by Neil D. Isaacs
With hardly anyone noticing (Kingsley Amis and Gerald Jonas are two of the too few exceptions), science fiction and fantasy have come into mainstream contemporary narrative, both filmed and printed. It’s a long way from the fanzines to major studio productions, but these sub-genres have made it in a remarkably short time. The mythos of contemporary fiction has been enriched with the acceptance of such conventions as space travel, time travel, telepathy, infinite worlds (what Frank Herbert calls manworthy planets), and infinite varieties of life forms. We have thus been provided with a new format for conventionally recording and appreciating perceptions about our existence in a highly formalized, mannered, metaphorical way
The broadened base of sci-fi appeal has also provided new acceptance and appreciation of such conventions as moral allegory, extreme extensions of any contemporary gimmickry or gadgetry. satiric exaggerations of social flaws and foibles, and examinations of paradoxically conflicting notions like the perfectibility of man (evolutionism) and recurrent cycles (human nature as a constant). The Star Trek series on TV constantly reminds us that however far we catapult our technological trends or scientological horizons out into the expanding universe, we all still live—according to John Lennon’s allegorical model—in a yellow submarine.
Because of the elaborate machinery of convention within which sci-fi plots function, great compression is possible. The best writers, like Asimov. Bradbury, and Clarke (to lead a veritable futharc) are able to streamline their stories by largely eliminating any technological explication. Since virtually anything is possible, and particularly anything suggested by an extension of what has presently been accomplished, everything is conventionally accepted. Belief is not an issue, and the frequently cryptic quality of these narratives is both regarded as a virtue by its audience and confidently exploited by its practitioners
But too often the audience’s familiarity with the givens of the genre are underestimated, and the vehicle becomes substantially a guided tour through the technology and hardware of its own fictional machinery. Witness Arthur Hill boring the biological hell out of us in the filmed version of The Andromeda Strain. Even the plotlessness of 2001 was filled out before the “Stargate Corridor” by over-attention (despite satirical pretensions) to details of gimmick-gadgetry. while the brilliant projection of cinematic thinking was submerged or delayed. For this reason it is possible to argue that one or another of Scott Bartlett’s space odysseys is a greater achievement than Kubrick’s.
A self-consciousness that falls far short of self-awareness has marred many productions. The fantasy visions of alien monstrosities or evolutionary missteps have refused to acknowledge their kinship with traditional horror films and persist m explaining themselves out of all their dramatic potential. Most of the apocalyptic projections, from The Planet of the Apes to Omega Man (to run the gamut from Charlton to Heston), have suffered in this way, with The Day the Earth Caught Fire a possible exception. Others, like Colossus: The Forbin Project and Groundstar Conspiracy, have pulled their sci-fi superstructure down around the ruins of topical concerns with immediate political and social issues. A fortunate exception is Silent Running, as you might expect from Douglas Trumbull, the director who devised the slit-scan technique for the “Stargate” passage in 2001. It survives some tour-guiding and some politicking to remain essentially faithful to a sci-fi vision of the future. Its dramatic action, its moral struggle, is played out within a mise-en-scène that is totally acceptable in its conventional integrity.
Two remarkable movies of 1971 illustrate some of these developments. In one, THX1138, a sci-fi/fantasy vision of the future is projected by the camera, the sets, and the action. It makes explicit comments on contemporary directions and dangers, but it never stoops to documentary spiels. It points with its artistic conventions (including the basic theme of individual struggling against imposed anonymity and ordered unanimity, and the archetypal plot of escape from the labyrinth) rather than arresting the artistic machinery to explain its points. Its climax is thus far more satisfying than the similarly designed one of The Andromeda Strain. In the other. Richard Serafian’s Vanishing Point, a compellingly contemporary presentation relies on the sci-fi/fantasy convention of telepathy, that is the untapped resources of the human mind. Mind-expansion is the drug culture’s version of this convention: the doors of perception open to Paul Muad’Dib’s weirding ways as well as to Carlos Castaneda’s mescalito. Thus Serafian’s characters, a driver who is hooked on both literal and metaphorical speed and a disc-jockey who is a blind, black, spastic rock-prophet, enter into a mystical mental/spiritual communion that elevates a traditional car-chase plot into an ironic vehicle with mythic powers.
