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 and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (6)
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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • eht% says:

    In 2019, we should ALL now ful­ly real­ize –ALL– mass enter­tain­ment is INTEL
    and –ALL– major direc­tors are SPOOKS, from the fam­i­lies, on a project.

    Since year one of Yale in Chi­na’s –fave– FTM, ‘MAO say DUNG’ — ‑that project here
    has been ‘Men are Pigs’ — ‑unto take down.

    And in tranz–savvy 2019, we can sud­den­ly out ‘Clock­work Orange’ as a des­per­ate­ly FALSE
    — — FTM;‘s ‘Men are Pigs’ fan­ta­sy.

    Dressed in der­bys ? — ‑all in white ? — - ‑with cod–pieces ?

    COME —ON girls !

    — –YIKES !

  • Anthony says:

    Hilar­i­ous, con­sid­er­ing the emo­tion­al sadist he was in real life, throw­ing flass cut­lery around and at his own child(ren) as he did.

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