This section contains 5,662 words
(approx. 19 pages at 300 words per page)
SOURCE: "'What's It Going to Be Then, Eh?': The Stage Odyssey of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange," in Modern Drama, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, March, 1991, pp. 35-48.
In the following essay, Hutchings discusses the stage adaptations of A Clockwork Orange, focusing on the two written by Burgess.
Since its publication in 1962, A Clockwork Orange has remained Anthony Burgess's best-known and most controversial work, distinguished not only by his stylistic virtuosity in creating the polyglot, pun-riddled teenage slang in which the novel is written but also by the vividness of the violence-wracked dystopian society within which Alex, the book's narrator and protagonist, thrives. Yet even within the tradition of disaffected adolescent narrator/protagonist/anti-heroes—ranging from Huckleberry Finn to Holden Caulfield to Smith in Alan Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner—Alex is decidedly an extreme and appalling case: the leader of a teenage gang, he is a thief, a mugger, a convicted murderer and rapist, who frankly and unrepentently describes even his most heinous deeds and dares to assert the essential humanity that he shares with the readers, whom he addresses repeatedly as "my brothers." Rife with theological implications about the Christian doctrine of free will, filled with anti-authoritarian and anti-behaviorist satire, and prophetically accurate about the urban violence that would ever-increasingly characterize subsequent decades, Burgess's novel is among the most prescient works of the postmodern era—and one of its most outrageous. With its clear agons, its moral conundrums, and the added advantage of its numerous and notorious scenes of sex and violence—which would particularly help to assure its box-office appeal—A Clockwork Orange was soon recognized as eminently adaptable for the screen and/or for the stage. Controversy has accompanied every version of the work that has been presented, and the various strategies used in the course of its transformations from page to screen to stage raise issues that are germane to all studies of such adaptations.
Anthony Burgess has long been dissatisfied with the truncated text of A Clockwork Orange that was published in the United States, which omitted the novel's final chapter and added an unauthorized and unnecessary glossary; the untruncated text remained unavailable in the United States until 1987. Stanley Kubrick's much-acclaimed 1971 film (with which Burgess was also highly displeased) was based on the American edition of the novel; Burgess did not write the screenplay, which was also separately published in 1971. Several years earlier, however, a quite different film of the novel had been planned, for which he was to prepare the script, as he recently disclosed:
… In … 1965 … the rock-group known as the Rolling Stones expressed an interest in the buying of the property and acting participation in a film version which I myself should write. There was not much money in the project, because the permissive age in which crude sex and cruder violence could be frankly presented had not yet begun…. The film … was not made. [A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music, 1987]
Surely, Mick Jagger's portrayal of Alex with the other band members as the droogs must rank alongside the Beatles's unproduced film of Up Against It (from the script written by Joe Orton) as one of the most intriguing unmade films of the 1960s.
The first known stage adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was created by John Godber, produced at the Edinburgh Festival in 1980, and revived in "pub theatre" productions in 1982 and 1984; since Godber's unauthorized version has not been published, however, details of his adaptation must be gleaned from reviews. His most startling innovation is the use of a wheelchair-bound narrator, identified as Alex II, who observes the action from atop a black-box set of walls and raked floors, while another actor, playing Alex I, reenacts events from his earlier, violent life—though these were, in reviewer Christopher Hudson's view, "mimed too discreetly to be threatening" [Evening Standard, March 2, 1984]. At the end of the play, Alex II leaves his wheelchair, becoming an even more menacing presence; as reviewer Barney Bardsley remarks, "he swishes his truncheon in idle remembrance of those bruising, battering days"—an indication that Godber's adaptation, like Kubrick's, presented the truncated "American" ending of the novel rather than Burgess's own. "My unease with this production, [which is] so beautifully directed and executed," continued Bardsley, "is that it made of Alex not a despicable little shit—which he surely is—but a rather appealing folk hero" [City Lights, March 9, 1984].