If these two pictures are too obviously special to qualify as mainstream, one need only direct attention to major filmmakers abroad where Godard. Fellini. Antonioni, and Bergman, and especially Resnais and Bunuel have long made use of sci-fi/fantasy conventions with conspicuous success. In the case of Alain Resnais, the single convention of time travel may be said to structure much of his work. And in Je t’aime, je t’aime it becomes literally the vehicle of the plot. The time machine has been described as “womb-shaped” by several reviewers, perhaps because it keeps tripping to an underwater swimming scene, but Esther Isaacs has accurately pointed out that it is precisely delineated as a brain. Moreover, inside this large hollow brain there is a bell jar apparatus that inescapably reminds us of Sylvia Plath’s metaphor for madness Thus the convention of time travel is reinforced by symbolism which itself relies on another convention, that of advances in the fulfillment of mental capability. Resnais’ film, no eccentric ego-trip at all, is rather accepted as a natural if not inevitable stage in contemporary fiction’s development of our cultural mythos.
The point cannot be clinched without regard to the problem of transference from print to screen, from novel to movie—which remains a major aesthetic problem of our time. And here we will devote the bulk of our attention to two significant books-into-film. A Clockwork Orange and Slaughterhouse-Five. The extent of the problem may be hinted when, in a recent review. Penelope Gilliatt, one of the most perceptive reviewers, can observe that only Nabokov’s Ada would be less likely to survive the change of media than Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. Such a remark is especially disappointing coming from a writer who in collaboration with John Schlesinger on Sunday Bloody Sunday laid to rest once and for all the tired canard that movies could not make or use metaphors (n.b. the use of the telephone lines, phones, bells, and answering service).
There is no reason why Ada could not be filmed, though a case might be made concerning Pale Fire. The anachronisms Ada owes to its sci-fi/fantasy frame would make excellent material for a cinematic mise-en-scène. Departments of make up, scenic and set design, costume, and special effects could have a field day. And speaking of field days, what director or cinematographer or editor would not relish the movie possibilities of the novel’s lepidopteral theme? The more philosophical disquisitions on art. on time, and on reality (Demonia versus Terra) would be sacrificed, as well as some of the more cerebral game-playing And of course the marvel of Nabokov s language with its multilingual rejoicing would be substantially lost. But there are ways of making philosophical points on film, there are cinematic games to be played, and there are multi-leveled uses to which movie language can be put. An essential Ada could be filmed, if the story were reconceived as a fiction movie. No idle argument, this view is supported by what Stanley Kubrick has done with Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
The issue of faithfulness is a false one in any discussion of a movie based on a novel It is a red herring with which reviewers can odiferously color odious comparisons. Faithful to what, anyway? To a story line—when the narrative media are so different as to preclude use of the same tense or point of view or tones (over and under- included)? To characters—when the very epistemology of perceiving them are necessarily different? To details—when even the most scrupulous itemization cannot mask or distract from inevitable distinctions?
The only valid application of a standard of faithfulness would be to the essence of the work. But this assumes that a complex work of art can be rendered simple, that a distillation of novel or film into a single statement or concept or thrust can effectively identify the work. And even where the standard is viable, it must be remembered that the director of a movie (along with writer, editor, scorer, etc.) is creating his own work no matter how faithful it may be to the essence and details of a novel.
Anthony Burgess’ dazzling use of language in A Clockwork Orange is the most obvious essential quality to be lost in a filmed treatment of the story. Nadsat. with its occasional use of Cockney. Anglo-Saxon, and Latin, is primarily based on Slavic roots. And this language is so thoroughly interwoven in the fabric of the book, that the reader comes to perceive and accept a future where, although the British parliamentary system seems to function outwardly according to established forms, a different international political situation seems to be implied If military dangers have passed—the threat of physical violence being limited to small gangs and rozzes—the Russians have taken over linguistically. “Subliminal penetration’* of propaganda, it’s called by Dr. Branom.
More nearly essential, however, to Burgess’ work is the use of that language by his persona Alex’s voice—not his vocabulary—dominates the book The voice is mannered, achieving a kind of hyped musical quality through its many artifices As such, it is the perfect vehicle for the appropriate and consistent tone with which it speaks And in turn that tone of voice ideally conveys the ironic themes of the book. The voice of Smith in Sillitoe’s Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner may be the only comparably successful voice in recent British fiction.
