Steven Spielberg Calls Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange “the First Punk Rock Movie Ever Made”

Steven Spiel­berg and Stan­ley Kubrick are two of the first direc­tors whose names young cinephiles get to know. They’re also names between which quite a few of those young cinephiles draw a bat­tle line: you may have enjoyed films by both of these auteurs, but ulti­mate­ly, you’re going to have to side with one cin­e­mat­ic ethos or the oth­er. Yet Spiel­berg clear­ly admires Kubrick him­self: his 2001 film A.I. Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence orig­i­nat­ed as an unfin­ished Kubrick project, and he’s gone on record many times prais­ing Kubrick­’s work.

This is true even of such an un-Spiel­ber­gian pic­ture as A Clock­work Orange, a col­lec­tion of Spiel­berg’s com­ments on which you can hear col­lect­ed in the video above. He calls it “the first punk-rock movie ever made. It was a very bleak vision of a dan­ger­ous future where young peo­ple, teenagers, are free to roam the streets with­out any kind of parental excep­tion. They break into homes, and they assault and rape peo­ple. The sub­ject mat­ter was dan­ger­ous.” On one lev­el, you can see how this would appeal to Spiel­berg, who in his own oeu­vre has returned over and over again to the sub­ject of youth.

Yet Kubrick makes moves that seem prac­ti­cal­ly incon­ceiv­able to Spiel­berg, “espe­cial­ly the scene where you hear Gene Kel­ly singing ‘Sin­gin’ in the Rain’ ” when Mal­colm McDow­ell’s Alex DeLarge is “kick­ing a man prac­ti­cal­ly to death. That was one of the most hor­ri­fy­ing things I think I’ve ever wit­nessed.” And indeed, such a sav­age coun­ter­point between music and action is nowhere to be found in the fil­mog­ra­phy of Steven Spiel­berg, which has received crit­i­cism from the Kubrick-enjoy­ers of the world for the emo­tion­al one-dimen­sion­al­i­ty of its scores (even those com­posed by his acclaimed long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor John Williams).

Less fair­ly, Spiel­berg has also been charged with an inabil­i­ty to resist hap­py end­ings, or at least a dis­com­fort with ambigu­ous ones. He would nev­er, in any case, end a pic­ture the way he sees Kubrick as hav­ing end­ed A Clock­work Orange: despite the inten­sive “depro­gram­ming” Alex under­goes, “he comes out the oth­er end more charm­ing, more wit­ty, and with such a dev­il­ish wink and blink at the audi­ence, that I am com­plete­ly cer­tain that when he gets out of that hos­pi­tal, he’s going to kill his moth­er and his father and his part­ners and his friends, and he’s going to be worse than he was when he went in.” To Spiel­berg’s mind, Kubrick made a “defeatist” film; yet he, like every Kubrick fan, must also rec­og­nize it as an artis­tic vic­to­ry.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Steven Spiel­berg on the Genius of Stan­ley Kubrick

When Stan­ley Kubrick Banned His Own Film, A Clock­work Orange: It Was the “Most Effec­tive Cen­sor­ship of a Film in British His­to­ry”

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

A Clock­work Orange Author Antho­ny Burgess Lists His Five Favorite Dystopi­an Nov­els: Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Island & More

Ter­ry Gilliam on the Dif­fer­ence Between Kubrick & Spiel­berg: Kubrick Makes You Think, Spiel­berg Wraps Every­thing Up with Neat Lit­tle Bows

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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