News & Politics

Malcolm McDowell and Anthony Burgess Talk ‘Clockwork Orange’

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
January 20, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 3

A pain in the gullivar
By Arthur Bell

The star of the hottest sinny in town came to town last week for a bit of promo on the old telly, and it was a case of clockwork orange, American style, wherein the star orange didn’t always tick with the clockwork.

I met Malcolm McDowell at his suite at the Pierre Hotel last Wednesday morning. With him were “Clockwork” author Anthony Burgess and Mike Kaplan, the energetic orange-topped “Orange” blurby. If the truth is known, the talk was about a certain gloopy John Simon who, filled with the old ultra violence, had included “Clockwork” among his 10 worst on the Dick Cavett show the night before.

Who is John Simon asked Anthony Burgess and Mike Kaplan answered he’s the critic who included “Long Ago Tomorrow” among his 10 best. Malcolm looked exasperated and sipped his orange juice without synthemese and said he had a pain in the gullivar and hadn’t been out of a black studio car that looks like a hearse. Burgess said he hadn’t seen “Clockwork” with an audience, and Malcolm asked him to join him at Cinema I the following night and Burgess said he couldn’t because he’d be in Minneapolis but let’s try to see it together when I’m back in town on the 22nd. I asked Burgess why he was going to Minneapolis and he said he’d tell me why off the record and Malcolm said never say anything off the record to the press and Burgess said something off the record anyway.

Burgess, a big, comfortable bear of a man with the brain of a Sherlock Holmes and the manner of Dr. Watson, sat in a Louis XIV chair with his legs crossed, real polly, while Malcolm bounded up and down and flashed and ripped around the room with the nervous energy of an escaped prestoopnik, which he wasn’t though the gems are still missing from the ground floor. Malcolm had a new soft look, softer than the movie look, with his turtleneck and beiges and the sulky luscious glory cut from the center and falling into a bang on the front and to level one at the ears and level two at the shoulders and his voice was soft and his baby blues the size of hula hoops. He was short, next to the big bear and the two had a friendly father-son pull and played off each other, a heady vaudeville team.

Our mentor, Stanley Kubrick, said Malcolm, is watching our every move. He just switched a button in his headquarters and a satellite picked us up. Burgess switched the train of thought switch and said that one of the great things about New York is the old films that come in every moment of the day and night. You just push a button and you have Paul Newman week. Malcolm volunteered that Anthony Burgess and I, well, we just met yesterday, but we feel as though we’ve known each other a long time. The team smiled and looked approvingly, at each other, filled with the old admiration. Then I said, Malcolm, are you satisfied with the film, and Malcolm said I’m satisfied with my performance, most of it, and the film is brilliant. Burgess said it’s the most faithful adaptation of a book I’ve ever seen with the possible exception of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Imagine what Ken Russell would have done to “Clockwork,” he was supposed to have made it in 1968 pre “The Devils” and he’d have had Oliver Reed in his version. Malcolm yowled Old Skolliwoll, Reed could not have said a line like Old Skolliwoll. Mike Kaplan, who knows such things, said “Clockwork” is set to open next week in England and the Minister of the Interior wants to see the film and make a statement about violence and its effect on the country and Malcolm jumped up and looked in the mirror and said to his reflection I don’t know why we’re talking to The Voice, they did a vindictive attack on the picture, and Fred McDarrah, who was now there snap snap snapping, said The Voice is more than one voice and Mike Kaplan, the diplomat, agreed, and complimented. Someone, it may have been Mike, asked Malcolm about the David Frost show where Malcolm appeared the night before. Not enough time, said Malcolm, too many commercials. But the baddiwadest, it seems, the ultimate in no comprehension, was “Today” when a violence erupted between Barbara Walters and Malcolm on the old ultra violence and Barbara did a number and it was too early before your eggiweggs in the morning to defend yourself properly. Righty-right on, I said, was the staging of the “Singing in the Rain” number, and whose idea was it, it’s not in the book. “Singing in the Rain” came, said Malcolm, because Stanley Kubrick asked me if I could sing and dance and I said yes, then I thought for few minutes, then did this old soft shoe to la dee dah doo la dee dah dah doo I’m singing, just dancing in the rain and it fit and Kubrick said we’ll use it and that’s how great moments are born.