Kubrick has retained some of that voice in Alex’s intermittent voice-over narration and some of the nadsat in dialogue and narration, but is at least equally successful in recreating the persona and finding the cinematically appropriate artifices. To begin with, he has Malcolm McDowell’s face, and the celebrated close-up with which the movie begins is just the first use of a facile, mobile, and eminently decorable device. Pulling back from the face. Kubrick reveals the whole form of Alex, his droogs. their get-up. and the set of the milk-plus mesto In one careful gesture, then, Kubrick has shown what his camera can do with the composition of a static shot. Without movement (except the camera s). without words, it speaks to us of the potential eloquence of postured figures in a mise-en-scène.
In the course of the film this potential is fulfilled as the faces, the figures, and the camera interact in a meticulously orchestrated construct From the fish-eye distortion of the Deltoid set-piece to the busy tracking shot in the disc-bootick to the pixillation session with the teenyboppers. every sequence has its own pace and rhythm related to those of the whole Tony Richardson may have shown, in his version of Sillitoe’s Loneliness, the way to replace a novelistic persona’s voice with a movie’s voice of equivalent bravura, virtuosity, and integrity. But surely Kubrick s achievement is the greatest in that direction. The sound of A Clockwork Orange is more than the impressiveness of its audio mix: it is the authentic voice of a created film world In the Billyboy rumble, the first visit to Home, and the slow-motion power struggle with Dim and Georgie. the actions may be called the choreographed accompaniment to the music, or the music called the orchestrated background to the action. But neither has primacy, any more than the stylized artifices of actors, opticals. and sound track are separable from this telling of this story The myth, the ritual, and the meaning of both are all one.
It has become fashionable in recent discussions of film language to ignore the existence of actual words, but Kubrick is too professional both as craftsman and as satirist not to make full use of words to tell his story. The full verbal repertory of movies includes dialogue, voice-over narration, song lyrics, titles and captions, inserts of signs and headlines, shots of lettered posters and graffiti, and close-ups of book pages, diaries, and all sorts of typed or handwritten messages. Beyond this, conventional devices of editing are perceived by the audience, not in terms of their cinematic labels like “lap dissolve” or “intercut.” but in terms of their equivalent literary tags like “some time later” or “at the same time back at the. …” Moreover, it is more than possible to argue that any concept communicated to an audience’s consciousness through any image, however complex, must be decoded in words for intelligibility. Kubrick s powerful verbal arsenal in A Clockwork Orange includes parts of Burgess’ dialogue (sometimes with reassignment of lines to characters, but always appropriately for the new design), bits of Alex’s narration, lyrics of “Singing in the Rain” and the staja hymn, the sign of “Home.” and the graffiti in Alex’s flatblock. But Kubrick also wisely refrains from overuse of the conventional rubrics and runes, most noticeably by omitting observation of F. Alexander’s work in progress, a book called A Clockwork Orange, or any of its verbiage. He also refuses to draw attention to his language by echoing Burgess’ Alex’s comments on his own style and idiosyncrasies in the speech of others. Characters are still delineated by styles of speech, movement, and dress—but our perceptions thereof come firsthand, not filtered through Alex’s notions of fashions and their “heighths.”
One other aspect of Kubrick’s film language is worthy of note—the language of allusion and parody—and this will lead us back to thematic considerations. Like Welles. Hitchcock, and Fellini, Kubrick enjoys the self-indulgence of visual references to his own work The turning of Alexander into a Strangelove (quivering in a wheelchair) and of Alex’s suicide room into a Jupiter room (the French Provincial decor) are obvious examples. But he can also refer to the work of others Taking advantage of McDowell’s facial resemblance to a young Albert Finney from certain angles, he has shot the final hospital scene between Alex and the Minister in a parody of the famous Tom Jones eating scene Instead of Tom chomping away in the immense hunger of his innocent humanity, we have Alex smacking his chops in the appalling self-satisfaction of his corrupt identity. And the gorging, not to say gorgeous, face is intercut with the opposite number—in both cases a face filled with the delectation of anticipatory satisfaction. Not as grossly obvious as Altman’s Last Supper parody, the scene achieves equal humor by the recognition of the allusion: but it does more than that. By referring to the mutual contract of free appetites in Tom Jones, it ironically reinforces the point about quid pro quo in corrupt social contracts.
