Wednesday, July 30, 2008

That Sexy Psychopath: Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange"

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Watching A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Lauren Wissot "begins to understand how cult leaders and serial killers could have so many females wanting to bed them."

That Sexy Psychopath: Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange”

When I received the press release announcing The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s series “Lindsay Anderson: Revolutionary Romantic” (running from 8/15-8/21) I thought, well, that should be a fascinating retro. But then I noticed that Anderson’s quintessential discovery Malcolm McDowell would also be on hand to premiere his and Mike Kaplan’s “Never Apologize: A Personal Visit with Lindsay Anderson” and I thought, well, that should be…hot!

For over 20 years I’ve had a thing for McDowell – or, more precisely, the proudly nihilistic Alex he brought to life from the notorious Burgess book, if not as much so for Mick Travis, the embryonic Alex he created in Anderson’s classic trilogy. I first saw “A Clockwork Orange” around the age of ten (note to liberal academics attempting to enlighten their young offspring through art films – Kubrick? Not a good idea) and again later in high school. It was this teenage viewing of McDowell as the violent anarchist leader of a group of hoods, who is ultimately “rehabilitated” by an equally sadistic society, that stuck with me. So much so, that as all the other chicks in my small town dressed as Wonder Woman or Elvira or some similar character with adolescent sex appeal for Halloween, I anointed myself leader of my own band of droogs, eyelash and codpiece included. If you could overlook the raping and pillaging, Alex was one undeniably steamy paradox: a brilliant, sophisticated thug with precise lilting diction and a taste for Beethoven. And I wanted to be a – nonviolent – troublemaker outsmarting evil authority, too!

McDowell devoured his lead role with an animal intensity so enthralling as to inspire copycat crimes that caused Kubrick (upon receiving death threats) subsequently to pull his masterpiece from distribution in England. McDowell’s Alex was Mick Travis on psychopathic steroids, a lethal piece of rough trade annihilating his prey, a flesh-and-hot-blooded embodiment of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” (In fact, his stunning portrayal in the 1971 film gave visceral voice to what would culminate in the Sex Pistols’ “No Future” ethos.)

From the opening moment where Kubrick focuses his all-seeing lens in a close up of Alex’s penetrating gaze, and then slowly pulls back to reveal the futuristic (yet laced with the Swingin’ Sixties) Korova Milkbar with its “milk plus” pouring from the stone pussies of pornographic statues, McDowell’s Alex has you firmly in his grasp. For the next two hours he will take you along for the unapologetically conniving, scheming, brutalizing ride of ultraviolence and make you revel in the glory of his hedonistic hell. Yes, he’s the mastermind behind the agonizing rape at Home – but he does it whilst “Singin’ in the Rain,” with the glee of a child on a roller coaster. Kubrick shoots the scenes of the gang in the stolen car, flying along as if at an amusement park––which, of course, the world is to them. McDowell knows exactly where Alex’s powerful appeal lays: in his pathologically insatiable appetite, in his living life as one never-ending thirst to be quenched.

The scene in which Alex picks up two Lolitas in a music shop before taking them back to his flat for a bit of the old “in-out in-out,” that infamous fast motion m√©nage a trois set to the “William Tell Overture,” exemplifies his predatory MO. Dressed to the hilt like a dashing prince, Alex saunters through the joint like he owns it, stopping to inquire about an order he’d placed. His attention soon falls on the popsicle-sucking (“A bit cold and pointless, isn’t it, my lovely?”) jailbait pair who he promptly, shamelessly, places himself between, getting uncomfortably up close and personal while dispensing more witticisms like Pez candy. By the time he’s taken a slow taste of the brunette’s cold treat he’s taken vampire-like possession of the duo as well. The invitation to his pad to hear “angels’ trumpets and heaven’s trombones” is merely a formality. Alex is sexy because he’s cocky, fearless, and most importantly, intensely and unabashedly sexual.

Indeed, watching McDowell’s performance one begins to understand how cult leaders and serial killers could have so many females wanting to bed them. Bad boys with high I.Q.s and their own set of rules, rebels writ large, all belong to the seductive brotherhood of Alex. I’d venture to guess that Kubrick’s film would not have been nearly as controversial – nor horrorshow – had he cast a less charismatic lead. Then again I also would not be fantasizing about a now elderly gent who once rocked my young punk world.

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