Recovered from the “Clockwork” ordeal, Malcolm is in the best of health after almost a year’s rest from physical and psychological rigors. He hurt his retina in the eye clip scene and can still smell the beef extract used to color the water of the dirty old ditch where the drugs soaked his litso for two minutes, almost killing poor Malcolm, all for art’s sake and realism. He has flashback nightmares of oodles of vomits spaghetti made by a prop man for the scene with the writer whose wife he debauched, and a spaghetti sauce too brown for Mr. Kubrick’s aesthetics, thereby reddened by a whole tube of tomato essence. Incidents in film-making an actor doesn’t forget too easily. But there’s the new film soon to start, “O Lucky Man,” based on an original idea of Malcolm’s about an odyssey, a search in life for success, or, as he puts it, success, question mark. Burgess said it sounds like “Room at the Top” and the Burgess train ran off the track again, telling us he saw “Love Story” on television last night, the old version, with Margaret Lockwood. Decent film. Did you see the new “Love Story” asked Malcolm of the gentle bear. No. My mother-in-law, the Contessa, La Con-tess-sa, saw it and cried. I wouldn’t.

We took the downelevator to the ground floor. Malcolm had a little check placed in the non-safety deposit box and Burgess wanted to see the hole in the wall of the holocaust so they disappeared for a few moments and emerged from the scene of the Pierre blast with cheshires on their faces, the vaudeville team. Outside the revolving door, the homegrown amateur paparazzi clicked and the autograph doggies clucked and Malcolm with minimum cool said thank you, softly, and minimum gesture saluted and we four, Mike Kaplan and Malcolm McDowell and Anthony Burgess and I entered the black studio hearse to skorry down the avenues to WNEW and the “Midday Show.” While we zipped past the sidewalk lewdness, unbeknownst to them, oh my brothers, we discussed the fucked up way that a Motion Picture Association could X rate a picture like “Clockwork” and give a general patronage rating to “The Cowboys,” a dangerous politically immoral western where sweetly teenagers take the law into their own hands to revenge the murder of Mythter John Wayne. Then, in a jump, we pulled up to the telly building and more clicking and clucking and signing and minimized politeness and we scurried along to a dressing-waiting room. Here, a bevy of devotchkas primed and pomped over Malcolm and one pretty gave him an orange covered with a paper watch. Malcolm, an uncomfortable martyr to the cause of worship, played charming to the devotchka, telling her he’d put this in the safety deposit box of the Pierre making the devotchka all swarmy putty putty. Photos were signed, and fellow guest Marvin Grossworth was introduced to the unholy tribe as the author of “Fat Pride” and he is fat and proud. Malcolm commented sot voce that on all of these programs you get some health nut because America is obsessed with fatness and health.

So Malcolm sprinted about and mercyed the devotchkas, while Burgess entre noised to this Voice of one that he wrote “Clockwork Orange” in 1961 at a time when England was ruled by the labor government. Macmillan and Wilson were in power and the country was run in a wishy washy socialistic manner. Burgess prophesied the story as taking place 10 years hence which is now, but he now figures the setting of the film as 1979. Period clues, he reasoned, may be found on a police badge number, E2, standing for Elizabeth the second, and in the scene where Alex opens his desk drawer we see a 20-pound note with Queen Elizabeth’s head. The set design of the film is futuristically realistic and should be influential in clothes and furniture design if it isn’t already.

Suddenly the “Midday” tv producer swashed into the room with a maximum of energy expenditure, laughing and govereeting and outshaking hands, and introduced himself as Paul Noble. In a manner oh so intelligentsia Mr. Noble said to Malcolm the reason I like this film is it’s so mythical I can’t explain it to anybody. It’s like explaining the Oedipus complex. How can you? Befuddled Malcolm nodded, which prompted Mr. Noble to explain that the film had a mixed audience reaction in New York. When I saw it, some guy applauded at the end of the film and somebody next to me told him to shut up. Malcolm said that’s all right, it’s got them by the yarbles, then boyishly businesslike to Mr. Noble, we can have the clip of the Korova Milkbar. It’s not sensational, but it tells a lot about the film, it gives more of a feeling than the shot in the casino or the car scene. Isn’t that the shot they showed on the “Today” show asked Paul Noble. Well, let’s show it anyway, said Malcolm.

