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(Credit: Jack Mitchell)

Film

Looking back at Andy Warhol's first adaptation of 'A Clockwork Orange'

Anthony Burgess wrote his transgressive novel A Clockwork Orange in 1962, subsequently becoming a topic of much debate. The book was banned in many schools across the world due to the intense nature of its language and events, and a bookseller was even arrested for dealing with the book in 1973. It’s safe to say that A Clockwork Orange was one of the most controversial pieces of literature of its time, however, this hasn’t stopped certain filmmakers from adapting it for the screen. In fact, it could be argued that the subversive content of the book, featuring extreme violence, rape and torture, only challenged filmmakers further.

The most famous adaptation, of course, is Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film of the same name, an effort that featured Malcolm McDowell as leading character Alex DeLarge, a violent and deeply disturbed teenager who leads his gang of ‘droogs’. Dressed all in white, their iconic outfits are completed with codpieces, braces, black bowler hats, and sometimes a rather phallic fake nose to disguise themselves as they break into the homes of unsuspecting victims. The gang also speak in a peculiar language called Nadsat, which blends Russian with English cockney rhyming slang, German, and other unidentifiable origins.

Kubrick’s film has been recognised to be well ahead of its time, blending a futuristic set design with in-your-face violence and vulgarity that shocked audiences upon its release. The film was banned in many countries, including Britain, which had hosted many murder and rape trials that accused A Clockwork Orange of inciting copycat violence. After Kubrick’s request to withdraw the movie from release in Britain, it was not until 2001, two years after the director’s death, that the film was easy to get hold of due to a theatrical rerelease, and the production of VHS and DVD versions.

Stanley Kubrick explains the meaning of ‘A Clockwork Orange’

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But it was not just Kubrick that read Burgess’s novel and saw the possibility for a film within the pages, laced with the kind of violence that had not been depicted in such a way before. It comes with no surprise that the American artist and filmmaker, Andy Warhol, who was equally as controversial as A Clockwork Orange, decided to adapt the novel in 1965, only three years after the book’s release. Despite claiming that he had secured the rights to the story for $3000, many sources believe that his adaptation was unauthorised.

Warhol employed ’60s icon and muse, Edie Sedgewick, along with artist Gerard Malanga for the film, alongside other associates of his infamous Factory – the legendary New York City studio that was host to many of Warhol’s films and creative processes, as well as spectacular parties. The finished result was a 70-minute long experimental black and white film that Warhol titled Vinyl. The movie was shot with a very small budget, using a 16mm camera that stands in one place without moving for most of the film as well as only one location – the corner of The Factory studio. In comparison to Kubrick’s version, which is shot with a mixture of disorientating close-ups, strangely comic fast-forward takes, and wide-angle shots, Vinyl couldn’t be more different in style.

In Warhol’s effort, the characters dance around for extended periods of time, with the Martha and the Vandellas song ‘Nowhere to Run’ playing twice in full as we see the characters move their bodies around the screen. The film also features tracks from The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and other contemporary artists, whereas Kubrick’s adaptation is largely soundtracked by classical music (with the exception of the brutal use of Singin’ in the Rain), most notably Beethoven, who Alex has a particular love for.

Despite Kubrick’s version retaining the most accuracy towards the book as a whole, it is Warhol’s take that captures the spirit of the novel’s ending far more than Kubrick. As McDowell’s Alex fantasises about the prospect of inciting more violence, Vinyl’s equivalent, Victor, appears cured. Of course, both endings come with ambiguity, but Warhol’s film seems to align itself closer to the book’s end than Kubrick’s.

In 1970, Warhol requested that most of his films be removed from public circulation, and that included Vinyl, which is not widely talked about in relation to the artist or A Clockwork Orange. Regardless, this first adaptation provided an interesting insight into the perception of the novel from someone as notorious as Warhol, who put his own distinctive twist on the story. But this experimental attempt pales in comparison to the magnificent Kubrick version, which has since gained a cult following.

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