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A Vision That's Hard to Watch

Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange' presents his stark, bleak view of the future.

July 15, 1999|STEVE EMMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Say what you will about director Stanley Kubrick's films, they were his films, from top to bottom.

He was "completely self-taught, totally uncompromising, not allowing any interference from the studios," according to movie historian Peter Biskind. With rare exceptions, during Kubrick's nearly 30 years at Warner Bros., no studio second-guessers read his scripts, visited his sets or reviewed his rushes.

His hand wrote the scripts and his eye framed the scenes (he was a staff photographer for Look magazine by age 17), his ear selected the music. When you see a Kubrick film, you see Kubrick's unique vision.

And sometimes that vision is so jarring you need seat belts. "A Clockwork Orange," showing Friday night as the first in the Kubrick series at the Orange County Museum of Art, is such strong stuff that when released in 1971 it was rated X. It was too much for some then, and after 28 years it can still make you squirm.

It is the story of Alex DeLarge, teenage leader of a tiny gang of hoodlums practicing "the old ultra violence" in London in the near future. Alex and his band go out at night to fight, beat, rob and rape as casually as if going to a movie.

Kubrick does not wink and hint about this sex and violence. He shows you. During the most horrifying and memorable scene, Alex and his band invade the country home of a writer and his wife, strip the woman naked, and Alex batters and rapes as he sings "Singin' in the Rain."

This is not the usual Hollywood recreational violence. It is too awful and real and close to home. But there is an artistic justification for it, and those who can stay with the film long enough will find it.

Kubrick is addressing the problem of evil and what we can do about it, but with the edge and bite of a social satirist. In the film, the only constant is the evil in Alex. How parents, bureaucrats, politicians, prisons and police waver and deal with him is the real point, and Kubrick often makes it with the grimmest of irony and humor.

"A Clockwork Orange" is still potent and thought-provoking. For those who can handle the nudity and violence it is a must-see.

One bit of trivia: Kubrick, noted for his unconventional use of music, has Alex croon "Singin' in the Rain" as he batters and rapes. It makes the scene all the more horrifying, but it wasn't Kubrick's choice. It was the only complete song lyric the actor, Malcolm McDowell, knew.

* "A Clockwork Orange" screens Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach. $5-$3. Running time: 123 minutes. Rated R. Information: (949) 759-1122. Other films in the Kubrick series: "The Shining" on Aug. 13 and "Dr. Strangelove" on Sept. 17.

Comedy of Errors From France

The man who made "La Cage aux Folles" is back with another comedy, "The Dinner Game," which was the second-biggest hit in France last year. ("Titanic" was the biggest.)

Francis Veber is particularly fond of the giddy, odd-couple kind of film, and this is another, with a twist.

The film's hero, wealthy publisher Pierre Brochant, and his friends plan a dinner in which each must bring an idiot as a guest. The one who brings the most idiotic dinner companion wins.

The comedy begins when Brochant's fool, a man who makes monuments out of matchsticks, arrives at Brochant's house. Before they can head off to the dinner, Brochant's back goes out, and the fool spends the rest of the film trying to straighten out Brochant's back, then his life. No task is so simple that he cannot fail.

The film, according to New York Times critic Janet Maslin, "is one of [Veber's] better-constructed comedies of errors."

* "The Dinner Game" opens Friday at Edwards Town Center Cinema, 3199 Park Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Running time: 80 minutes. Not rated. French with English subtitles. Information: (714) 751-4184.

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