, and with Alex, you're not so much playing a character as this -- force.

"And much of the film was never in the scenario. When we got to the scene where the writer is beaten and his wife raped, Stanley suddenly called, 'Hey, Malcolm, can you sing and dance?' I can't do either. I said, 'Oh, yes, Stanley, sure,' and just sort of started dancing, then kicking the writer. And I began 'Singin' in the Rain,' as it's the only song I know. Within three hours, Stanley had bought the rights to it. You see, this was the kind of thing I knew I must look for: Alex larking about happily while doing this terrible violence. It's the kind of contradiction, the extra dimension that I had to find for him."


But hadn't Kubrick spent his days, weeks, discussing Alex with him? Malcolm considers, exhaling vigorously. "It's not his way. We spoke about the costumes, my make-up, the enormous technical problems, but -- I think Stanley does not want to have to give acting lessons. He expects you to get on with it. Loves to rehearse, he does, from 7:30 A.M., all day, full tilt, and he wants the performance when you arrive the morning of the first rehearsal. His genius, truly, is his ability to somehow create the atmosphere that you as an actor need to do the performance he wants. Without words. Quite remarkable. That's the golden key of the door, y'know, for an actor-director relationship: you're somehow on the same wave length and talk becomes unnecessary."

If Kubrick is not exactly given to logorrhea, neither, according to Malcolm, is Bryan Forbes, or Joseph Losey, who, in 1970, guided him and Robert Shaw through the markedly ignored "Figures in a Landscape." Possibly all his directors have sensed that they'd best leave him to his own instincts. "The cripple in Long Ago, Tomorrow, now he was quite easy, he's a bit of a lad, y'know, and one has been a bit of a lad, and it's not hard to imagine his bitterness when he's paralyzed.

"But I was naive. I thought I'd learned everything about acting from if.... and I hadn't scratched the bloody surface. One thing I discovered: it's no good talking about a character, what he had for breakfast an' like that, who the hell cares? I want to know what the scene's about, and then concentrate every emotion, like a ray gun, on that and make the audience believe that, if you aren't totally concentrated your eyes go dead, and on the screen it shows, even in the briefest shot. Remember in A Clockwork Orange when I come home after prison and my parents have replaced me with this lodger? And I say, 'There's a strange fellow sitting on the sofa, munchy-wunching lomticks of toast.' Well, the scene went fine, but somehow I had a hell of a time coming through the door naturally at the start of it. Can you remember me entering? No? Good, terrific! If you could, I'd have done it all wrong...

"An' it's all bloody 'ard work, it is," he adds, grinning for the first time, demoniacally. Room service has not yet accomplished delivery of the coffee he's ordered; jumping up, he dials and deals wryly but politely with them, then glances with a gargoyle smile at the typed biography of him that the film's press agent has left in the suite. 'Only one page, eh? For Long Ago, Tomorrow it was two."

It's stated on the sheet that he was born in June, 1943, in Leeds, which is in England's gray industrial north. Asked about that, he frowns, and the dark sky of his eyes looks threatening. Again his enunciation is precise. "In a sense, the British class system is good, I agree with it, because if you're born working-class as I was, you've got something to fight against. That's why New York is such an incredible city, you've got to fight it! If I'd not been aware of class early on, I'd still be working placidly at the coffee factory."

Which is what he did do for, for a time: instead of attending a university, he attended customers in his father's public house in Liverpool, before matriculating to a salesman's job with the Yorkshire office of an American coffee firm. "Yorkshire is England's largest county, and I had to drive the whole of it, selling coffee from restaurant to prison to mental home to nuclear power station, and it was horrendous."


Moreover, his girl friend vanished mysteriously every Friday night, "and Friday was payday, y'know, so I thought she was seein' another man." Under pressure, the girl confessed that she'd been taking acting classes, and was afraid Malcolm would laugh at her. "I told her, 'Great, marvelous, I'd like to go along with you some Friday. I knew nothing then, had read nothing: James Joyce, Scott Fitzgerald, these were just names to me. But I'd done leads in Shakespeare in school, acting had seemed the easiest thing in the world, I'd always intended to try it some day if all else failed."