In order to "stem the flow of amateur adaptations that [he had] heard about but never seen" (Play), Burgess completely reworked the novel into his own "authorized" dramatization, first published in 1987 as A Clockwork Orange: A Play With Music. While retaining many of the book's now-famous scenes and its invented "nadsat" teenage slang, Burgess's adaptation is surely no less controversial than Kubrick's own, since it not only restores the novel's "original" ending but adds a surprising final confrontation between Alex and a character resembling Kubrick himself. Designed as "a little play which any group may perform," Burgess's stage version requires only minimal props and offers few specifics about costume design; "this is not grand opera," he wryly remarked in its preface (Play).
In February 1990, a second, greatly expanded, and radically different "authorized" adaptation, known as A Clockwork Orange 2004, was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre in London; although Burgess is credited as the sole author in the published version, in a prefatory note he acknowledges that the play's director, Ron Daniels, gave "invaluable help with the adaptation" and may be presumed to have been responsible for many of the changes made between the two versions. With music provided by Bono and the Edge, A Clockwork Orange became—if not "grand opera"—at least what reviewer John Heilpern termed "a crypto-musical designed as a commercial blockbuster" [Vogue, June, 1990, p. 132], as the English-language adaptation of Les Misérables had become since its production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985. It was, however, far less enthusiastically received.
Since the novel is divided into three parts containing seven chapters each, A Clockwork Orange would seem to be readily adaptable into a three-act play—depicting, respectively, Alex's experiences before, during, and after the prison incarceration during which he is subjected to the "Ludovico Technique," the behavioristic therapy that is designed to inculcate in him a pathological aversion to violence and/or evil. However, in each of Burgess's stage versions there are only two acts; the first ends with Alex's initial subjection to the mind-altering regimen, and the second begins as he completes his final session under the doctors' supervision. By thus eliding most of Alex's treatment, both stage versions avoid subjecting the audience to prolonged, basically repetitive depiction of the treatment whereby Alex is exposed to what one of his doctors describes as "a real show of horrors" (2004); at the director's discretion, a montage of scenes (or stills) from the brutal films that Alex is forced to watch may or may not be projected for viewing by the audience as they are described aloud by his doctors. Although their methodology is amply demonstrated in the first such session, and although the change in Alex's personality is apparent at the beginning of Act Two, the dramatic elision of his treatment by placing it between the acts may unintentionally undercut the fact that it constitutes no less a form of violence than the heinous acts that Alex perpetrates before being apprehended. Indeed, in terms of the novel's thematic structure, the acts of violence that are sanctioned, sponsored, and administered by the collective power of the state are inherently more ominous than Alex's individual acts of violence; the former are also no less dehumanizing for their victim, and, when considered dispassionately and objectively, no less horrifying.
The portrayal of the book's more violent scenes has long been a central issue in all adaptations of A Clockwork Orange, since an on-stage or on-screen enactment of a beating, murder, or rape is inherently different from its novelistic description in language, particularly Alex's "nadsat" slang which provides a certain distancing (and often comic) effect in the book. Stung by criticism that the book's violence is excessive and might incite such behavior among impressionable readers—fears that were even more widely (and loudly) voiced after the release of Kubrick's film—Burgess sought to minimalize the violence in his initial stage adaptation, wherein stage directions are reduced to a minimum. Thus, for example, in the confrontation between Alex's droogs and the rival gang headed by Billy-boy, the stage direction indicates only that
The knives and bicycle chains come out…. There is now a fight, very exactly choreographed to music. DIM is the most vigorous but least stylish of the four droogs. The gang of BILLYBOY limps off, slashed, bloody. (Play)
With appropriate choreography, such a scene could easily become as balletic as that between the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story (1957), on which it may in fact have been modeled; although much is left to the director's discretion, the scene's stylization and the presence of the music (as in the film) mitigate its realism. In the 1990 version, however, the music is removed, the stage directions are more specific, and the violence is more graphic:
The knives and bicycle chains come out…. There is now a fight…. DIM is the most vigorous but least stylish of the four droogs. Dancing about with his razor, ALEX slashes. Blood pours down either side of BILLYBOY'S face, while LEO, his number one, blinded by DIM's chain, howls and crawls about like an animal. Police sirens are heard. The droogs scatter. (2004)
Even when portrayed this directly, however, such violence seems tame in comparison to that in other contemporary plays (e.g., those of Edward Bond) or in modern productions of Macbeth or Titus Andronicus (among many others), and in countless films that have been marketed primarily on the basis of their state-of-the-art special effects and ever-more-graphic mayhem, cruelty, mutilation, and gore.
