Archive for May, 2011

The worst date movie ever

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the original release of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange.  And I don’t use the word ‘masterpiece’ lightly. But I do use it cautiously, realizing there are people who, when they first saw this film, leaped from their chairs in shock and disgust and raced from the theater. Unfortunately, one of those people happened to be my date for the evening, but we’ll get to that later.

To say that A Clockwork Orange is controversial is like saying Charlie Sheen is a raving lunatic; no one disputes the fact. The film was so inflammatory when it first premiered in London it was banned in the United Kingdom and stayed banned for 28 years. And Kubrick, who happened to live outside London that entire period, understood what powerful stuff he had unleashed and basically said, “I get it; I’m okay with that.”

Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange takes place in England in the not-so-distant future, where gangs of vicious, costumed youths terrorize a society incapable of restraining their activities. Alexander de Large (Malcolm McDowell) is the 15 year-old leader of one such gang of his fellow ‘droogs,’ whose nightly excursions of ‘ultra-violence’ include beating a homeless man into oblivion; raping a woman in between choruses of “Singing in the Rain” and brutally kicking her helpless husband; and murdering a yoga-practicing woman living alone with her cats by using a huge white penis sculpture to bash her head in.

Or, as I like to call it … just another night on the streets of L.A. in the 1980s.

That the book and film so accurately predicted the rise of a younger and younger gang culture loyal only to destruction and each other, was a prescient foreshadowing back in 1971. The gangs in this film and those to come made the Jets in West Side Story look like the cast of Glee on estrogen. Well, to be fair, even back in 1965, the Jets looked pretty damn gay.

Alex’s abuse of his fellow droogs cause them to ambush him and he lands in federal prison for the woman’s murder. After only two years in prison, he learns of a new treatment, designed to rehabilitate criminals within a two-week period. He gets chosen for the “Ludivico” treatment by a high-ranking official of the new, liberal government. Alex is conditioned against violence by having his eyes pinned open, nauseating drugs administered, and forced to watch film after film of obscene violence conditioning him against such acts. Once released, Alex, the rehabilitated criminal, becomes the victim of all his former victims to the point where he attempts suicide. The film ends with the official of the liberal government soliciting Alex’s favor at his hospital bedside in front of the press in order to restore his government’s tarnished reputation for using the treatment, while Alex fantasizes about returning to his ultra-violent ways as Ludwig Von Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony “Ode to Joy” swells over.

How’s that for a popcorn picture? But for any fan of cinema, it was the ultimate feast of sights and sounds prepared by a master filmmaker at the peak of his power to entrance and disturb and say something  at the same time.

Here’s what a skinny young freshman at the University of Miami wrote about it on his essay in Communications 403:

A Clockwork Orange remains to date one of the most perfect films ever made. It is a technical masterpiece; composed; acted; lit; and scored into an incredible achievement of choreographed cinema. The stark violence, sex, and the political and social overtones and undertones of this picture reach an impact that demands an opinionated commitment from the audience; either in firm support of the picture, or repulsively against. There is no room for middle ground or indifference. Stanley Kubrick combines the technical marvel of his past films with the complex social nightmare of an Anthony Burgess novel to create a film that entertains and horrifies at the same time.”

And I can also attest to the fact that most women fall into the ‘repulsed’ category, and have a very difficult time getting past the images to appreciate any deeper cinematic value that might exist. I did indeed take a first date to see this film somehow believing that she would be overwhelmed by its brilliance and maybe have some of that perception spill over to her date. Well, I guess it did, because after she stormed out of the theater and I drove her home in silence, she never went out or spoke with me again.

But stubborn youth only takes such rejection as a sign that ‘she must not be the one.’ And lo, many years later, when I met and eventually married the wife I am with today and have been for 28 years, I just made sure she got to know me a lot better before I every sprung this film upon her. I probably didn’t even show it to her for a couple years. She hated the film, of course. But she could somehow wrap her mind around the idea that a student of cinema might see something of intrinsic value in this film – enough at least not to flee our apartment at the time or immediately file for divorce.

With the 40th anniversary Blu-ray edition of A Clockwork Orange coming out this week, no doubt my Paradigm subwoofer will soon be rumbling with the strains of Beethoven’s Ninth and Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” again as Alex and his droogs do their ultra-violent damage.