His girl's teacher was "a dear old lady of 82 who loved to tell stories about her silent picture days. I found her totally absorbing. She was a parent-figure -- that's getting pretty Jungian -- a light to follow, she convinced me that acting was not a degrading profession. I knew I'd been muckin' about for years waiting for this." After months of private study ("I had to get rid of that Yorkshire accent"), he joined a repertory theater on the Isle of Wight ("I'd learned my entire part in the first play before I arrived. I actually did not know there would be rehearsals"), and a year and three auditions later was accepted by the Royal Shakespeare Company. "And spent 18 months carrying a spear. I loathed it. With venom. The world's great ensemble troupe? It's an arse-creeping hierarchy without the slightest interest in what talent there may be among the lesser company members. Herded us 12 to a dressing room like cattle. I never even met Peter Hall, the director then, until the day I left."

He worked for a while as a messenger, began getting television roles, and Lindsay Anderson, who'd seen him on the tube, called about a picture he was planning, set in a British public school. When "if...." opened, it looked as though Malcolm would never again carry a message, or a spear.

"Of course I had luck," he says of this rapid ascent, frowning. "My mother and dad -- they're retired now, got a little house and garden outside London -- and my two sisters, they're proud, my mother likes to show the awards I won. But I'm not going to do the false modesty bit with you. I'm not really a modest person. I've not said this before, it sounds conceited and presumptuous, but I do consider myself an artist. I know exactly what I will do: direct a film, within five years, when I've accumulated enough knowledge. It's the director who's the real film artist. You didn't think I wanted to be just an actor, did you? Never! I think that if you're semi-coherent, could not remain long an actor, unless you're content to let yourself become a monster. That's the only way to survive it."

He's speaking quietly again, subdued by the melancholy that frequents hotel rooms at dusk. A dark, beautiful girl enters, they smile, introductions are made, she murmurs politely and retires to the bedroom. She is Margot Bennett, once an actress, once the wife of Keir Dullea, who has been with Malcolm two years; all further questions about her he cheerfully deflects by pouring Scotch and lighting lamps. Life should be simple, he asserts: he lives in a studio in Kensington and isn't moving soon. "I have only one friend whom I lean on heavily. When I can't see the wood for the trees, I've got to go to him. He's a director: Lindsay Anderson."

Malcolm's next movie, O Lucky Man, is based on his own idea and Anderson will direct. "I'd play the tiniest part for Lindsay," he adds, and in the same breath, "Come on, let's go out for a drink." Downstairs in the bar he orders a small white wine and indicates that he has not been over-awed by the reporters who've interviewed him. "They ask, 'What is Clockwork Orange about?' and 'Are you in favor of violence?' Jesus! I hate violence, but it's a fact, it's the human condition. Why would movie violence necessarily make people who see it more violent? Movies don't alter the world, they pose questions and warnings. The Clockwork violence is stylized, surreal, Kubrick uses it only to warn us."

Of something that's already past remedy? "No, I see a hope in this vision of Stanley's. People are discussing Clockwork endlessly, and maybe, maybe that will lead to something actually being done about street crime. The English are violent, too, no question; but you've got 88 rapes a day in New York alone. Okay, but you are getting together about your police, with the Knapp Commission. Enough of that sort of thing, and you'll see improvements. Why, this is a country where things like the Pentagon Papers can get published! That's a mark of hope."


"Now, another way that Clockwork is optimistic: Alex is finally restored, after the therapy, to his old, violent self, they return his mind to him, and though it's done for political gain, it is done. Good! Tampering with men's brains is worse than murder; I'd rather a man be a man, even if he's a monster. If they're allowed to start screwing around with the insides of your head, Christ, where's it to stop? Alex is free at the end, that's hopeful: maybe, in his freedom, he'll be able to find someone to help him without mucking his brain. His 'Ludwig Van' can speak to him, perhaps others will."