Whereas such depictions of violence have long since surpassed anything in any version of A Clockwork Orange, the film's notorious scene in which the writer F. Alexander is accosted, beaten, bound, and forced to watch while his wife is raped has retained its notoriety as a landmark in cinematic sadism; in the film, notoriously, the scene is choreographed to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain." Each of the three stage adaptations adopts a different strategy in depicting this crucial scene, however. In Godber's work, presumably, it was among the incidents from Alex's past that were (however unconvincingly) mimed; in Burgess's 1987 version, the scene was moved off-stage entirely, and the initial assault occurred in the street rather than in their home (where it takes place in the novel, the film, and the subsequently revised version). With surprising coyness, Burgess demurs even at using the word "rape" in his stage directions in his 1987 text and intends to have the action conveyed solely through music: after "having their mouths stuffed by the balled-up manuscript … the man is left for near-dead on the ground while the wife is, God help her, prepared for—" [sic], an act so unspeakable that its name is unspoken even in the playwright's stage directions. The "preparation" (the nature of which is also unspecified) is to be accompanied by "the melody of the second movement of Beethoven's Sonata Pathétique" as the droogs sing about loving "the old in-out"; as "the lights dim as they take the struggling girl off," the music becomes more "manic" before it post-coitally "dies away" (Play). Yet, however much Kubrick's rendition of the scene exploits its violence and prurience (particularly in its use of close-ups as Alex cuts to shreds the woman's red jumpsuit before the rape itself occurs), Burgess's 1987 version seems too drastic in its remedy, undercutting the incident's inherent horror by reducing it to an unseen act in an unspecified off-stage elsewhere. Although ample precedents for off-stage violence abound from classical times onward, and although musical alarums can denote scenes of struggle of whatever kind, the omission of such scenes from A Clockwork Orange would seem inevitably to mitigate a work to which violence is literally (and physically) integral.
Accordingly, in the 1990 version, the rape scene was returned both to the stage and to the home of F. Alexander, where it occurred in the novel. Wearing a Disraeli mask (while his droogs sport masks of P.B. Shelley, Elvis Presley, and Henry VIII), Alex orders Dim to "grab hold of this veck here [F. Alexander] so that he can viddy all"; then, following a gratuitous "Bog [God] help us all," Alex/Disraeli "untrusses and plunges" as F. Alexander "howls in rage." However, the stage directions then specify that, "suddenly unmasking," Alex resumes his role as on-stage narrator, directly addressing the audience:
Then after me it was right old Dim should have his turn, then Pete and Georgie had theirs. Then there was like quiet, and we were full of like hate, so we smashed what there was left to be smashed. The writer veck and his zheena were not really there, bloody and torn and making noises. But they'd live. (2004)
In "suddenly" removing the mask and resuming his role as narrator (surely a unique redefinition of coitus interruptus), Alex in effect distances himself from the action by mediating it through language, reliably but briefly reporting events that remain unseen, though their nature has been unmistakably demonstrated on stage. In so doing, he maintains the distinction between the minacious, antisocial Alex-who-acts (Alex I in Godber's version) and the forthright, confiding, post-reformation Alex-who-narrates (Godber's Alex II).
