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The day 'A Clockwork Orange' challenged conservative Spain


The 24 April 1975 Valladolid entered modernity. Or at least that’s what those who could enter the first public screening in Spain of A Clockwork Orange, by Stanley Kubrick, a film banned by Franco’s censorship since its world premiere in felt until that moment. That tumultuous and controversial projection in a city described as very conservative (” fachadolid” ), but which at that time was abuzz between union demonstrations and student revolts, is described by its protagonists in the documentary The forbidden orange, by Pedro González Bermúdez. The film has been premiered, as it could not be less, at the Seminci pucelana, the same festival that hosted it then, with the presence of its imposing main actor, Malcolm McDowell.

Although the McDowell himself explains that they knew that during filming (six months that began on September 7, 1970) from A Clockwork Orange the film “was not going to go unnoticed”, no one imagined the earthquake it would cause at its premiere. “We shot it as a black comedy, not at all as an apology for violence, which does not appear in detail in the film. It was revolutionary in its shape and its look … We lived in a time before MTV. Today there is a very dangerous reading of it, which reflects the moment we suffer ”, he told this Saturday in Valladolid.

The launch of Kubrick’s film started on 19 from December to 1971 – hence this quarter marks the half century of the premiere – in New York and San Francisco, before arriving to London in January 1972. In Spain, Warner, producer and distributor of the film, presented it before Franco’s censorship, which had prohibited Lolita and Senderos de gloria, cut Spartacus and authorized Red telephone? We fly to Moscow and 2001: an odyssey into space. And The clockwork orange did not get the screening permit either. In addition, the film, a year after it was released, was withdrawn from British theaters by Kubrick, fed up with the controversy that accompanied it. “Few people remember him as a producer, but he was very responsible,” says McDowell, who to his 77 years he works tirelessly and is in perfect physical shape. “As 2001 had gone out of his way on the budget , decided to show that he could make a movie with a modest cost and not exceed it. ”

Malcolm McDowell, este sábado en Valladolid.
Malcolm McDowell, this Saturday in Valladolid. NACHO GALLEGO (EFE)

So when for the edition of the Seminci of 1975 Warner raised his projection in the contest —which two years earlier, the tag “religious cinema and human values” had been deleted from its name – its director, Carmelo Romero, who had seen it in Canada in 1973, he promised them happily. More when in February of 1973 the censorship had disappeared, replaced by the system of ratings of films by age, and the General Directorate of Cinematography supported Warner’s idea.

At that time Valladolid, a city of 200. 000 inhabitants with almost 30. 000 university students, seethed with protests in the faculties and the union struggle at the Fasa Renault factory. To 23 days from At the start of the festival, Warner asked the committee to return the copy “for a little touch-up,” and later announced that it would not screen it. Kubrick, more than obsessed, paranoid of control, had received this news and he did not like the city. Romero, at the request of the Spanish office of the Hollywood studio, sent him a letter telling him that Seminci was a progressive festival and that it would be screened at the university. The latter convinced the filmmaker, who gave permission.

Romero lied, although in the documentary he tells that only half: “Most of his audience was student.” And after a placid screening at the Coca cinema for the press the day before, and with hundreds of people in line at the box office (they came to sleep there in sleeping bags), the day of projection with an audience at the Carrión cinema arrived. The event had enraged the city’s most conservative population.

Colas ante la taquilla del pucelano cine Carrión en abril de 1975 para ver 'La naranja mecánica'.
Queues at the box office of the Pucelano Carrión cinema in April 1975 to see ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Seminci Archive

Nothing was easy that 30 April 1975. The owner of the room had already given away tickets for 1 o’clock to his acquaintances. 000 armchairs. Romero, outraged, asked for a new box office and by putting them up for sale, he only allowed two tickets per buyer. With the screening started, a call was received with a bomb warning. From the booth, phone in hand, the director of the Seminci decided not to vacate the room and assume responsibility.

In The forbidden orange, some of the viewers of that historical event remember that they found on the screen an echo “of the violence that was lived in Valladolid.” The philosopher Gustavo Martín Garzo remembers from that session: “It was a very disturbing film.” McDowell loves the strange link between A Clockwork Orange and Valladolid: “I only know something similar in Mexico City, where a crowd knocked down the doors of the cinema. Valladolid is wonderful, and confirms the strength of the film even in such a conservative city. ”

McDowell harbors a contradictory relationship with A Clockwork Orange. He came from shooting If …, with Lindsay Anderson, who became one of his best friends, and he really enjoyed shooting a project that had been running in Kubrick’s head since the publication of Burgess’s book – who never liked the film – in 1962. It was his first job with Warner, who always respected his long-winded requests. “I never saw Stanley again, although we did talk on the phone several times afterward. It was very strange … I was young, I immersed myself in a deeply familiar relationship, and after filming it was over. Like a divorce, and I’m sorry. However, we made an extraordinary film ”. In the biography of the filmmaker written by John Baxter, he assures that McDowell’s entry changed the project and that Kubrick would not have shot it without him: “God, no. The only thing is that I had an accident at the beginning, not very serious. The insurance doctor advised him to hire another and Stanley looked at me and said either me or none. “

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In the same book it is said that Singing in the Rain appears in A Clockwork Orange because it was the only song the actor knew: “All legend. Stanley asked me to hum something, I came up with that instinctively, and he shot out of the studio. ” He went to call Warner to see if he could get the rights to the song, and an hour later he came back beaming. “At that time, Stanley was the only auteur film star who also secured blockbusters. No one could deny him anything. And there has been no other like him, if perhaps Steven Spielberg or ever Scorsese ”, reflects McDowell.

Calle de Valladolid con el anuncio de la proyección en 1975 de 'La naranja mecánica'.
Calle de Valladolid with the announcement of the screening at 1973 from ‘A Clockwork Orange’. File municipal of Valladolid

In the rest of Spain A clockwork orange reached arthouse cinemas first – it could be seen in Madrid’s Cid Campeador – and two years later, doubled with the translation by Vicente Molina Foix (who appears in the documentary talking about his complicated work, having to invent a large set of new words, always under the supervision of the meticulous Kubrick).

Could a similar film be shot today ? “No”, replies its protagonist ”. “If the man does not choose, he ceases to be a man”, is heard in the documentary by González Bermúdez, produced by the TCM channel, which will premiere in December. McDowell assures: “In these pro-Trump times, in which people are humiliated and lied to so easily, in which there is still brutal machismo, and in which victims of sexual harassment are vilified, I don’t think many will dare to produce such an intelligent reflection on the human being, free will and institutional violence. ”