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A Clockwork Orange (#110 of 8)

A Hostage to Fortune Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order

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A Hostage to Fortune: Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order
A Hostage to Fortune: Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order

Barry Forshaw has made a career out of studying the dames, pistols, machismo, and glistening city streets that define crime fiction; with previous books such as Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction and The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction seeking to provide a comprehensive survey of the genre, he’s made himself, to quote the book jacket of British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order, “the UK’s principal expert on crime fiction.” Of course, film ain’t fiction, so to speak, and his first book length effort on crime films is like a Webley revolver with a sticky trigger; it works, just not as fluidly or efficiently as one would like. With fairly cursory critical discussions, perpetual plot synopses, and adjective-driven lauding (“an acidulous commentary on class” or “a masterclass in film acting,” to name a couple) in place of detail-driven social criticism, Forshaw has placed himself between a Brighton Rock (1947) and a Kill List (2011), casting his historical net too wide for anything more than introductory textual assessment.

Forshaw is a straight shooter from his first sentence, a question: “Is it possible to read a nation through its popular entertainment?” From there, 15 chapters organized by theme and content rather than chronology attempt to map out British crime filmmaking’s genesis, essentially commencing with early Alfred Hitchcock thrillers (and Criterion Collection staples) The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) to demonstrate “that Britain’s long tradition of crime cinema may offer a more nuanced, intelligent and politically informed analysis of British society from the 1920’s onwards than more overtly respectable ’heritage’ cinema.” Serving as his thesis, Forshaw proceeds to discuss hundreds of films (the book is thoroughly researched) on the grounds of subversive elements, from politics (Basil Dearden’s The League of Gentlemen, from 1960), to violence (Peter Medak’s The Krays, from 1990), and homosexuality (Basil Dearden’s Victim, from 1961). The problem is that Forshaw spends only a page or two on each film; by the time he’s given a rough summation of the narrative, his attention to its subversive social qualities is short changed by his self-admitted “celebratory” stance on the subject matter.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Editor’s Note: In light of Sight & Sound’s film poll, which, every decade, queries critics and directors the world over before arriving at a communal Top 10 list, we polled our own writers, who didn’t partake in the project, but have bold, discerning, and provocative lists to share.

Eons ago, while still in high school, I composed a list of my all-time favorite films for the first time. The inspiration to undertake such an endeavor was prompted by the 1982 Sight & Sound poll that Roger Ebert wrote about in a mid-’80s edition of his Movie Home Companion (the 1982 Sight & Sound list can be found here). I haven’t followed Sight & Sound’s pattern and revised my own list every 10 years, but I did institute a personal rule that I’ve always adhered to since that initial teenage list: A film has to be at least 10 years old to be eligible for inclusion. Too often, people get swept up in ecstasy over a film they’ve seen for the first time and can’t fight the tendency to overrate it. Then, years later, they see that film again and wonder what the hell they were thinking. That’s why I think all films need time to age, like a fine bottle of wine, to test their taste over time. As for the distinction between “best” and “favorite,” as far I’m concerned, it’s a pointless one. Each submitted list represents someone’s subjective opinion. I hardly can claim my 10 films represent the “best” movies ever made as no one appointed me the arbiter to rule on such absolutes where none can exist.

15 Famous Masked Men

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15 Famous Masked Men
15 Famous Masked Men

In The Dark Knight Rises, a film that got a tragic boost of unexpected publicity yesterday, Batman returns in all his superheroic glory, a growly pariah back to restore the city for which he marred his image. The black-clad character emerges from the shadows, yet still keeps himself concealed, thanks to that trusty cowl that’s become one of pop culture’s most iconic disguises. Men in masks have been darting across the movie screen since the days of silents and serials, and their popularity shows no signs of diminishing. In honor of this crime-fighting, blockbuster weekend, we’ve rallied together 15 other films that also place masked men front and center.

Summer of ‘86: Aliens

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Summer of ‘86: <em>Aliens</em>
Summer of ‘86: <em>Aliens</em>

In Scream 2, the question of whether a sequel can be better than the original film becomes a running gag, with participants intermittently suggesting examples. For Wes Craven, it’s just another of the many self-referential gestures in his Scream films and elsewhere. But for film lovers, it’s a game worth playing. Enthusiasts differ on whether The Empire Strikes Back really is better than Star Wars (now A New Hope), or should be disqualified as the middle part of a trilogy; and whether Superman II outshines Superman: The Movie. Probably the one sequel that no one denies is superior to its original is The Road Warrior. But in the Summer of ’86, James Cameron’s Aliens outdid Ridley Scott’s Alien in every way imaginable.