Then, a person whose name it might be wise not to use (and is not used here) said, on behalf of all America, Malcolm, I apologize to you for Barbara Walters this morning. Poor Malcolm-on-the-spot agreed that there was a slight edge to the “Today” lady’s statements when she said she had read somewhere that I, Malcolm, don’t like doing publicity, which I don’t, and here I am doing publicity for this film. Mike Kaplan, meanwhile, is oy vaying, brothers, by the Brewmatic Coffe machine watching me take notes, hoping that Malcolm will jibber jabber like a press release for sweetness, but heavens to Ludwig van, Malcolm wouldn’t.

Mr. Noble, cheeried by his starful guests, funnied that someone at the studio tried to phone Malcolm at the hotel and whoever answered said he’s in the bathtub singing. Followed by a dialogue: Malcolm: I haven’t sung “Singing in the Rain” since the film. Burgess: Why not make a record of it? Malcolm: Fantastic idea, and you can write some words to the Ninth Symphony as a quick gimmick. Burgess: And we’ll give our proceeds to charity. Malcolm: Charity begins at home.

We moved into the studio with lots of older people, neighborhood lewdness, and skolliwoll children. The “Clockwork” guests sat on the side and watched Marvin Grossworth, fat and proud as he crawked and cranked with Sara Deutsch who wrote “Fat is a Four Letter Word.” I’m a soldier in the army against fat, said Sara Deutsch and Malcolm winced and rubbed his mouth and flattened a Benson Hedges with his boot and shook his shag head and was taut like a tiger ready to jump out of his corduroy pants. Anyone who wants a Fat Pride button send a stamped self-addressed envelope to…

Moderator Lee Leonard introduced Malcolm McDowell and Anthony Burgess. Burgess took the lead and his buoyancy mad Malcolm less tense, for good interplay between the two droogs and the moderator. The book is a kind of religious sermon, said Burgess. Man is pretty bad, and we’ve got to put up with him, but that’s free will. It is better to be evil on our own free will than to be made good by the state. Malcolm agreed and stated that the film is surrealistic and satirical and violence is dealt with with style, like a choreographed ballet. He revealed that he tried to make the character of Alex charming and to him the film is extremely funny and profound. Gloria Rojas, the “Midday” assistant, piped in that she’s seen films where violence has really moved her heart, but “Clockwork’s” violence only moved her intellectually. Film clips were shown, the audience anesthetized by the Nadsat language and music, while a technician muttered, what a dolly shot, beautiful, beautiful. Lee Leonard closed the show with the Gene Kelly recording of “Singing in the Rain” and both Malcolm and Burgess agreed that the “Midday” show was pretty dobby, all things considered, for telly.

Three hours later, I greeted Mike Kaplan in the Pierre lobby. He was wearing a shaggy alleycat coat and a sweater under, the Ritve look, he called it, orange and dark blue with a patched-on Malcolm face and eyelashioed eye staring from the sweater center. Mike housephoned Malcolm who said he’d be down in 15 minutes, he wanted to take a shower, and the rightly suspicious Pierre bellmen stared at us and Mike and I decided to lap one up in the bar. We met opposition there from a gullivar who made an appy polly loggy that Mike needed a jacket and tie, but we got in promising goodness and Mike buttoned up his alleycat and we chewed the fat about a certain sinny and the pagan cheek of certain big city journals to dictate advertising policy so that rape could not be used in “Clockwork” ads, as well as the good and bad life.