The fact that Alex's narrative voice pervades the novel provides an inevitable problem for all of the various adapters of A Clockwork Orange—and one that they have attempted to resolve in a variety of ways. Because it is immediately recognizable with its pervasive nadsat slang, it is perhaps the most distinctive "voice-print" in modern literature—the unique and idiosyncratic product of his particular sensibility, cunning but confiding, minacious but oddly meliorative, inherently asking the reader to understand if not condone; he addresses the reader repeatedly as "brother," with the fervor and insidiously affective intent of a reformed sinner at a religious revival meeting, while remaining wholly and sincerely unrepentent. Paradoxically, it creates within the novel a sort of "alienation effect," distancing the reader from even his most horrific exploits, rendering them less "alienating" than a realistic (i.e., ostensibly objective) third-person description of the same events would be. Most importantly, however, it is both adolescent and postadolescent at the same time. Alex's bravado and brio epitomize the hormone-charged sensibility of many fifteen-year-old males: aggressive, heedless, headstrong, and combative but occasionally physically awkward in the presence of his elders (slipping and sliding in saucers of milk while assaulting the cat-owning elderly lady), unconcerned about the consequences and implications of his rash but immediately gratifying actions, and insensitive to whatever discomfort he causes others, whether inadvertently or by design. Yet, notwithstanding its narrative immediacy, Alex's apologia pro vita sua is in fact a retrospective account of events; it is recounted by a postcorrective, reconditioned and deconditioned Alex who uses the past tense throughout in describing his former self (or, more precisely, selves). In the twenty-first chapter, he has not only assumed all the postadolescent respectability that lawfully gained income from a worthwhile job can convey, but he also looks forward to assuming the domestic (and ostensibly domesticating) responsibilities of a home, a wife, and a child. The dual narrative perspective of adolescent and postadolescent sensibilities, both of which are integral to the novel, has been notoriously difficult for the various adapters to sustain.
Whereas Godber presented Alex-who-acts and Alex-who-narrates as two separate characters, with the latter being inexplicably wheelchair-bound, and whereas Kubrick utilized a voiceover in the film, Burgess attempted to dispense with Alex's narrative function almost entirely in the 1987 version of the play. Apart from a song in which the phrase "my brothers" may be addressed either to the audience or his droogs (Play), Alex speaks directly to the audience only twice in this adaptation: immediately before jumping out the window in his suicide attempt ("Goodbye. May Bog forgive you for a ruined jeezny" [Play]) and at the very end of the play, in a speech that is taken from the novel's final paragraph. The remainder of Alex's lines are skillfully reworked into dialogue with other characters, though this version of the play reduces the novel to a too-small number of vignettes. The number of scenes from the novel has been greatly increased in the 1990 version, however, and Alex's narrative function has been restored, beginning with the play's opening lines. Whereas Burgess's previous adaptation had begun with a droog's aria "freely adapting the Scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony" (Play), the later stage version omits the novel's famous opening line, "'What's it going to be then, eh?'" and begins instead with the book's second sentence, "That ['There' in the novel] was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim …" (2004). While the 1990 version is thus the most faithful to the book in sustaining Alex's narrative tone and function, its retention led the critic for Sight and Sound to charge that the book had been "incompletely dramatised" [Philip French, Spring, 1990].
Another significant change between the 1987 and 1990 stage adaptations involves the play's use of the theatrical space, which is more flexible in the earlier version—particularly as it is suddenly redefined in the scene in which the Chaplain's sermon is addressed directly to the audience, "which we must imagine is a group of prisoners in the prison chapel" as wardens watch carefully over them, occasionally "shout[ing] threats and objurgations into the audience" (Play). In the 1990 version, however, the sermon is presented to an on-stage audience of prisoners and not directed at the theatregoers (2004).
A more remarkable change between the two stage adaptations involves the on-stage depiction of a second murder for which Alex gets blamed—the death of one of his prison cellmates. Given the name Pedofil in the play, he is one of the unnamed characters referred to in the novel as "two like queer ones who both took a fancy to me, and one of them made a jump on to my back, and I had a real nasty bit of drasting with him," though he is not murdered as Pedofil is in both of Burgess's stage adaptations. Surprisingly, however, in the 1987 version Alex is almost an innocent bystander: during the fatal beating that Pedofil receives, Alex is "comparatively unviolent," according to the stage directions (Play), though the other inmates subsequently blame him rather than the actual perpetrator, Jojohn. In the 1990 version, however, as in the novel, Alex is in fact guilty, reacting violently against being sexually assaulted by his fellow prisoner in the middle of the night; the stage directions indicate that he "joyously cracks at" Pedofil, "fists him all over," and "gives him a final kick" (2004)—all of which, of course, Alex's own victim was prevented from doing when he raped her. Nevertheless, Burgess's purpose in twice reworking this relatively brief and minor scene from the novel and increasingly developing this second murder remains unclear; whether or not Alex is an active participant, the violent deeds that he has already perpetrated have surely established those aspects of his personality, and the scene (which Kubrick omitted from the film) seems not only expendable but stereotypical, even if it does provide a certain role reversal in which Alex the sexual victimizer is himself victimized (though he seems to learn nothing from the new perspective). The stereotyping is particularly evident in Burgess's depiction of a character identified only as "the Big Jew," a lisping felon whom Pedofil refers to as "yid" and whose dialect—e.g., "Yeth, yeth, boyth, that'th fair" (2004)—pointlessly resurrects the sort of deplorable caricatures whose popularity should presumably have waned several generations ago.
