Peter Sellers Calls Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange “Violent,” “The Biggest Load of Crap I’ve Seen” (1972)

In an age when The Walking Dead provides a weekly dose of head-exploding gore, it’s easy to forget how shocking the violence of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) felt to viewers at the time. Anthony Burgess’ novel was about crime and punishment, the differences and/or similarities between street-level thugs and state-sanctioned violence, and the importance of violence in a free society. Kubrick, having blown up the world a decade earlier at the end of Dr. Strangelove, took on all these issues and made them into pure cinema. It elicits a response even now—I have friends who resolutely refuse to watch the film—despite its years spent on the compost pile of post-modern culture.

For an example of how strongly people felt, check this quote from Peter Sellers, being interviewed by Gene Siskel in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1972, five months after the film premiered in the States.

Peter Sellers: I hated A Clockwork Orange. I thought it was the biggest load of crap I’ve ever seen for years. Amoral. I think because of the violence around today it’s lamentable that a director of Stanley Kubrick’s distinction and ability should lend himself to such a subject. I’m not saying that you can’t pick up that book [the Anthony Burgess novel upon which the film is based], read it, and put it down. But to make it as a film, with all the violence we have in the world today – to add to it, to put it on show – I just don’t understand where Stanley is at.

Gene Siskel: Are you saying that it will influence people to commit violence that they would otherwise not commit?

Peter Sellers: I think it adds to it.

Sellers had worked with Kubrick on both Dr. Strangelove and Lolita, so for a star to talk so ill of a former director was quite shocking. He continues in the interview to also denounce the violence in Hitchcock’s Frenzy, which had just been released. When Siskel presses him on the portrayal of violence and its necessity in a world that wanted more truth and realism in its films, Sellers falls back on his recent involvement in yoga:

I must tell you first of all that I’m a yogi. I am against violence completely. Hare ommm. So you now know why. So there’s really no point in asking any more questions about it.

During the original promotion for the film, Kubrick considered criticisms of its violence absurd:

No one is corrupted watching A Clockwork Orange any more than they are by watching Richard III… The film has been accepted as a work of art, and no work of art has ever done social harm, though a great deal of social harm has been done by those who have sought to protect society against works of art which they regarded as dangerous.

Yet as copycat crimes—or crimes that the UK’s press like to suggest were so—increased in the months after its release, Kubrick removed his film from circulation in Britain. Despite Kubrick being behind the decision, it was generally thought that the UK had “banned” the film. It remained so until Kubrick’s death in 1999. Britain finally got to see an uncut version of the film in…you guessed it…2001.

via Dangerous Minds/ Stanley Kubrick Tumblr

Related Content:

Peter Sellers Covers the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” “She Loves You” & “Help!”

Inside Dr. Strangelove: Documentary Reveals How a Cold War Story Became a Kubrick Classic

Stanley Kubrick’s Rare 1965 Interview with The New Yorker

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.


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  • Josh McNattin says:

    Unfortunately I’ve been experiencing problems posting to Facebook, so I’ll put my response here…

    I’m a fan of Kubrick and I follow a fan page dedicated to him. This quote came up the other day, I’d like to see if it came from a larger interview.

    “Man isn’t a noble savage, he’s an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved—that about sums it up. I’m interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it’s a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.”

    If you see a Kubrick film and come away thinking that it’s meaningless violence, you’ve probably missed it. I don’t think Stanley Kubrick ever made anything without some intended profound meaning beneath the surface. I believe that 2001 was about the struggle of animals, organisms to evolve. It occurred to me a couple of years ago that HAL was competing with the crew of the Discovery One over what “he” recognized as the opportunity to meet their maker and embrace the next leap of evolution…but regardless, the highlight was on the primitive struggle, even to engage in something often thought of as enlightened. Kubrick’s mission, I think, was to remind us of who we are, he put a mirror on us. So when you watch his films, see what you can find about yourself in his films, the ugliness that you employ to get ahead, to make a living, to
    make a mark. A Clockwork Orange is certainly the least enjoyable of Kubrick’s films for me, but I don’t think it’s crap and I’ll take sides with Stanley Kubrick over any actor or critic (even someone I admire deeply in Roger Ebert who also gave ACO a poor review) any day.

  • Fred says:

    I wouldn’t call any of Kubrick’s movies “crap”. Like Sellers I don’t like violent movies and this one I remember was particularly difficult for me to watch.

  • Josh McNattin says:

    I agree completely. Not my cup of tea by any means.

  • Adam Parfrey says:

    I guess the nuclear blast in Dr. Strangelove was not by any means “violent”…

  • Tony says:

    Kubrick left out the last chapter of the book where Alex grew up and recanted the ultraviolent. http://consequenceofsound.net/2015/02/the-real-cure-a-clockwork-oranges-missing-ending/

  • Kirk keller says:

    I first saw the movie after reading the book more than once. I was horrified by the violence that began almost immediately. Then I realized that the movie showed nothing Alex hadn’t described in the book. I was just seeing “the old in and out” and several other acts that Alex gave little thought… matched by thoughtless language. The book shows you the world from the mind of Alex and thus, via the language he uses, hardly seems violent at all. The movie shows you whats happening from a perspective other than Alex… unconstrained by his use of language.

  • shthar says:

    This from the guy who starred in the Magic Christian…

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