The stage was set. From The New York Times, Sunday, February 13, 1972, the essay by Fred Hechinger....

by Fred M. Hechinger

"Liberals," said Malcolm McDowell, star of A Clockwork Orange, "hate that film." The implication is that there is something shameful in the liberals' reaction -- that at the very least they don't know the score. Quite the opposite is true. Any liberal with brains should hate Clockwork, not as a matter of artistic criticism but for the trend this film represents. An alert liberal should recognize the voice of fascism.

"Movies don't alter the world, they pose questions and warnings," said Mr. McDowell. This is close to the truth. Movies reflect the mood of the world because they pander to the frame of mind of their potential customers.

During the Depression years, Hollywood offered those eye-filling and mind-soothing productions that took a despondent public's thoughts off the grim realities. Occasionally, the diverting tinsel was laced with some "Grapes of Wrath" realism.

During and after World War II, Hollywood reflected the American mind with an outpouring of syrupy patriotism and comic-strip anti-Nazism. Minor modifications allowed the technique to be adapted, as in The Manchurian Candidate, to the subsequent spirit of the Cold War.

More recently, the movies, chasing the youth buck, have wallowed in campus revolution, alienation, radical relevance and counter-culture. The plastic greening of Hollywood did little, one must agree with Mr. McDowell's thesis, to alter the world: it was merely the industry's frantic attempt to keep abreast of society's changing script.

It is precisely because Hollywood's antennae have in the past been so sensitive in picking up the national mood that the anti-liberal trend should indeed "pose questions and warnings," though not in the manner intended either by Mr. McDowell or by Stanley Kubrick, Clockwork's director.


The bad seeds had been sown during the period of mindless youth-culture exploitation. Anthony Quinn, who played Zorba the Prof in R.P.M., that ersatz ideological movie about the campus revolt, was the anti-liberals' perfect prototype of the superannuated, well-intentioned but ultimately ineffectual, obsolescent, self-destructive liberal. Getting Straight delivered the same cumulative message. The liberal in Easy Rider, a pathetic, confused drunk, was intended to show the fate that ultimately awaits the bleeding hearts. Even his death, at the hands of fascist bullies, carefully avoided being either heroic or central to the picture's mood. Too bad about the fuzzyminded fellow, but what can you expect...

The script writers were accurately picking up the vibrations of a deeply anti-liberal totalitarian nihilism emanating from beneath the surface of the counter-culture. They were pandering as skillfully to the new mood as they had earlier to The Stars and Stripes Forever.

Now the virus is no longer latent. The message is stridently anti- liberal, with unmistakably fascist overtones.

Listen to Mr. McDowell: "People are basically bad, corrupt. I always sensed that. Man has not progressed one inch, morally, since the Greeks. Liberals, they hate 'Clockwork' because they're dreamers and it shows them the realities, shows 'em not tomorrow, but now. Cringe, don't they, when faced with the bloody truth?"

This is more than a statement of what Mr. McDowell considers to be a political fact. There is a note of glee in making the liberals cringe by showing them what heads-in-the-clouds fools they are. If they were smarter, would they not know "the bloody truth" and, one must conclude, adjust to it with a pinch of Skinnerian conditioning?

Is this an uncharitable reading of Mr. McDowell's -- and the film's -- thesis? The thesis that man is irretrievably bad and corrupt is the essence of fascism. It underlies every demand for the kind of social "reform," that keeps man down, makes the world safe for anti-democracy through the "law and order" ministrations of the police state.

It might be possible to dismiss the McDowell weltanschauung as the aberration of an actor dazzled by critical acclaim and dabbling in political ideology. But he, in fact, accurately echoes his master's voice. "Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage," says Stanley Kubrick. "He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved....And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure."

If this is the motion picture industry's emerging view -- as it seems to be, not only in Clockwork but in a growing number of films such as Straw Dogs and even, on the precinct rather than the global level, "The French Connection" -- then what sort of social institutions are to be built on that pessimistic, antiliberal view of man's nature? They will -- they must, if logic prevails -- be the repressive, illiberal, distrustful, violent institutions of fascism. "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." Ridiculous! "Government by the people..." Absurd! Jefferson, not to mention Christ, were clearly liberals who could not face "the bloody truth." It takes the likes of Hitler or Stalin, and the violence of inquisitions, pogroms and purges, to manage a world of ignoble savages.