Does she still love me enough? I could be pushing it.

— A. Wayne Carter

What’s on the DVR - Spring 2011

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

“Game of Thrones” on HBO

Sword-slashing power grabs, decapitated heads, randy dwarves, busting bodices, psychic wolves, tattooed horsemen, incest and bastards … It’s Sunday night in the family room, but this is definitely not The Ed Sullivan Show or America’s Funniest Videos. But wouldn’t you just love to hear the wrinkled, square Ed introducing these acts? “Tonight, on our really big sheew … we have a brother fondling his sister’s breasts before offering her in marriage to a barbarian hun, a lusty queen getting it doggy-style from her brother … and for our big finale … a monkey-climbing kid prince shoved to his death off the castle tower. But first …  those brash young new sensational White Walkers from the North … Let’s hear it for … “The Beheaders!”

But you have to dig it. It’s the new Sunday night on HBO and this is their medieval version of The Sopranos.

“The Borgias” on SHOWTIME

An hour later you have the 15th Century Roman Catholic costume version of The Sopranos, where the Pope is the scheming variation of the godfather. And when he goes, “Say hello to my little friend,” before dispatching his enemies, he’s not talking about a multi-round shotgun, but a small vial of poison. No one wants to get any blood on the lovely ornate gowns and vestiges the pope and his cardinals fashion about in. It’s too bad. By the time you’re done with Game of Thrones, your appetite for true blood can only be satisfied by something like, well, True Blood. Returning soon, we expect. Showtime always tries harder, but hasn’t quite got the color, consistency, and sticky thickness of True HBO down yet.

“Nurse Jackie” on SHOWTIME

But Showtime has Mrs. Soprano herself, Edie Falco, playing a drug-addicted, adulterous-but-saintly emergency room nurse. And they took the show to the edge of complete meltdown in the second season last year, where Jackie’s infidelity and addictions were exposed and exploded. And then …ffftttttt. They pretended like it never happened. No evolution, no new direction, no redemption, no pay-off. It all just got rebooted back to square one where all the characters were when they started the series. Huh? If I wanted to watch a formulaic, predictable sit-com, I’d turn on that Charlie Sheen Tiger Blood shit on CBS.

“The Killing” on AMC

As if all that wasn’t bleak enough, our other offering is a thirteen-week series on the week-long investigation of the killing of a popular high school girl who was raped and tortured before being drowned in the trunk of a car driven into a Seattle lake. It’s Twin Peaks without the backward-talking, slow dancing dwarf or the cherry pie. Or a thirteen-hour episode of Law and Order as directed by Ingmar Bergman.  It’s a dark, drizzling, plodding, realistic crime procedural without any make up or smarmy partner wisecracks. But maybe it’s moving too slow, because I start thinking about things like … what a miserably hard acting gig it would be for the two actors playing the grieving parents of the murdered girl to have to stay in that first week mood of shock and tragic loss for the entire thirteen or so weeks of the production schedule. I know, maybe I’ve been in the business too long thinking about such production details, but it’s easier than thinking about what the reality of that situation would really be like.

Okay, I admit it. My DVR has seriously got me depressed now. And this from a writer who used to worship Edgar Allan Poe as a kid. It seems like the culture has finally and completely caught up with the moods or obsessions of melancholy 10 year-olds. It’s no wonder I’m scrambling for the 1964 escape innocence of a classic series like The Andy Griffith Show on DVD. The most depressing thing that ever happened in Mayberry was Opie accidentally killing a bird with his sling shot (or was it Gomer with a B-B gun from behind the grassy knoll?) and getting a tensed eyebrow and a long hard lecture from his ‘Pa.’

Back in 1964, I actually was Opie, and life was so magnificently boring and innocent, we over-thinkers had to find our escape in the dangerous visions of Eddie Poe or Alfred Hitchcock. Today, swamped in dangerous visions on the news and without any escape in our entertainment programming, I find myself longing for mindless, happy nonsense.

Which is the only explanation why I’m all over American Idol by Wednesday night.

— A. Wayne Carter

P.S. Hands down, the best show on this Spring was Justified on FX, but it was so damn good, I took it off the DVR schedule and had to watch it first run every Wednesday night.