A particular problem in devising the stage adaptations has been how to create the visual images of a future dystopian state without reduplicating the images from the film that Burgess deplores—images that are among the most widely known and readily recognizable in modern cinema. Probably as a result of budgetary constraints and the circumstances of its production in pub theatres, Godber's version used a minimalist black set, allowing the audience members' imaginations to fill in the details however they liked; similarly, Burgess's 1987 adaptation gives few details about the set. Thus, like both the novel and the film, Burgess's play opens in the Korova Milk Bar—though its interior is as undescribed in his script as it is in the novel. Only a neon-lit window-sign, featuring the word MOLOKO written backwards in Cyrillic letters, designates the locale in the play. The startling decor that Kubrick devised for the film—with its nude female bodies contorted into tables and adapted into mechanical beverage dispensers with drug-laden milk squirting from their nipples on demand—is conspicuously absent from the stage, if not from the viewers' minds. For the Royal Shakespeare Company's production, designer Richard Hudson created a basic set that the reviewer for Plays and Players described as "similar to a red-painted interior of a gasometer" which, in the Korova Milk Bar scene, was
augmented by a huge white milk bottle protruding through the wall, and adorned with various frenetic dancers and glazed weirdos stoned on spiked milk…. The milk bottle is the first of a series of outsize white objects, somehow clinical as well as phallic, which project through the main set. They act as symbols for the brutality of this future world and also the unremitting male focus of the play. [Nick Curtis, April, 1990]
Other familiar scenes from the film and the novel have been similarly modified in Burgess's adaptations for the stage. The scene in which Alex intrudes into the home of the woman whom he inadvertently murders lacks the enormous phallic objet d'art that he wields against her in the film, and the cats (missing in the 1987 version) were restored to the scene in 1990. In the earlier adaptation, P.R. Deltoid, Alex's probation officer, encounters and counsels him in the Milk Bar rather than in the home of his parents, and there is none of the gratuitous homosexual groping that was added in the film. Even the costume design in the play countervenes that of the film; Alex and the droogs dress primarily in black in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production, whereas they wear white jumpsuits in the film. [In an endnote, Hutchings comments: "Although Burgess clearly wishes to distance himself as much as possible from Kubrick's film, the publishers of his stage adaptations clearly have no such interest; the virtually identical graphic design used on the covers of both books is clearly derived from the film logo. Each features a drawing of a rather sinister face that is remarkably like Malcolm McDowell's [Kubrick's Alex], adorned with one false eyelash (a detail from the film that is not mentioned in the novel). The plays' covers show Alex's face within a white triangle with its point downward; in the film logo McDowell is seen within (or emerging from) a black triangle with its point upward."]
Alex's self-justification in the stage version includes a plea that his misbehavior is an expression of a Blakean Orc-like adolescent energy that is allowed no other means of release in the society of his day:
Energy's something built into a boy,
But neither the church nor the state
Has taught us how to create,
So we've got to use energy to destroy.
Destruction's our ode to joy.
Emphatically, Burgess asserts in the 1987 preface that "Alex the hero speaks for me when he says in effect that destruction is a substitute for creation, and that the energy of youth has to be expressed through aggression because it has not yet been able to subdue itself through creation" (Play).