That is the message lately flashed from the screen. The inherently antiliberal nihilism of Hollywood's counterculture phase was the subliminal preparation -- filmland's Weimar Republic -- for the ugly "truth" to come. Mr. McDowell, in trying to find some socially redeeming value (as the courts put it when describing "good" pornography) in Clockwork's violence, muses that "maybe that will lead to something actually being done about street crime." What might that "something" be? Surely not anything cooked up by those liberal "dreamers" who cringe when faced with "the bloody truth." More likely a dragnet arrest of all those people who look like trouble. How else would one sensibly deal with ignoble savages?

Straw Dogs may have been even more perceptive in picking up the neo-fascist message. Its symbolic man is the confused, nonviolent, cringing, idiotic, nonvirile liberal who in the end is redeemed -- by what? By proving his manhood through savagery among the savages. Liberals, Awake! Be as lip-smacking bloody as anybody. That will take care of the street crime problem, too. And perhaps make the trains run on time.

Some of us unreconstructed liberals will, of course, continue to hope that the industry has for once picked up the wrong vibrations, that it is for the first time misreading the nation's mood; that the majority of Americans do not believe, as those who unleashed the stormtroopers and the M.K.V.D. and the RedGuard said they believed, that Man the Beast will be conquered and domesticated only through the purifying powers of violence.

Optimism is the incurably silly liberal quality which the new celluloid realism considers ludicrous. One prays that American moviemakers may identify in the popular mood some of those vibrations that led to the creation of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Europeans who knew fascism apparently still believe that the evil and the violence, rather than being inherent in man and thus inevitable, became dominant only because the few succeeded in ruthlessly turning violence into political power over the many. The liberals were not without blame, but they were not the villains. In the end, their faults seemed excusable when measured against the monstrosity of those who regarded men as ignoble savages. The liberal makers of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis do not seem to have cringed at the bloody memory of those black days in Europe when, antiliberalism having triumphed, the human vermin crawled out of the clockwork.

If there is anything to make American liberals cringe here and now, it is the possibility that, in a reversal of history, Europe may this time be more sophisticated than America about the nature of the fascist threat. This is why American liberals have every right to hate the ideology behind A Clockwork Orange and the trend it symbolizes.

One would not expect Kubrick to take such provocation sitting down; herewith is Kubrick's response; it was printed on February 27, 1972, section 2, pp. 1 & 11...


To the Editor:

"An alert liberal," says Fred M. Hechinger, writing about my film A Clockwork Orange, "should recognize the voice of fascism." They don't come any more alert than Fred M. Hechinger. A movie critic, whose job is to analyze the actual content of a film, rather than second-hand interviews, might have fallen down badly on sounding the "Liberal Alert" which an educationist like Mr. Hechinger confidently set jangling in so many resonant lines of alarmed prose.

As I read them, the image that kept coming to mind was of Mr. Hechinger, cast as the embattled liberal, grim-visaged the way Gary Cooper used to be, doing the long walk down main street to face the high noon of American democracy, while out of the Last Chance saloon drifts the theme song, "See what the boys in the backlash will have and tell them I'm having the same," though sung in a voice less like Miss Dietrich's than Miss Kael's. Alert filmgoers will recognize that I am mixing my movies. But then alert educationists like Mr. Hechinger seemingly don't mind mixing their metaphors: "Occasionally, the diverting tinsel was laced with some 'Grapes of Wrath' realism," no less.

It is baffling that in the course of his lengthy piece encouraging American liberals to cherish their "right" to hate the ideology behind A Clockwork Orange, Mr. Hechinger quotes not one line, refers to not one scene, analyzes not one theme from the film -- but simply lumps it indiscriminately in with a "trend" which he pretends to distinguish ("a deeply anti-liberal totalitarian nihilism") in several current films. Is this, I wonder, because he couldn't actually find any internal evidence to support his trend-spotting? If not, then it is extraordinary that so serious a charge should be made against it (and myself) inside so fuzzy and unfocused a piece of alarmist journalism.