Thus allusive parody is another satirist’s tool for thematic statement. Kubrick employs many of Burgess’ explicit themes. The familiar laments about the absence of law and order and the young doing in the old while men are walking the moon and spinning in space are placed in a dirty, drunken, desperate mouth and so given as much credence as if Archie Bunker had said them (which he has). In both media, the necessity for penal reform is the practical matter of clearing the prisons of criminals to make room for political offenders. The bitter irony thus undercuts another valid theme, while pointing to a major underlying topic—growing totalitarian insistence on conformity.
Finally, there is the explicit thematic statement of Alexander’s lament: the people will sell their liberty for a quiet life, and the individual is simply the poor victim of the modern world. And this is Burgess’ thematic and satiric lament. The Ludovico technique, the device that most clearly marks the book as what Nabokov calls Technology Fiction, is the embodiment of the evil direction society is following in destroying the individual will. Alex’s extreme willfulness is abhorrent in its violence, and yet it is redeemed because Alex’s bloody dreams are also works of art. products of the individual’s imagination. His love of music is the symbol of that assertion of the individual self against some tribal overself, and the accidental perversion of that love by the state is no accident at all. It is Burgess’ structural equivalent of Alexander’s clockwork orange—the symbol of violence done to the individual self.
Burgess’ Clockwork Orange allows us to see beyond the narrator s mask. Alex’s violation of ten-year-old devotchkas is not justified just because they asked for it. We appreciate his style but not his acts, not his values We are made to sympathize with the willful against the imposed in spite of the extremes in which it is expressed. This is the irony: that we despise the alcoholic and self-serving prison Charles while we approve what he says, that we despise the corruption and expedience of the opposition party while we cheer its platforms: that we despise Alex while we rejoice in the restoration of his willful and violent self Burgess’ satire is Drydenesque he has a powerful commitment and artfully wills us to choose the side of art and free will despite the possibly hideous consequences of that choice
Not so Kubrick. His satiric view is Hobbesian, a cold, hard look at humanity that sees—through a technology fiction—where it seems presently to be headed. Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange is so exactly fulfilled an artifact as it is. precisely because he has stripped away the burden of emotional commitment. The dialectical poles of free (violent) self and controlled order become horns of a goring dilemma. Humanity will be destroyed if the behaviorists. the socio-psycho-bio-logists. become the bureaucratic power. But humanity will be destroyed, too. if orderly systems break down in anarchic free expression of wild young will. Technology and perception still come together when cretinous man learns to use a tool—as a weapon. Creativity and destruction. Destroyer and preserver. Hear. man. here.
Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange says man is man. In Charles Fontenay’s terms, it says that Homo socia/is and Homo individualis are constantly at war. that they mean to do violence to each other, but that both species are part of our genetic makeup In a fully realized satiric fiction. Kubrick dramatizes both the failure to realize the integration of the two and the emptiness of their corrupt collusion. He thus ironically argues the need for peaceful coexistence within each of us and with all of us together. Peace is the integrity of self in the group, not the selling of self to power.
Peace, free will, and art are also of the essence of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five; but George Roy Hill’s movie of the same name is redolent of different juices entirely. Hill’s burden was heavy: he not only had to reconceive the story according to his own filmic lights, he had to reverence the details of the fiction as so many cult objects for his projected audience. And his artifices do not suffice to carry the load.
His failure is similar to that of Mike Nichols with Catch 22. Heller’s text was so cluttered with cult objects that Nichols’ reconception of the story in film form, with abundant optical and structural gimmickry, was topweighted with the demands of the literary paraphernalia. Hill never even tried, as Nichols clearly did. to integrate the obligatory items into the movies story. The appearances of Wild Bob from Cody. Wyoming, and of Eliot Rosewater in a Lake Placid mental hospital, for example, serve no purpose whatsoever in the movie except to remind viewers, perhaps, of significances lost from the book. Rosewater’s main function is to introduce Kilgore Trout to Billy Pilgrim, but neither Trout nor his science fiction appears in the movie Still. Trout is not the major character lost from the text—that is the narrator. Kurt Vonnegut. Jr. of Indianapolis and Barnstable.
