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‘A Clockwork Orange’ at 50: A Film That Maintains Its Shocking Power Because Of Its Nihilism




‘A Clockwork Orange’ at 50: A Film That Maintains Its Shocking Power Because Of Its Nihilism

The only thing Stanley Kubrick ever really wanted to talk about was how men were primates driven by primate urges: the violent acquisition and subsequent hoarding of sex, food, and shelter. Exploration, construction, civilization is just a tributary from this seminal artery and the story of man is reducible entirely to this viscous, vicious, reduction. Kubrick is our most essential, immediately and unapologetically Freudian director. It’s the reason he’s as fine a choice as shepherd for a film noir about a down-on-his-luck welterweight (Killer’s Kiss), a manned mission to Jupiter (2001), a desperate author prone to drink and child abuse (The Shining) and a sexually confused doctor wandering an onanistic fever dream of New York at Christmas (Eyes Wide Shut). His first film, Fear and Desire, about a quartet of soldiers dropped into a dark wood on a mission of murder and survival, set the beat and he never strayed far from it. The reason A Clockwork Orange never ages is not because it is a work of prophecy but because, like all works of alleged prophecy, it is really only exceptionally keen evolutionary anthropology — or, frankly, primatology by any other name. What seems prescient is really just a careful chronicle of who we are, have always been, and always it seems will be and the Dawn of Man sequence from 2001 is all ye know and all ye need to know.

It’s why, about a third of the way into A Clockwork Orange, the soundtrack for 2001 (on vinyl, no less!) makes an appearance in the film. Our hero Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is shopping at a record kiosk and putting the make on two comely lovelies; we will later see him, to the tune of the “William Tell Overture,” bed in turn and in concert while spinning a few discs over another lost afternoon. Alex’s days and nights are all spent in the pursuit of sex and acquisition. He hangs out at Korova Milk Bar with his “droogs”; there, over draughts of drugged libations, they make up their “rassoodocks what to do with the evening.” In many constructs of the future, notably Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe, a Chinese patois transforms the language — here, it’s Russian, speaking obliquely to an authoritarian socialist state at odds with a certain progressive hopefulness about the preference for one kind of organizing principle over another. In Kubrick, the only things that really matter are 1) Who’s holding the bone and 2) How big is it?


The film opens over a series of title cards in bright, primary colors — its first shot is an extended one, pulling back down a corridor of Allen Jones-inspired tables and milk dispensers, all in the life-sized shape of nude women in various postures of subjugation or sexual arousal. Alex and his boys only see women as objects that are one thing or another thing: resources to be stolen and possessed. People like to obfuscate protein exchanges as the romantic rituals of dinner dates and perhaps the nightcap to follow. Kubrick does not.

Littered in throughout his pictures are images like this: none so immediately shocking perhaps, but mark the mannequin warehouse in Killer’s Kiss where the murder takes place — or more directly to the point, the way Peter Sellers’ Quilty reveals himself as a slumbering chair in the first moments of Lolita. It isn’t so much that objects are sexually dangerous in Kubrick’s films — it’s that objects, created by man, are functions of the libido. Consider all the slow docking sequences in 2001; the trembling, penile refueling sequence that opens Dr. Strangelove; of course the filling of a milk glass in A Clockwork Orange from one porcelain teat, fetchingly offered. The image of breasts as solely the function of male desire repeats during the rape sequence in the writer’s home shot at Skybreak, Radlett, Hertforshire during which Alex, while crooning “Singin’ in the Rain,” cuts the wife’s (Adrienne Corri) breasts free from her jumpsuit. All our exterior forms are expressions of our basest functions. There’s a suggestion in A Clockwork Orange that Alex’s beloved Beethoven — whose Ninth Symphony he spins with a sacral reverence on a beautiful Transcriptor’s Hydraulic Reference Turntable in his bedroom, one wall of which is lined with speakers — is evidence by itself of the possibility for man to transcend his bestial nature. But then it’s used as background music for the showreels of atrocity the government uses to try to “fix” Alex through aversion therapy and becomes the final provocation that drives Alex to his suicide attempt. All this not forgetting that Beethoven, in his time, was declared dangerous for the passions his music inflamed among the impressionable youth.

If anything, the shock of A Clockwork Orange has only metastasized in the fifty years since its troubled release, when it was widely condemned for its ultraviolence and graphic, non-consensual in-out/in-out. Time has confirmed its excess as only a reflection of who we are when we don’t pretend to be what we are not. It maintains its power because of its nihilism. There’s no hope for us as a species because we will not reckon with who we are: animals ruled by a monkey court. Why expect something of us we would not expect from a band of baboons? Alex, like Scorsese’s looming Travis Bickle, is the archetype of the hero: brutal, concupiscent, malignantly ignorant, and used by those in power as a tool to first frighten and then uphold as some standard in our Judeo-Christian mania for redemption stories. The message of the piece, as it was for so many films from the 1970s, is that there are no actual consequences for the bad guys and, more than no consequences, the villains will be made the hero by powerful men and the media they hold in their thrall. A Clockwork Orange, if anything, is a warning about the apparatus designed to make martyrs out of convenient deviants. The way it goes about it is frankly mesmerizing in its persistence of vision and purpose. It’s easy to forget what a film made by a genius looks like – and in matters of the lizard brains of low men, in the west, first there’s Hitchcock and Lang, and then only Kubrick.


Walter Chaw is the Senior Film Critic for His book on the films of Walter Hill, with introduction by James Ellroy, is due in 2021. His monograph for the 1988 film MIRACLE MILE is available now.

Where to stream A Clockwork Orange


Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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