Hechinger is probably quite sincere in what he feels. But what the witness feels, as the judge said, is not evidence -- the more so when the charge is one of purveying "the essence of fascism."

"Is this an uncharitable reading of...the film's thesis?" Mr. Hechinger asks himself with unwonted if momentary doubt. I would reply that it is an irrelevant reading of the thesis, in fact an insensitive and inverted reading of the thesis, which, so far from advocating that fascism be given a second chance, warns against the new psychedelic fascism -- the eye-popping, multimedia, quadrasonic, drug-oriented conditioning of human beings by other beings -- which many believe will usher in the forfeiture of human citizenship and the beginning of zombiedom.


It is quite true that my film's view of man is less flattering than the one Rousseau entertained in a similarly allegorical narrative -- but, in order to avoid fascism, does one have to view man as a noble savage, rather than an ignoble one? Being a pessimist is not yet enough to qualify one to be regarded as a tyrant (I hope). At least the film critic of The New York Times, Vincent Canby, did not believe so. Though modestly disclaiming any theories of initial causes and long range effects of films -- a professional humility that contrasts very markedly with Mr. Hechinger's lack of the same -- Mr. Canby nevertheless classified A Clockwork Orange as "a superlative example" of the kind of movies that "seriously attempt to analyze the meaning of violence and the social climate that tolerates it." He certainly did not denounce me as a fascist, no more than any wellbalanced commentator who read "A Modest Proposal" would have accused Dean Swift of being a cannibal.

Anthony Burgess is on record as seeing the film as "a Christian Sermon" -- and lest this be regarded as a piece of special pleading by the original begetter of A Clockwork Orange, I will quote the opinion of John E. Fitzgerald, the film critic of The Catholic News, who, far from believing the film to show man, in Mr. Hechinger's "uncharitable" reading, as "irretrievably bad and corrupt," went straight to the heart of the matter in a way that shames the fumbling innuendos of Mr. Hechinger.

"In one year," Mr. Fitzgerald wrote, "we have been given two contradictory messages in two mediums. In print, we've been told (in B.F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity) that man is but a grab-bag of conditioned reflexes. On screen, with images rather than words, Stanley Kubrick shows that man is more than a mere product of heredity and-or environment. For as Alex's clergyman friend (a character who starts out as a fire-and-brimstone spouting buffon, but ends up as the spokesman for the film's thesis) says: 'When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.'

"The film seems to say that to take away man's choice is not to redeem but merely to restrain him; otherwise we have a society of oranges, organic but operating like clockwork. Such brainwashing, organic and psychological, is a weapon that totalitarians in state, church or society might wish for an easier good, even at the cost of individual rights and dignity. Redemption is a complicated thing and change must be motivated from within rather than imposed from without if moral values are to be upheld."

"It takes the likes of Hitler or Stalin, and the violence of inquisitions, pogroms and purges to manage a world of ignoble savages," declares Mr. Hechinger in a manner both savage and ignoble. Thus, without citing anything from the film itself, Mr. Hechinger seems to rest his entire case against me on a quote appearing in The New York Times of January 30, in which I said: "Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved...and any attempt to create social institutions based on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure." From this, apparently, Mr. Hechinger concluded, "the thesis that man is irretrievably bad and corrupt is the essence of fascism," and summarily condemned the film.

Mr. Hechinger is entitled to hold an optimistic view of the nature of man; but this does not give him the right to make ugly assertions of fascism against those who do not share his opinion.

