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A Clockwork Orange
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A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, adapted as a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. It is widely regarded as a successor to earlier great British dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World.

Burgess wrote that the title came from an old Cockney expression, "As queer [meaning strange] as a clockwork orange", but that he had found that other people read new meanings into it1. For instance, some believed that the title referred to a mechanically-responsive (clockwork) non-human (orang, Malay for person). Burgess states in his later introduction, "A Clockwork Orange Resucked", that a creature who can only perform good or evil is "a clockwork orange -- meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil." Rumour had it that Burgess had intended to name the work "A Clockwork Orang" and was thus hypercorrected to the form we know. In his essay "Clockwork oranges"2 he says that "this title would be appropriate for a story about the application of Pavlovian, or mechanical, laws to an organism which, like a fruit, was capable of colour and sweetness". This title alludes to the protagonist's conditional negativistic responses to feelings of evil which prevent the exercise of his free will.

The book was inspired by an event in 1944, when Burgess' pregnant wife Lynn was robbed and beaten by four US soldiers in a London street, aborting the pregnancy3.

Warning: Plot details follow.

Table of contents
1 Synopsis
2 Film
3 Spin-Offs
4 Unrealized adaptations
5 Soundtrack
6 References
7 Related topics
8 External links


Set a few years in the future, it follows the career of fifteen year old Alex. His main pleasures in life are classical music, sex --- both consensual and otherwise --- and random acts of violence ("ultraviolence" in Alex's idiom). He tells his story in a teenage slang called "Nadsat", which uses a Russian vocabulary mixed with English slang.

Eventually Alex is caught and "rehabilitated" by a programme of aversion therapy, which, though rendering him incapable of violence (even in self-defence), also makes him unable to enjoy his favourite classical music as an unintended side effect.

The moral question of the book is that Alex is now "good", but his ability to choose this has been taken away from him; his "goodness" is as artificial as the clockwork orange of the title.

Eventually Alex falls afoul of some of his former victims, and the political fuss that ensues results in the state removing his conditioning; he gleefully returns to his early habits but finds he has lost the taste for it. The 20th chapter ends on a dark note, with Alex listening joyfully to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and eagerly anticipating his return to creating havoc.

At this point some editions of the book end, but there is a 21st chapter which was dropped at the time of US publication. Burgess claims that the original American publisher dropped his final chapter in an effort to make the book more depressing. The intended book was divided into three parts of 7 chapters each, which added up to be 21, a symbolic age at which a child earns his rights (when the novel was written). There is controversy as to whether the 21st chapter makes the book better or makes the book worse. In the 21st chapter, which takes place a few years after the 20th, we find Alex realising that his violent phase is over, but that it was inevitable. A few of the old characters are reincarnated as new friends of Alex. He thinks of starting a family, while thinking that his children will be as violent as he was, for a time.


The book was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, starring Malcolm McDowell as Alex and featuring a soundtrack by Wendy Carlos. It would appear, from one of Burgess' later novels, The Clockwork Testament, that Burgess himself may not have been too pleased by the adaptation that made it to the screen.

Rated X on its original release in the United States, the film was nonetheless nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture (it lost to The French Connection) and reinvigorated sales for recordings of Beethoven's ninth symphony. Later, a censored R-rated version was also released in the US; both the original X-rated and the later R-rated version are today available on VHS and DVD. Notably, the MPAA has since reclassified the X-rated version of the film to R. The film was rated C (for "condemned") by the United States Catholic Conference's Office for Film and Broadcasting because of its explicit sexual and violent content (such a rating conceptually forbade Catholics from seeing the film so rated; the "condemned" rating was abolished in 1982, and since then films deemed by the conference to have unacceptable levels of sex and/or violence have been rated O, meaning "morally offensive").

