|Potsdam Visit on 22nd April 2010
Peter Krämer is a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) and a regular guest lecturer at Masaryk University (Brno, Czech Republic).
He has published more than fifty essays on American film and media history, and on the relationship between Hollywood and Europe, in Screen, The Velvet Light Trap, Theatre History Studies, the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, History Today, Film Studies, Scope, Sowi: Das Journal für Geschichte, Politik, Wirtschaft und Kultur, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Iluminace and numerous edited collections.
He is the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey (a forthcoming volume in the BFI Film Classics series) and The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars (Wallflower Press, 2005), and the co-editor of Screen Acting (Routledge, 1999) and The Silent Cinema Reader (Routledge, 2004). He is currently working on a book about the controversy surrounding A Clockwork Orange. His paper is taken from this work in progress.
10-12: Peter Krämer, ‘A Clockwork Orange (1971) and American Culture’, ca. 45 min, followed by discussion
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange features a strangely appealing, extremely violent teenage criminal in a futuristic London as well as several vicious beatings, a rape, a brutal murder and various sex scenes, all of this presented in a highly stylised yet also visually quite explicit manner. Within a few weeks of its release in the United States in December 1971, A Clockwork Orange was named ‘Best Motion Picture’ of 1971 by the New York Film Critics Association, and Kubrick won in the category ‘Best Direction’. The film was also listed as one of the year’s ten best movies by the New York Times and Time magazine, and it was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay. By the end of its long run in American theatres, the film had earned $17 million in rentals, which made it the seventh highest grossing title among the 432 films released in the US in 1971.
In this paper, I contextualise the film’s rather surprising success by, first of all, relating it to established patterns among the highest grossing movies at the American box office (specifically the top ten films every year). I demonstrate that the release of A Clockwork Orange came midway through a short period of rapidly escalating depictions of sex, in particular sexual violence, in top ten movies in the US. At the same time, the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the proliferation of hit movies that – just like A Clockwork Orange - dealt very sympathetically with criminals.
Secondly, I examine the film’s marketing and highly controversial reception in the US. I show that its restrictive ‘X’-rating and its advertising as well as the film’s style and content had an extremely divisive impact. Many cinemas refused to show this and other ‘X’-rated films and many newspapers refused to advertise or publicise such films. While young educated males made up a significant proportion of the audience for A Clockwork Orange and constituted an even larger share of its supporters, other audience segments tended to stay away or, if they did see the film, were more likely to object to it. Finally, many film reviewers and other commentators vigorously attacked not only the film but also the critics and audiences who supported it. In this controversy, the film was often seen to stand in for what its detractors perceived to be highly negative developments in American cinema, culture and society.
Finally, I outline various factors which contributed to the emergence and success of taboo-breaking and highly controversial movies such as A Clockwork Orange in the US, prominent among them a fundamental change between 1966 and 1968 in the ways in which the American film industry centrally regulated its output. I also consider changes in audience demographics and public opinion.
2-? : Workshop on popular culture and social change; one of the two texts which form the basis for this discussion is chapter 3 of Peter Krämer, The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars (London: Wallflower Press, 2005), pp. 67-88
By way of introduction to the afternoon workshop, Peter would like to distribute the following brief (and slightly modified) excerpts from earlier chapters of The New Hollywood:
From the introduction:
‘In this book, I discuss the films of the New Hollywood of the decade 1967-76 as products of their time, locating the work of film-makers (by which I mean not only directors but also producers, scriptwriters, actors etc.) in the context of changes in the film industry, in its audiences and, more broadly, in American society in the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike most previous studies of the New Hollywood, mine is going to deal primarily with the period’s biggest hits. The main reason for studying hits is that they were enormously important both for the film industry and for audiences; they generated a substantial portion of Hollywood’s income and were seen by the largest numbers of people, many of whom watched them repeatedly.
In examining hit movies, I look for what they have in common with each other. Some of these commonalities distinguish the hits of the New Hollywood from Hollywood’s big hits in the years before 1967 and after 1976. In the conclusion I comment on new patterns of success from 1977 onwards, which are most closely associated with the Science Fiction and adventure films made by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, especially Star Wars (1977). In the main body of this book, however, I compare New Hollywood successes with hits in preceding decades. This comparison throws the distinctive qualities of the New Hollywood into sharp relief and confirms that American film culture underwent a dramatic re-orientation in the course of the 1960s.
Chapter one identifies a group of fourteen breakaway hits for the period 1967-76 (see appendix 1) and demonstrates the central role they played in American film culture. The distinctive thematic features of these New Hollywood superhits are then examined by way of comparison with the superhits of the preceding era (1949-66), most of which had originally been addressed to family audiences and received a so-called ‘roadshow’ release (see appendix 2).
