A Clockwork Orange: 40th Anniversary Edition (Warner)
Barry Lyndon (Warner)
Stanley Kubrick: Limited Edition Collection (Warner)
Few film directors have generated as much partisan devotion as Stanley Kubrick, a demanding creator whose control reaches to every detail of the finished film and his coolly removed style and exacting methods resulted in one masterpiece after another, many of them critically hammered upon release, all of them grown in stature with time and distance. He’s the perfectionist’s perfectionist and a director whose films offer a portrait of mankind as an animal defined by our capacity for violence, cruelty and destruction.
So it’s always news when his films are given an upgrade, be it a new special edition or format debut. This week we get both.
A Clockwork Orange (Warner), Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s futuristic satire, was the most controversial film in a career defined by pushing the envelope of controversy. With its ultraviolence, wicked black humor, cynicism and darkly compelling hedonistic bully as the anti-hero (a hearty, energetic Malcolm McDowell), the film’s portrait of a society spiraled into slums and roving bands of violence hooligans provoked an outcry from politicians and social critics who suggested that the film was responsible for real-life violence in the wake of the film. In fact, it turned out to be quite prescient of gang culture, but that wasn’t necessarily Kubrick’s intent. He was grappling with the idea of free within society, even while suggesting that the primitive violence of sadistic street thugs is somehow a more pure state of being than the repression of destructive impulses that social living demands.
Those issues got lost in the media controversy that in Britain became so heated that, fearing for the safety of his family, prompted Kubrick to withdraw the film from circulation in that country. It remained unavailable in any form in Britain for 28 years.