Malcolm arrived in shirt and tie, a pride to the Pierre bar and as decent a lad as you will meet on a January morning. We three, without Burgess, au revered le Pierre. Outside again, the flashbulb and pen brigade, some of the same adult children we had seen earlier in the day. There, Malcolm, stand there by the door, Malcolm sign to Ruth, and Malcolm did what he was supposed to do, without pretending a liking to do. He’s not rude enough to say sod to all this, sod to the flashes and the little books and let me invisiblize my sinny face into the crowd and take it out when I’m acting and put it back when I’m finishing my job and my job isn’t this at all. So into the hearse we jumbled and Malcolm made a movie wave and said this is the way Queen Elizabeth would do it, with minimum wrist gesture, and into the night toward Dick Cavett.

I asked Malcolm if he thought “Clockwork” was sexist toward women. Malcolm didn’t really answer, I had a feeling he wasn’t up on his movement, he said “Long Ago Tomorrow” is for women, or something like that, but this was really not the time to talk, but listen. There was a questioning of self in the air, a questioning about the clockwork that had little to do with the orange.

At ABC, Mike helped Malcolm plow through an army of faithfuls, past the stage door, to make-up, and to the Green room. Rogers Morton, Secretary of the Interior, was a fellow guest, as were Rex Reed and Leigh Taylor-Young. Soon all were comfy cozy John Simon’s 10 worst list. Malcolm, next to me, made little conversation, conscious of phoniness, conscious of theatrics, not nervous, perhaps questioning his integrity at being there. The irony of having to watch a cosmetician dab a powderpuff on the roundy red face of the Secretary of the Interior was pure “Clockwork.”

Rex Reed sashayed out of the room in a Bill Blass atrocity. He uglier John Simon and Otto Preminger and praised the God Rex, then defamed Richard Harris, he said justified, also defaming Rita Hayworth and Mia Farrow, completely unjustified except to spice up his God self. I looked around, and it was burial time at the Green Room with the sweet MGM blurby woman tsk tsking and Leigh Taylor-Young with wrinkled brow and Malcolm shifting and Mike Kaplan shaking his head and an unknown man saying I think Rex has missed a session with his analyst this week and me thinking that when Mr. Burgess thought up the word horror show he must have had Rex Reed in mind. Malcolm, meanwhile, muttered, this is it. I’ll do this one, and this is it. Then Leigh Taylor-Young went on, beauty and goodness, and questioned Reed about whether he realized the consequences of what he has doing to people’s lives as he pst-pst personal destructive privates. Reed’s denseness and star-trail hike drenched his own ear and Leigh’s voice was a vain echo, though we all liked it in the Green Room. Malcolm followed and I shook his hand and he stepped out of the room into a million screens, and Dick Cavett said the country was divided into two groups, those who had seen “Clockwork Orange” and those who hadn’t. I sensed Malcolm’s uncomfortableness, and a bit of an edginess to his answering of the questions which were mostly technical, not philosophical or depth personal. Malcolm just answered — he had no funny stories to tell, no act, no quick repartee, no revelations about how he lost 100 pounds, no advice to the lovelorn, no bones to pick, no lives to destroy, no great secrets to reveal, in short he was another face in the competition of late night product hype, uncontroversial, unquotable, unmemorable. Rex Reed couldn’t pay Alex in “Clockwork” and Malcolm McDowell wouldn’t play Rex Reed on Cavett.

We were feeling a bit shagged and fagged and fashed, it having been a day of some small energy expenditure, my brothers, so we got into the hearse, Malcolm and me, past the screeches and zipped into the Pierre bar for a bit of gorgeousness and gorgeosity, which is to say Malcolm had a couple of vermouth cassis and I had two Jack Daniels with water. I put my notebook away and we talked a bit about repertory acting and role playing in America vs. life in England and college unrest and “If” and how fame can corrupt an actor and how fame has affected Malcolm’s life. Malcolm said again, before he left, that he had no intention of doing another late night show and he had made up his rassoodock and would like to back out of a Johnny Carson show. It’s uncertain whether he has that freedom of choice, now, the purpose of this trip, after all, being publicity. But he had a smile on his face when I left him, a big smile la dee dah dah doo la dee dah dah dah.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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