I wonder how he would reconcile his simplistic notions with the views of such an acknowledged anti-fascist as Arthur Koestler, who wrote in his book The Ghost in the Machine, "The Promethean myth has acquired an ugly twist: the giant reaching out to steal the lightning from the Gods is insane...When you mention, however tentatively, the hypothesis that a paranoid streak is inherent in the human condition, you will promptly be accused of taking a one-sided, morbid view of history; of being hypnotized by its negative aspects; of picking out the black stones in the mosaic and neglecting the triumphant achieve- ments of human progress...To dwell on the glories of man and ignore the symptoms of his possible insanity is not a sign of optimism but of ostrichism. It could only be compared to the attitude of that jolly physician who, a short time before Van Gogh committed suicide, declared that he could not be insane because he painted such beautiful pictures." Does this, I wonder, place Mr. Koestler on Mr. Hechinger's newly started blacklist?

It is because of the hysterical denunciations of self-proclaimed "alert liberals" like Mr. Hechinger that the cause of liberalism is weakened, and it is for the same reason that so few liberal-minded politicians risk making realistic statements about contemporary social problems.

The age of the alibi, in which we find ourselves, began with the opening sentence of Rousseau's Emile: "Nature made me happy and good, and if I am otherwise, it is society's fault." It is based on two misconceptions: that man in his natural state was happy and good, and that primal man had no society.

Robert Ardrey has written in The Social Contract, "The organizing principle of Rousseau's life was his unshakable belief in the original goodness of man, including his own. That it led him into most towering hypocrises must follow from such an assumption. More significant are the disillusionments, the pessimism, and the paranoia that such a belief in human nature must induce."


Ardrey elaborates in African Genesis: "The idealistic American is an environmentalist who accepts the doctrine of man's innate nobility and looks chiefly to economic causes for the source of human woe. And so now, at the peak of the American triumph over that ancient enemy, want, he finds himself harassed by racial conflict of increasing bitterness, harrowed by juvenile delinquency probing championship heights."

Rousseau's romantic fallacy that it is society which corrupts man, not man who corrupts society, places a flattering gauze between ourselves and reality. This view, to use Mr. Hechinger's frame of reference, is solid box office but, in the end, such a self-inflating illusion leads to despair.

The Enlightenment declared man's rational independence from the tyranny of the Supernatural. It opened up dizzying and frightening vistas of the intellectual and political future. But before this became too alarming, Rousseau replaced a religion of the Supernatural Being with a religion of natural man. God might be dead. "Long live man."

"How else," writes Ardrey, "can one explain -- except as a substitute for old religious cravings -- the immoderate influence of the rational mind of the doctrine of innate goodness?"

Finally, the question must be considered whether Rousseau's view of man as a fallen angel is not really the most pessimistic and hopeless of philosophies. It leaves man a monster who has gone steadily away from his nobility. It is, I am convinced, more optimistic to accept Ardrey's view that, "...we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles and our irreconcilable regiments?

"For our treaties, whatever they may be worth; our symphonies, however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses."

Mr. Hechinger is, no doubt, a well-educated man, but the tone of his piece strikes me as also that of a well-conditioned man, who responds to what he expects to find, or has been told, or has read about, rather than to what he actually perceives A Clockwork Orange to be. Maybe he should deposit his grab-bag of conditioned reflexes outside and go in to see it again. This time, exercising a little choice.


...and finally, in the same issue, The New York Times also printed a letter from Malcolm McDowell (the Kubrickean symmetry now complete):

To the Editor:

This letter is in reply to Fred M. Hechinger's article, which was prompted in part by an interview that I gave to Tom Burke. I am an actor, not a philosopher -- nor, thank God, a journalist. If a New York Times interviewer questions me on philosophical, social or political issues, he must expect to get answers that are inspired by feeling and intuition, rather than by the steely logic of a Fred M. Hechinger. But my comment on the sentimentalism of the "liberals" was not gleeful -- it was despondent. (If I had been writing an article instead of replying to questions, I would have put the word "liberal" in quotes.)

As an actor, of course, I spoke emotionally -- from a violent emotional reaction to the violence and hysteria with which New York assails any visitor, and a violent and emotional reaction against the complacency or cowardice of "intellectuals" too scared to face or to interpret the harsh allegory which I believe Mr. Kubrick's picture to be.

To call A Clockwork Orange fascist is as silly as to say that if.... preached violence. But some people will never read the writing on the wall.

Your humble narrator and friend,