Chapters two and three attempt to provide an explanation for the shift in hit patterns from the Roadshow Era to the New Hollywood. The first of these two chapters outlines several interconnected changes in film production (notably the rising output of taboo-breaking movies in the late 1960s and the eventual replacement of traditional family roadshows in the early 1970s) and in movie audiences (notably the increasing importance and specific interests of young people), which together determined changing hit patterns. The third chapter aims to understand why film production and movie audiences changed. It does so by examining shifts in public opinion (characterized by both liberalisation and polarisation) and the restructuring of the film industry (with closer corporate links to other media and the rise of new generations of film-makers).’
From the conclusion of chapter 1:
‘American cinema of the years 1967-76, like that of the preceding era (1949-1966), was dominated by a small group of films, which generated a significant portion of overall film industry income, were seen by up to half of the American population, had a mutually beneficial link to other best-selling cultural products (notably books and soundtrack albums), received widespread critical acclaim, were recognized by industry personnel as masterpieces and influenced future film production and hit patterns. As a group, the fourteen biggest hits of the New Hollywood contrasted in important ways with the fourteen superhits of the Roadshow Era, all of which were musicals, historical epics or international adventures, largely set and often shot outside the US, mostly based on European or Biblical source material and featuring non-American characters and actors, and with few exceptions had been given a roadshow release addressed to family audiences. By contrast, the New Hollywood top fourteen included fewer special high-profile releases and more surprise hits than the earlier group of films, were generically more diversified but at the same time much more focused on contemporary American settings, dealt with American ethnicities rather than foreign nationalities and often explored organisations, institutions and professions as well as social divisions, in general were addressed more to men than to women and in some cases left the ideal of all-inclusive family entertainment far behind, mainly due to their prominent and graphic displays of sex and violence.’
From the conclusion of chapter 2:
‘In the late 1960s, the major studios invested heavily in two divergent production trends. On the one hand, on the back of the astonishing success of traditional roadshow epics and musicals in movie theatres in the early to mid-1960s and their ongoing popularity as evidenced by extended runs, TV ratings and audience polls after 1966, the studios dramatically increased their output of these kinds of films. On the other hand, they released a growing number of films - including both relatively cheap productions such as the surprise hit The Graduate (1967) and big-budget star vehicles such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) - which broke long established taboos of filmic representation, especially with respect to sex, violence and race relations. While the taboo-breaking films were particularly attractive to some audience segments, notably male youth, they alienated large numbers of Americans (in particular older people and women and also, possibly, those with little education), many more of whom stopped going to the movies. By 1970, it was clear that, due to overproduction and due to the alienation of key audience segments, the large output of traditional roadshows could not be maintained. In the wake of massive losses generated by these films in 1969/70, the major studios used Airport, a huge hit in 1970, as the model for a new kind of big-budget family entertainment. (Interestingly, the other breakaway hit of 1970, Love Story, appears to have been a less successful model for future productions, perhaps because its attractions were less diverse; in particular, the film did not have much to offer to children.) With a string of high-profile and very successful disaster movies, especially The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974) as well as other old fashioned entertainments (most notably The Sting, 1973) the studios did indeed win back some of the previously lost audience after 1972. At the same time, the output and success of films featuring sex, violence, sacrilege and/or racial conflict continued, particularly with the superhits The Godfather (1972), The Exorcist (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974), Jaws (1975), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Rocky (1976).
An important precondition for the emergence of such films had been the weakening and abandonment of the film industry’s Production Code from 1966 to 1968. The question remains why the Motion Picture Association of America’s attitude towards the Code had changed in 1966 and why there was such a strong interest in the breaking of filmic taboos among both film-makers and some audiences.’
Appendix 1: Inflation-Adjusted Top 14 of 1967-76
The following chart is based on a a Box Office Mojo website (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm; accessed 23 March 2003). This website attempts to adjust film grosses to average 2002 ticket prices. According to Box Office Mojo, The Jungle Book is at no. 6, but the film made most of its money after 1976 and is therefore excluded. If one were to adjust the earnings of its re-releases in 1967/68 and 1971/72, Gone With the Wind might just make it into the Top 14.
1 Jaws (1975)
2 The Exorcist (1973)
3 The Sting (1973)
4 The Graduate (1967)
5 The Godfather (1972)
6 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
7 Love Story (1970)
8 Airport (1970)
9 American Graffiti (1973)
10 Blazing Saddles (1974)
11 The Towering Inferno (1974)
12 Rocky (1976)
13 The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
14 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Appendix 2: Inflation-Adjusted Top 14 of 1949-66
The following chart is again based on the Box Office Mojo website (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm; accessed 23 March 2003). According to Box Office Mojo, One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) and Sleeping Beauty (1959) are in the Top 14, but these films made most of their money after 1966 and are therefore excluded. I have also excluded Let’s Make Love (1960) because its presence on the Box Office Mojo list is at odds with information about this film’s box office performance from all other sources.
1 The Sound of Music (1965)
2 The Ten Commandments (1956)
3 Doctor Zhivago (1965)
4 Ben-Hur (1959)
5 Mary Poppins (1964)
6 Thunderball (1965)
7 Cleopatra (1963)
8 Goldfinger (1964)
9 The Robe (1953)
10 Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)
11 The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
12 My Fair Lady (1964)
13 West Side Story (1961)
14 The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)