A Clockwork Orange

Before I get into the adaptations, I want to mention two things about Burgess’s novella that may be relevant to our discussion. The first is the issue of the multiple endings. The first American printing of the novella omits the final chapter, ending, as the film does, with Alex declaring himself “cured” of his aversion to violence and sex. In the final chapter, Alex goes on to find himself “like growing up”, and taking less pleasure from ultraviolence than from gazing at a picture of “a baby gurgling goo goo”. This additional episode seems to collapse the moral conundrum of the novella in favor of letting people like Alex simply outgrow their violent urges. The reason why this chapter was omitted is not totally clear, but it appears to have been a decision by the publisher.


The second issue is the one of language. The novella is written in an invented dialect called Nadsat that Burgess claimed, in the preface to the 1986 Norton edition, “was meant to muffle the raw response we expect from pornography”, a decision that he retrospectively characterized as “cowardice” (x). The film adapts some of the slang from the book, but the result is different from the disorienting effect of the language of the novella.


In addition to Kubrick’s film, there have been several stage adaptations, some of which were based on a script written by Burgess. Wikipedia has a decent enough overview of them, so I won’t bother repeating it:



Burgess’s play script was published under the title A clockwork orange : a play with music based on his novella of the same name. It can be found at NYPL and Columbia. 


Andy Warhol’s unauthorized 1965 adaptation, Vinyl, can be found on YouTube:



There was a MAD magazine parody called A Crockwork Lemon published in 1973. There are scans here:



The Simpsons has referenced/parodied the Kubrick version of A Clockwork Orange numerous times.  Here is a supercut of a few examples (unfortunately pretty badly transferred):



There is also a “reenactment” of the Kubrick film by “30 Second Bunnies Theatre”:



Here is “A Clockwork Orange County”, which is a mashup of A Clockwork Orange with the 2002 movie Orange County:



There is also a 2010 documentary about the 1980s West-coast punk scene called Clockwork Orange County, but it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the novella/film. It could probably be gotten by ILL. There is a review here:



Finally, here is a recut of the Kubrick film in which the much-maligned song “Friday” by Rebecca Black causes Alex to jump out the window:


8 thoughts on “A Clockwork Orange

  1. Great stuff here Jeff. Thanks. I think we’d agreed that we would all post a short “comment” on Jeff’s list. OK? The “recut” with “Friday” reminds me that we haven’t yet included Youtubepoop, in which the original movie is recut to change its genre, tone, etc., but retaining the original text and images. One of my favorites is “Scary Mary”, a horror movie version of “Mary Poppins.” I’ll send a link.

  2. Yes! The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes are amazing nuggets of pop culture references (along the Kubrick line, there’s a great “The Shining” parody, called “The Shinning”, a title that is explained by Grounds-Keeper Willie thusly: “Ya don’t want ta get SUED.”). Direct comparison between the ultraviolence of Burgess’ Alex and Bart Simpson’s brand of cartoon mayhem might be going too far, but the character of Bart is generally used as a playground for remediations on cultural or historical “bad boys”, while still achieving icon-status himself. Some other examples I can readily think of are Bart’s attempts to be casted as Burt Ward-parody Fallout Boy in season 7 episode “Radioactive Man”, and that one time he played Generation X’s Dennis the Menace to George Bush Sr in “Two Bad Neighbors”.

  3. (Bart freaking out when he tries to touch those two cupcakes went way over my head when I watched that as a child.)

    This was my first time experiencing both the film and novel version of A Clockwork Orange. I definitely think the novel gives you a better sense of the “treatment” that Alex goes through, although the movie does a good job in portraying the “sickness” Alex feels. I think that one thing that came off weak in the film adaptation was the difference in language- although the language of the book is used when Alex narrates, the narration isn’t used often enough to make the language as palpable as in the novel. Although, maybe I only felt this way because I had read the novel first- I wonder what someone would feel if they just saw the film version.

    The strength of film is visual, with carnival-esque images and colorful scenes to juxtapose and heighten the dark tone. And the Beethoven on synthesizers? Disturbing, to say the least! One scene I’d like to point out is when Alex licks the man’s boot. In the novel, Alex offers to lick his boot- he grovels and must think of things that are the opposite of violence in any way to alleviate the sickness he feels. This wasn’t portrayed in the same way in the film. A moment that particularly struck me in the novel was when Alex thinks of a fruit-fly being killed and feels so sick that he must think of the fly being nourished to feel better. This wasn’t something that was portrayed in the novel, but it could have been if the narration was used more.