As the second act begins, Alex is in the final stages of his treatment, still strapped into the chair but screaming in protest against the desecration of Beethoven's music, which is to the scientists "a convenient heightener of emotion, no more" (Play). As in Kubrick's film, the extent of Alex's rehabilitation is demonstrated in a series of confrontations, first with a comedian whose boots he is made to lick, and then with "a most beautiful GIRL, near nude"—toward whom his lust is so suppressed that he can offer only the worship of a "true knight" seeking to be her "helper and protector from the wicked like world" (Play), to which he is himself subsequently returned. Repudiated by his parents, displaced in their affections by Joe the lodger, Alex is left alone and unable to commit suicide, the impulse towards which sickens him as yet another violent act. He soon encounters his former droogs, finding that all three have become policemen who beat him "balletically, to the Scherzo of [Beethoven's] Ninth," though "the lights dim before we can see the worst of it" (Play)—unlike the film's brutally explicit scene at an outdoor water trough. The lights rise on the interior of the writer F. Alexander's apartment where, on the morning after an initially cordial welcome, Alex is tormented from his sleep by the music of the Ninth Symphony and leaps out the window. In the next scene, as Alex sleeps in a hospital bed, a doctor discloses that the physical trauma of the fall may have undone his earlier conditioning—a fact that is soon confirmed through psychological free-association tests. His cure is announced by the government's Minister of the Interior, who presents him with a large stereo system—and Alex agrees that, in the last words of the final chapter of the truncated American edition of the novel, he is "cured all right" (Play, 2004).
"The scene ends, but not the play," Burgess remarks at this point in the stage directions of the 1987 version (Play); there follows a scene which recapitulates the final chapter of the novel in its British edition, made available in the U.S. for the first time in Rolling Stone in March 1987 and subsequently in an unexpurgated edition of the novel for the American audience. In this final scene and chapter, a "visibly older" Alex finds the company of his three new droogs unsatisfying, his taste for the old ultraviolence having simply been outgrown. More conservatively dressed, rather than at the height of nadsat fashion that he wore before (and, in the novel, sentimentally carrying a newspaper photo of an infant in his wallet), Alex takes a job at the State Music Archives cataloguing recordings of classical music. He looks forward to marriage, a happy home life, and a son of his own—a prototypical respectability that is carried even further in the novel when he encounters Pete, one of his former droogs, who has recently married and settled down to a life of "little parties … mostly wine-cup[s] and word-games … very nice, very pleasant," becoming in effect a protoyuppie in a work written two decades before the word was coined. Alex's former life of "crasting and tolchocking" was, it seems, simply to be outgrown, since "Being young's a sort of sickness/[Like] Measles, mumps or chicken pox" (Play).
The 1987 version also contains a surprisingly personal coda that was cut from the 1990 adaptation. In Burgess's initial script, he specifies that at the end of the play the entire cast should reassemble on stage, "friendly as at a party while ALEX comes downstage and speaks to the audience" before joining the entire company in delivering the blatantly (and banally) didactic moral-to-the-story, sung to the tune of the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth:
Do not be a clockwork orange,
Freedom has a lovely voice,
Here is good, and there is evil—
Look on both, then take your choice.