In Britain the sexual violence in the film was considered extreme at the time, with the press blaming the influence of the film for an attack on a homeless person. It was widely believed that Kubrick's annoyance at this response led to him withdrawing the film from distribution in the United Kingdom. However, in a television documentary made after Kubrick's death, his widow Christiane confirmed rumours that Kubrick had withdrawn A Clockwork Orange from UK distribution on police advice after threats were made against Kubrick and his family. (The source of the threats was not discussed.) That Warner Bros. acceded to Kubrick's request to withdraw the film is an indication of the remarkable relationship Kubrick had with the studio, particularly the executive Terry Semel. Whatever the reason for the film's withdrawal, it could not legally be seen in Britain for some 27 years, until after Kubrick's death.


Seven years prior to Stanley kubrick's production of A Clockwork Orange, Andy Warhol had produced a low-budget, artistic version, titled Clockwork (also known as Vynil). Reportedly, the only two recognizable scenes are those where Victor (Alex) wreaks general havoc and undergoes the Ludovico treatment.

Cast Information, Short Synopsis and Stills
IMDb Entry

In 1995, a highly-acclaimed pornographic video, titled A Clockwork Orgy, was produced. The video remains very close to Stanley Kubrick's version, both in its high-quality sets, production values and it coherent storyline. The only illogical (but necessary) nuance is that Burgess's "ultraviolence" is replaced by "ultra-sex," and the men "attacked" by Alex(andra) and her "droogs" have a really hard time pretending to be abused.

Cast Information, Short Synopsis and Stills (Partial Nudity)

Unrealized adaptations

Members of The Rolling Stones proposed to film their own adaptation before Stanley Kubrick decided to do so. Other unrealized versions were to contain girls in miniskirts or senior citizens instead of the teenage rowdies.


As with most major movie releases, a soundtrack was issued for A Clockwork Orange. It may be considered to be a monumental album in that it contains a "first": the song "March From A Clockwork Orange" was the first recorded song to feature the use of a vocoder. It is available on the Warner Bros. label and the tracks are as follows:
  1. Title Music From A Clockwork Orange - Walter Carlos
  2. The Thieving Magpie (Abridged) - A Deutsche Grammophon Recording
  3. Theme From A Clockwork Orange (Beethoviana) - Walter Carlos
  4. Ninth Symphony, Second Movement (Abridged) - A Deutsche Grammophon Recording
  5. March From A Clockwork Orange (Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement, Abridged) - Walter Carlos and Rachel Elkind
  6. William Tell Overture (Abridged) - Walter Carlos
  7. Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1 - Sir Edward Elgar
  8. Pomp And Circumstance March No. IV (Abridged) - Sir Edward Elgar
  9. Timesteps (Excerpt) - Walter Carlos
  10. Overture To The Sun - Terry Tucker
  11. I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper - Erike Eigen
  12. William Tell Overture (Abridged)- A Deutsche Grammophon Recording
  13. Suicide Scherzo (Ninth Symphony, Second Movement, Abridged) - Walter Carlos
  14. Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement, (Abridged) - A Deutsche Grammophon Recording
  15. Singin' In The Rain - Gene Kelly

Three months after the official soundtrack was released, composer Wendy Carlos released a version (Columbia KC 31480) containing unused cues and other musical elements which had not appeared in the film. Kubrick had only used part of Carlos's Timesteps, for example, and the synthesizer rendition of the Scherzo from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony had been shortened. In addition to these materials, the second soundtrack LP contained a synthesizer version of Rossini's La Gazza Ladra, for which Kubrick had used an orchestral performance. In 1998, a compact disc was distributed containing a new, digital remastering of the synthesizer material. The CD contains Carlos's compositions, including those Kubrick did not use, and the cues Biblical Daydreams and Orange Minuet which the 1972 LP had not included.

It is interesting to note that Wendy Carlos had composed the first three minutes of Timesteps before reading Burgess's novel. Originally, Carlos had intended Timesteps to introduce a rendition of the Ninth Symphony 's Choral movement, played with a vocoder. Timesteps was completed roughly the same time Kubrick had wrapped photography for his film; it and the vocoder performance of Beethoven's Ninth became the foundation for Carlos and Kubrick's collaboration.


Related topics

External links

Clockwork Orange is also the nickname of Glasgow Underground, the SPT metro line of Glasgow, Scotland.