This novel adapts itself to reduction to statements of essence better than most, though there are three separate statements, like the voices of a fugue, in a tripartite essence and structure First and foremost, it is an anti-war document, conceived in anguish for firebomb-destroyed Dresden and dedicated to the propositions that war is an absurd assertion of man’s will, that it must be revealed in all its absurdity, and that all men must see the futility and desperate irony in all the manifestations of war, past, present and future. Vonnegut portrays himself, his friends, his characters—people, cities, countries, institutions—as all victimized, brutalized, dehumanized by war. And even the slightest, most ridiculously ironic loss is a measure of that self-destruction. Slaughterhouse-Five is a denunciation of war. written compulsively to denounce war, designed to denounce war. and fulfilled by the litany of that denunciation. This is the element that has won a large audience among the peace-seeking young
Second, it is a science fiction that deals with the topic of free will versus fatalism and a related philosophical issue of the nature of time. If the selfassertiveness of humanity inevitably leads to war, the alternative is a kind of sublime acceptance of everything. This is the fatalistic message from Tralfamadore brought to earth by Billy Pilgrim. The Tralfamadorian response to death and destruction, however violent, pointless, mindless, brutal, or unnecessary, is, “So it goes “ If you dwell only on the pleasant moments, your epitaph can read. “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.” And since all moments always exist, it is important to remember that each moment “is structured” the way it happens, to accept everything, and to desire nothing different.
That Slaughterhouse-Five does not itself preach the Tralfamadorian gospel is evident. Billy Pilgrim is as foolish a figure as his wife, as irrelevant as Kilgore Trout, as mad as Paul Lazzaro Tralfamadorian fatalism and time concepts are as valid as the Tralfamadorian theory that all seven human sexes are necessary for reproduction of earthlings. That the alternative to war is acceptance of everything as structured—including war—is. then, a very bitter irony. The familiar prayer, repeated at strategic points in the book—
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom always to tell the difference—
delineates the ironic tensiveness between Vonnegut’s need to condemn the destruction of Dresden and Billy’s call to spread the Tralfamadorian word of fatalism. Billy has learned from his zoo-keeper that earth is the only one of 131 inhabited planets where there is any talk of free will. But that is precisely the point: earthlings are concerned with earthly humanity. Those who see the book as fatalistic have been either beguiled by its potential for humor directed at human society or seduced by the satirical nihilism it seems to share with Kubrick. And they have not heard the tonal distinction between “So it goes” as uttered by Kurt Vonnegut and by Billy Pilgrim. Again, a considerable audience has been won by the conventional sci-fi treatment of contemporary institutions.
Third. Slaughterhouse-Five is a book about the writing of the book. The whole first section is a kind of foreword in which Vonnegut, in propria persona, talks about the conception of the book, the history of its composition, some of the research involved, the incident that supplied the subtitle, and the personal significance of the whole project. Then, throughout the narration, there are frequent interjections like “I was there” or “That was me. the author of this book” to remind us to distinguish the voices and to keep this element in mind. The theme is enlarged by discussions of writing with Rosewater. Trout. Rumfoord. and even the Tralfamadorian guide Trout and his fiction play a role in this novel like Pursewarden in Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet and even more like Morelli in Cortázar’s Hopscotch. It is this element, then, that places Slaughterhouse-Five in one of the mainstreams of contemporary literature, though its audience seems largely unaware of it
Hill’s Slaughterhouse-Five resembles its source only superficially, sometimes translating to the screen textural details that are pointless in their new context. The sci-fi time concept seems perfectly suited to cinematic structure Indeed Billy’s time travel (called “time-tripping” in the now dialogue of the movie) becomes the editing rationale of the whole film. Good idea, poor execution. In practice, what we get is an elaborate exercise in the kind of “thematic cut” that was so popular in the late Fifties.
Of the tripartite essence of the book, a complete transformation has taken place. Instead of a compulsive anti-war statement, there is an antiestablishment theme that slightly alters the base of audience support. The anti-war element remains implicit, as in the blank faces of the Russian prisoners in the German camp, but it supplies material for some splendid snow shots in the opening sequence and the broad satiric scene of the British prisoners welcoming the Yanks. We don’t even see any of the Dresden bombing, just Billy’s gawking tour of the lovely city (Prague) before and the rather unconvincing sets of rubble after.