The stage directions specify that during this song the cast is to be joined by "a man bearded like Stanley Kubrick [who] comes on playing, in exquisite counterpoint, 'Singin' in the Rain' on a trumpet. He is kicked off the stage" as the play ends (Play). Apart from its final fillip of violence, this scene exactly recapitulates the closing moments of Lindsay Anderson's film O Lucky Man! (1973)—which, like Kubrick's version of A Clockwork Orange, starred Malcolm McDowell. In Anderson's final sequence, the entire cast is shown joyously dancing at the cast party, joined in celebration by Anderson himself. Burgess's final scene is not only a final rebuke to Kubrick but a deft homage, perhaps, to Anderson's densely intertextual film, which was based on an original idea by Malcolm McDowell and is partly autobiographical. In the most obvious of the scenes that allude to A Clockwork Orange, an "old drunk tramp" and his derelict cohorts (i.e., geriatric droogs) take revenge on McDowell's character Mick Travis when he is himself "down and out" in London and attempts to appeal to the downtrodden using Alex's favorite term, "brothers." [In an endnote, Hutchings continues: "In The Clockwork Testament, Or Enderby's End (1974) Burgess makes similarly intertextual allusions in assessing the problems—and the disastrous consequences—of adapting a linguistically innovative text into cinematic form; obviously, he is satirizing the problems by which he found himself beset after the release of Kubrick's film. In this novel, the dyspeptic writer Enderby finds himself beleaguered by members of the public who were outraged over a film version of Gerard Manley Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland which he had once suggested to a Hollywood producer but for which he did not write the final script. Apart from the title, very little of Hopkins's work survived after having been given the typical 'Hollywood treatment': its religious and intellectual content was decimated (since such arcane concerns lack appeal to the 'mass' audience), its historical period was changed for more 'historical relevance,' and the dramatic action of the shipwreck was 'enhanced' with a number of erotic flashbacks, in one of which the nuns were raped by a gang of four teenaged Nazi storm troopers—a scene which has supposedly prompted viewers to commit a series of such attacks on actual nuns, for all of which the film-maker and (especially) Enderby himself receive the blame. Yet, as outrageous as Burgess's comic invention of this filmed travesty is, it is also a deftly satirical confluence of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Ken Russell's The Devils, both of which were released in 1971. The latter, which was based on John Whiting's 1961 stage adaptation of Aldous Huxley's 1936 The Devils of Loudun, featured several then-shocking scenes of convent carnality. Such a film, like the one based on his own novel, is a product of what Burgess has more recently termed 'the dawn of the age of candid pornography that enabled Stanley Kubrick to exploit, to a serious artistic end, those elements of the story that were meant to shock morally rather than merely titillate' (Play)."]
Although the concluding scene of the play—and the now-restored concluding chapter of the novel—clearly establishes the author's intent, he concedes in the introduction to the chapter as published in Rolling Stone that "my aesthetic judgment may have been faulty." As his American editors contended from the outset, Burgess's still vigorously defended preference for an ending showing "the capacity of regeneration in even the most depraved soul" (Play) does indeed seem to undermine the effectiveness of the work, particularly by undercutting its theological complexity. Though Burgess cites an intended epigraph from The Winter's Tale in which the shepherd remarks that "I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting," the necessity of the choice between good and evil is not simply to be outgrown with adolescence, as the author's preferred final scene and chapter so strongly contend. In effect, such a facile solution—like the astonishingly trite verse that expresses it—reduces the complex moral issues of free choice and personal responsibility to the uncomplicated moral strictures of James Russell Lowell's "The Present Crisis" of 1844 (whose cadence makes it no less suitable than Burgess's banal lyric to be sung to the "Ode to Joy"): "Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide/In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side." In the modern (or postmodern) world, however, the choice of Truth and "the good … side" is infinitely more complex, far more ambiguous, and much less certain than Lowell would so reassuringly have us believe: the "decision" seldom if ever comes but "once," clearly drawn in black-and-white absolutes—and it is certainly not to be "outgrown" with adolescence.
During an interview with Samuel Coale in 1981, Burgess remarked that it had become "a damn nuisance" to have become associated so much with only A Clockwork Orange, and he added that
I'm not particularly proud of A Clockwork Orange, because it has all the faults which I rail against in fiction. It's didactic. It tends toward pornography. It's tricky. It's gimmicky…. The damn book … is not all that interesting or important. It's had a mythical impact of some kind. [Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 27, No 3, 1981]
Yet, in providing still more versions of the story, Burgess has assured the continuation of both the controversy and the choice that have surrounded the novel since its appearance over a quarter of a century ago; indeed, on the opening night of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production, he reportedly denounced the play's rock score as "Neo-wallpaper"; it replaced unpublished music that Burgess himself had composed for the 1987 version (subtitled A Play with Music), so yet another controversy has begun. In effect, those who want to see and/or read A Clockwork Orange now have more choices than ever before: two different versions of the novel (one with twenty chapters, one with twenty-one), Kubrick's film, his published screenplay, and two Burgess stage adaptations are now available, with no two versions being the same. The story of Alex and his droogs has, in fact, taken on an essential mythic quality, as Joseph Campbell defined it—the ability to be transformed variously through time, while retaining much of its underlying, valuable, and original content.
This section contains 5,662 words
(approx. 19 pages at 300 words per page)