A sequel has to be both the same film and different, and this is a challenge for anyone undertaking to direct a follow-up. How to make the film your own, turn it into something that stands up in its own right, while still repeating enough of the successes of the original to justify its coattail riding at the box office? Cameron had announced himself with The Terminator a couple of years earlier, and now faced the challenge of reinventing one of the most popular and successful fantasy-genre films of all time. The 1979 film had married science fiction with horror in a way unseen since the ’50s, reviving the monster genre, which had, for the most part, died out in the wake of Psycho’s ushering in of an era of more personal, intimate, human horror.

A Conversation with Malcolm McDowell

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A Conversation with Malcolm McDowell
A Conversation with Malcolm McDowell

When I first contacted the Film Society of Lincoln Center about interviewing Malcolm McDowell (in town to support his and Mike Kaplan’s film Never Apologize, a walk-down-memory-lane tribute to Lindsay Anderson that is screening concurrently with the “Lindsay Anderson: Revolutionary Romantic” series), I didn’t honestly believe I would get the chance to sit down and chat with the man who scarred me for life at the age of ten. (O.K., in all fairness it was my father who made the monolithic mistake of taking me and my sister to see A Clockwork Orange at the local university.) I just figured, as the New York State lottery ad goes, “Hey, you never know.”

So it was a bit surreal sitting in front of this snow white-haired, otherworldly blue-eyed acting legend in a closed restaurant across from Manhattan’s Mandarin Hotel, hearing him hold forth on everything from the exact moment (my patron director saint) Stanley Kubrick made the gut instinct casting decision that would anchor his masterpiece to the feeling of bearing witness to Olivier onstage; from British-schooled African dictators and film biz shysters to why England is the land of wonderful losers; and—oh yes—why he never allows himself the luxury to dream of working with any artist so as to avoid potential disappointment. Well, Mr. McDowell, I am most grateful and honored that you shared such an insightful half-hour of your time with myself and The House Next Door and, if I may so humbly point out, the following interview is definitive proof that sometimes it does indeed pay to dream.

The Unscrupulous Side of Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange

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The Unscrupulous Side of Kubrick: <em>A Clockwork Orange</em>
The Unscrupulous Side of Kubrick: <em>A Clockwork Orange</em>

A contribution to Jim Emerson’s (Scanners) Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon

A thief, rapist, and murderer residing in England at some unidentified point in the future, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is the bloodthirsty and Beethoven-loving protagonist at the center of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Throughout the film, Alex, like his victims, will be subjected to much pain and suffering—a great deal of it under undeserving circumstances—but even at his most heinous he is presented as a diabolical anti-hero, someone to side with and root for. We know this because it is indicated in his voice-over narration: he comments upon the unfolding events as if recalling them from some point in the future, regarding the audience as a fellow chum ready to take part in some of the ’ol ultraviolence.

“Keep the Audience Awake!”: An Interview with Malcolm McDowell

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“Keep the Audience Awake!”: An Interview with Malcolm McDowell
“Keep the Audience Awake!”: An Interview with Malcolm McDowell

My introduction to the screen work of Malcolm McDowell came on a Halloween night in the late 1970s, the year I decided I was too grown-up for the childish maneuvers of trick-or-treating, and instead went to the mall and slipped into Time After Time. Although I may not have realized it then, the soul of the picture lies in the lunch date between McDowell’s H.G. Wells, who has traveled from London to America in his time machine, and Amy Robbins, a modern-day career woman faultlessly played by Mary Steenburgen. In a revolving restaurant atop the Hyatt Regency, the spires and blue mists of San Francisco swirl behind McDowell, as he and Steenburgen glow at each other like a couple of school kids. “We knew it had to be magical for the film to work,” McDowell told me on a recent October morning, nearly a full three decades later. And magical it is: Anyone who has listened to Time After Time’s DVD commentary track knows that McDowell told Steenburgen he loved her prior to shooting the scene. The fluster that she exudes isn’t acting; it’s real. H.G. Wells tries to impress Amy by telling her he’s just published a series of articles on “free love.” When she bursts his bubble (“I haven’t heard the term ’free love’ since eighth-grade”) his prowess turns momentarily to embarrassment. Hardly a few frames flicker past, however, and the McDowell/Wells goofy grin exultantly returns—he’s smitten (as was I).