There was a point in time when no voice was considered as important in the world of film criticism as Roger Ebert.
A presenter and writer, Ebert famously appeared alongside Gene Siskel on the 1980s show At the Movies, a discussion show that saw the two passionate cinephiles give their opinion on the latest cinema releases. Perfectly contrasting in personalities, Ebert was often a little more lenient than Siskel, though this is certainly not to say that he would refrain from an impassioned debate.
Writing balanced reviews, and finding the virtues and faults in countless movies from across the world, Ebert was a fierce self-promoter, seeing far more success than any of his peers in the field of film criticism. As a result, he was trusted by thousands of cinema lovers in America and across the globe who were willing to hang on his every word, with Ebert favouring the films of Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles and Yasujirô Ozu among many others.
Fair and balanced in his criticism, Ebert wouldn’t be blinded by a release from a famous filmmaker, or a much-anticipated art film, giving each and every movie his undivided attention.
This was proven with the release of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in 1971, with Ebert surprising his fans by giving the film just two stars out of four, calling the classic “an ideological mess” as part of his review.
Taking the film apart for its thematic confusion, Ebert adds that the film is “a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading As an Orwellian warning. It pretends to oppose the police state and forced mind control, but all it really does is celebrate the nastiness of its hero, Alex”. Frustrated that such little effort is made to explain Alex’s inner psychology, Ebert adds, “Indeed, there’s not much to take apart; both Alex and his society are smart-nose pop-art abstractions. Kubrick hasn’t created a future world in his imagination — he’s created a trendy decor”.
Stalking the streets and terrorising just about anyone who crosses their path, the film follows Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a vicious thug and lover of Beethoven, and his ‘droogs’, a gang of white-clad youths with black bowler hats and a thirst for “a bit of the old ultraviolence”. Such reaches an alarming pinnacle when the group invades the house of Mr and Mrs Alexander, a wealthy couple of artistic tastes who live on the outskirts of the city.
Breaking their way into the house, Alex and his gang attack the couple, with the protagonist and leader finding himself in prison after the incident. Ebert doesn’t buy this central character, however, stating, “Alex is violent because it is necessary for him to be violent in order for this movie to entertain in the way Kubrick intends. Alex has been made into a sadistic rapist not by society…but by the producer, director and writer of this film, Stanley Kubrick”.
Although he would call Kubrick’s previous classic 2001: A Space Odyssey one of his favourite films, Ebert was not a fan of A Clockwork Orange, with the critic calling it “plain talky and boring”.