Instead of Vonnegut’s bitter irony of fatalistic acceptance. Hill presents a comedy based on destruction and distortion. The biggest laugh-getter is the sequence of Valencia’s drive to the hospital, a zany highway bit that features the demolition of her Cadillac and incidental casualties to many others, climaxed in her hornblaring. crashing death by carbon monoxide poisoning outside the emergency entrance. So it goes: and note, again, the disparity of tones. The sound track is leaned heavily upon for laughs, but it is a very frail support, at times insupportable itself as it attempts to make fun of social patterns and institutions. The overwhelmingly impressive sound of the Clockwork Orange experience may get in the way here, but the sound in Slaughterhouse-Five seems by turns shrill, blatant, gross, and gauche, undercutting whatever satiric or comedic effectiveness it was intended to have. This element may have audience appeal, too. but to my subjective ear a comparable theater crowd enjoyed its laughs at What’s Up. Doc? much more.
Finally, instead of the writing of the book (or the making of the movie that we might have gotten from such various directors as Sjoman, Fellini. Newley. Russell. Hopper, Mailer, Cassavetes, or Mazursky) we get a new theme—the natural versus the mechanical. And this is what really gets the audience with it. When Billy and Montana Wildhack successfully mate, we rejoice with the invisible Tralfamadorians. and when Montana nurses the infant in the film’s final, triumphant gesture, we necessarily join in the Tralfamadorian applause. It is a winning—and winsome—device, and we depart in a kind of mindless chuckle at what feels good.
But where have all the powers gone? A potentially potent property has become as slight as Billy Pilgrim s person. Vonnegut’s ironic point about pornographic pictures, even, has faded into the naive non-prurience of the zoogoers The Tralfamadorians have disappeared. They have become invisible, disembodied voices. Frank Gallup to Michael Sacks’s Perry Como (Note to United Artists; solution to your three-year problem of a script for The Lord of the Rings: make all hobbits, dwarves, elves, ents, orcs, wizards, and men invisible; in fact, why not make Tolkien into a radio series!) The geodesic dome remains along with Edgar Derby’s souvenir and Billy’s coat and dozens of items for identification by cultists (This is the heart of U. A s problem: Tolkien is the biggest cult of all.) But the life has gone out of the story with its essence, despite undeniable innate appeal, certain charm, and an intelligent structural concept. Hill’s failure is far from complete, rather on the order of Arthur Penn’s with Little Big Man. The structure, pacing, and tone of Thomas Berger’s novel were discarded for the comedic potential of Dustin Hoffman in a talking blues, as W H, Ward has observed, probably because Penn had achieved great success with that form in Alice’s Restaurant. What both Hill and Penn gained by shooting and playing for laughs and gut responses, they lost in the weakening of overall content or—not to be mealymouthed about it—integrity. Listen: Slaughterhouse-Five has come unstuck in itself.
Morgana King has recently recorded the old Robin-Rainger tune “Easy Living” With a lush orchestral setting. Morgana has her own special way with the melody line and gives the lyric a rich romantic reading It’s a highly stylized conception and very newly concocted, and all very wrong. The problem must have seemed to be this; the song has always been closely associated with Billie Holiday, who made a famous recording of it in 1935 with a group including Buck Clayton. Teddy Wilson. Lester Young, and Benny Goodman; therefore it needs a totally fresh approach so that it doesn’t appear derivative or imitative But the trouble is really this: the song itself cannot be lush and romantic. It is a whore’s description of the love she feels for her pimp and the life she leads for him: the lyrical expression is laced throughout with the irony of the situation. Billie understood the song completely (as she did many others in her urban blues idiom), and the ironic edge structures the emotional phrasing, the melodic integrity, and her uncanny pacing of the lyric—an understanding shared, incidentally, by the tenor solo of the Prez The point is that Morgana King, who is to be admired for the integrity with which she does her own thing, has not in this case done “Easy Living.”
Lyric, tune, arrangement, performance, context—what is the essence of a song? The question can only be begged; eventually we come down to the questions of what works and how well and what doesn’t and why not. Given the sci-fi conventions and their contributions to the mythos of our culture, both A Clockwork Orange and Slaughterhouse-Five could have been made into movies of the first rank. Kubrick succeeded admirably by using the full sight-and-sound repertory of the film rhetoric to propel and project his reconception of the narrative and its meanings. Hill failed by copping out, diminishing the work and narrowing the scope of his approach and his art. A Clockwork Orange works because it expands our experience with the film form; Slaughterhouse-Five does not work because it lets the whole film experience go down as if nothing hurt. Poo-tee-weet?
Neil D Isaacs
University of Maryland
Literature/Film Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 2 (SPRING 1973), pp. 122-131