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Kubrick Tells What Makes A Clockwork Orange Tick
by Bernard Weintraub

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 restaurant near his home, he sat down wearing a heavy windbreaker, 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 KOOK 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 a 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."

The New York Times, January 04, 1972

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