A poem by David McCooey

A Personal History of A Clockwork Orange

In nineteen seventy-three,
the year I turned six,
I was taken to see my first
James Bond film, Live
and Let Die. Nervous
beforehand, I asked
my brother, five
years older than me,
if I would like it.
‘Yes, if you like violence,’
was his answer, or how
I remember it. ‘What’s violence?’
I asked him, looking
forward to the warm
dark of the cinema.
Earlier that year, Mad
magazine had run a parody
of A Clockwork Orange, in
which the audience are
made physically sick by
what they have witnessed.
My brother, who bought
Mad, would sometimes
let me read his magazines
for money. One day, whether
for money or not, I can’t
remember, I looked over
the parody, understanding
nothing, no doubt. Some years
later, I talked about the film —
still unseen — with my brother
and a friend of his. The friend,
eager as a toddler, sketched
out the rape scene for me,
or for himself, or for my
brother, noting the three
points of the woman’s red
jump suit that Alex cuts
when he is about to rape her:
left tit; right tit; cunt.

In the early nineteen eighties —
my Bowie years — the soundtrack
to A Clockwork Orange made
its way around my circle of friends,
briefly turning one into a Beethoven
fan. The soundtrack, released in
nineteen seventy-two, was by Wendy
Carlos, who gained fame for Switched-
On Bach in nineteen sixty-eight when
still Walter Carlos. Her synthesised classics
sounded queasy to me, so I preferred
Bowie, unaware that his Ziggy Stardust
persona was a camp parody of
Alex and his Droogs (‘Ultraviolence
in Liberty fabric,’ as the man said).
Unaware, too, that Andy Warhol —
about whom Bowie had written
a song — had beaten him to it, buying
the rights to A Clockwork Orange
in the nineteen sixties, filming the
novel in black and white as Vinyl:
the homoerotic S-&-M re-education
of a juvenile delinquent, Victor,
who dances to ‘Nowhere to Run’
by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.


In nineteen eighty-two
I went to a screening of
A Clockwork Orange at the
Western Australian Institute
of Technology, with its brutalist
architecture and engineering
students. The night was cold.
The film had an R rating, so
I was under-aged, though
no-one cared. I was with friends
who believed that only Federal
police could make an arrest on
a university campus. They were
all stoned. The audience was
almost entirely young men.
They laughed through the film’s
first fifteen minutes: a homeless
man being attacked, two gangs
beating one another up,
and the gang-rape of a woman
inside a house called ‘HOME.’
I was fifteen years of age, the
same age as Alex. I had finally
seen the film. All the laughter
confused me, made me
feel picked on. What had
something wrong with it:
me, the film, or the audience?


In two thousand and five
I saw A Clockwork Orange
for the last time, with the poet
Maria Takolander. The previous
year we had married. We had
bought a Magnavox DVD player
for sixty-nine dollars and we
were working through the
films of Stanley Kubrick
in our usual way, methodical
or obsessive. Maria did not
like A Clockwork Orange.
It made her feel ill, as predicted
by Mad magazine the year
she was born. We talked it
over in the uncanny night, our
house suddenly over-lit and alien,
and then we went to bed. Our
shared sleep — free from history’s
horror, the mistakes of childhood,
and the turmoil of others —
a blessing in the moon-coloured night.