    As a side-note, did anyone notice that in the movie, Alex’s last name is Burgess? This is written in the newspaper articles that his parents are reading after Alex leaves the jail. I thought this reference to the author was interesting. What did everyone else think?

    Also, I just want to say that Bunnies in 30-seconds are hilarious- I have been watching these videos for years and the parodies are on-target. Why bunnies? Because watching bunnies play out scenes like those in A Clockwork Orange heighten it’s surreal and unnerving tone! Plus you get all the most important scenes of a movie in thirty-seconds by hilarious cartoon bunnies- what better way to get a synopsis? My favorite is The Shining one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqprgBY70qM. And it works, since it’s Kubrick!

    I never saw the Andy Warhol adaptation of A Clockwork Orange which Jeff posted above, but it seems hilarious- I watched a few of the videos and the acting seems rather awful- but I’m curious to watch all of it and compare the scenes to those in the novel as well! Thanks, Jeff!

    • I’m so sorry Professor Greetham- I just saw this comment now (I was having trouble getting used to how the blog works and missed some comments) – I will try and find this scene where “Alex Burgess” is listed in the newspaper the next chance I get and get the time for you and the class. Thank you!

  4. I love 30 second Bunnies! They are so great at getting to the heart of the movie while maintaining plot fidelity. I especially love the scene that occurs at :21 seconds when the bunny stands up and yells, “he has no choice!”. That scene for me is one of the most important because it highlights that fact that Alex is not cured. Instead, his aversions are blocked by what Samuel McCracken calls, “an internal injunction”. Alex still desires ultraviolence but “the nausea is always quicker than the knife”.

  5. I didn’t realize the play’s script had that subtitle. I’m interested in subtitles in general (as framing devices, caveats, tricks, etc) and here, I think the fact that it directly points out the play’s connection to the novella is an interesting one (as though a discerning audience, one which had already seen Kubrick’s film, wouldn’t already pick up on that). The syntax is interesting, too – “a play with music” rather an a “musical.” (Granted, the latter has a pretty happy-go-lucky connotation, but that could always be subverted.)

    The Soho Theatre’s all-male production, which closed in January, describes itself thusly: “electrifying and testosterone-filled physical theatre’ horrorshow’ exquisitely captures and transcends the spirit of Anthony Burgess’ original literary masterpiece […]”. (Fuller blurb here: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/a-clockwork-orange/). I’d love to see what they mean by “transcends the spirit” of the book: I’m wondering how much it has to do with the homoeroticism spotlighted in Time Out’s review (http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/a-clockwork-orange/).

    I really like the MAD parody, and 30 Second Bunnies: both always get to the heart of the matter. MAD, especially, winks at its audience almost constantly, and it starts right away with the intro text in the first frame. I’d bet that Alfred E. Neuman has “played” more “roles” than a lot of real actors/models.

  6. I keep thinking about the language issue — that the dialect, which so dominates the experience of reading the book, doesn’t exactly translate to the film. Nadsat is there, but as Jeff said, it doesn’t have the same disorienting effect. In the Kubrick, it’s the visual aesthetic that’s disorienting. Building on what Alexandra wrote, I want to argue (though I’m not totally sure it holds) that the film’s alienating Mod-Renaissance aesthetic is a visual translation of Burgess’s language. Kubrick takes the disorienting element in the Burgess — language — and translates it into an (equally disorienting) set of scenic/costume/makeup design choices.

    I’m not sure if it’s then too strong to say that translating that sense of disorientation across media (from novella to film) REQUIRES a move from linguistic stylization to visual stylization, but I think it might be possible to argue that. Given the amount of information we get all at once in film (sound, light, scenic design, costume design, real bodies in real space, plus language), I’m not sure that stylized language alone could disorient us — the visual markers would provide too many anchors (I think?).

    Re: the MAD Magazine adaptation:
    I’m interested in this as an example of a specific mode of parody which distills and condenses the original for comic effect — a kind of deconstruction, which comments on the original by stripping it. This as opposed to, say, the South Park Great Expectations — in the scene we watched last week where Estella climbs the staircase while insulting Pip, the adaptation responds to the original by heightening it. In the MAD Clockwork, the adaptation responds by breaking it down.

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