Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Appreciation: Malcolm McDowell: A Musical Journey

If you have been paying close attention, you may have realized by now that Laurie is a tad bit obsessed with Bob Dylan, Allie has a thing for Ryan Adams, and I have an affinity for Lou Reed (yeah, Adventureland!). However, there is someone else nearer and dearer to my heart. He was the star of a little known film called “A Clockwork Orange.” Yes, I confess, I hold a candle in my heart for Malcolm McDowell. I haven’t forgotten that this is primarily a music blog though, so here’s what I’m going to do about it: I’m going to take you on a musical journey through his acting career and it is going to be epic.

On June 13, 1943 McDowell was born in Horsforth, Leeds to Charles and Edna Taylor. He was sent to the Cannock House School at age 11 to be disciplined and it was there that he was encouraged to act. He had the opportunity to portray many Shakespearian roles which bolstered up his confidence. It also didn't hurt that he was the team captain of the Rugby team. After graduating, he went on to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Art, yet he claims it was his work as a traveling coffee salesman that provided the best training. McDowell learned to mold himself into a different person depending on whom he was selling to and it did the trick. Soon enough he was making 25 quid a week.

McDowell was introduced to Mrs. Harold Ackley through a girlfriend of his who was taking elocution lessons with her. He was quite taken by the ex-silent film star, and promptly began working with her to rid himself of his Yorkshire accent. The lessons paid off and soon he was performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre. McDowell became fed up with the hierarchy there, remarking that he felt as if he was only there to move furniture and had yet to meet the director, Peter Hall. At the end of the season, McDowell told Hall that he was leaving to become a movie star. His statement was met with laughter.

From there he landed a few bit parts in televisions series, which turned into a few bit parts in movies. His first big break came in the form of a 1968 film called, “If….”, which he landed after a particularly physical audition. Him and co-star, Christine Noonan began wrestling with each other onstage and it was then and there that he won the role of Mick Travis, the revolutionary stuck under the totalitarian rule of an all boys English public school. Lindsay Anderson, who became a long time mentor to McDowell and supposedly developed a bit of a crush on him too, directed the satire. The film received an X-Rating and exposed traditions of English public schools in the 1960’s such as “fagging” and “caning”. It was shot in color and black and white completely at random depending on the budget and what kind of film Anderson felt like using that day.

In the film, Mick Travis and his two non-conformist friends spend their down time sneaking liquor, throwing darts at pop culture icons, and listening to the “Sanctus” from the Missa Luba, a Latin Mass in an African style, sung by a choir of Congolese children. The songs were written and composed by Baluba of the Kasai and Katanga, with Father Haazen, according to Wikipedia, and the selection used in “If….” made it onto the UK singles chart in the 1960’s.

Fun Musical Fact: The Clash refer to the recording of the Missa Luba in the lyrics of their song 'Car Jamming' on the 1982 album Combat Rock.

Stanley Kubrick watched “If….” and said he would not direct “A Clockwork Orange,” unless he had Malcolm McDowell as his lead. Kubrick presented him with the book by Anthony Burgess, which McDowell read three times before declaring it, “a modern classic” to Kubrick’s delight. Terrified about taking on the difficult role of Alex DeLarge, McDowell turned to Anderson for help.

He also developed a friendship with Kubrick, after many games of ping pong and chess. The famous rape scene took almost a week to film and over 30 canes were destroyed in the process. Kubrick encouraged McDowell to come up with a few ideas of his own and he allegedly sang, “Singin’ In the Rain” because it was the only song he knew all the words to. Kubrick was so enchanted with the outcome that he immediately bought the rights to the ditty that day.

Also worth noting, is Alex DeLarge’s obsession with Beethoven, or Ludwig Van as he often refers to him. He indulges in the pleasures of his favorite music by this German composer and pianist combined with images of ultra violence. After undergoing the Ludovico Technique, a form of aversion therapy, he can no longer listen to the music (specifically Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) without being overcome by bouts of intense nausea. Beethoven’s Ninth was composed during Beethoven's late period and was the last symphony he completed. It was finished in 1824 and is upheld as a masterpiece and a symbol of Romantic music.

Wendy Carlos was responsible for the rest of the film’s soundtrack. She was born Walter Carlos but underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1972. Carlos attended Brown University and got her masters degree in music at Columbia University where she met Robert Moog and became one of the first to try out his Moog synthesizer. With this new instrument, she went on to compose ambient music made up of blended and synthesized sounds with only a trace of melody. In 1971, Carlos composed the soundtrack for “A Clockwork Orange,” and went on to work with Kubrick a second time on “The Shining.”

Fun Musical Fact: The Colorado quartet, DeVotchKa, got their name from Anthony Burgess’s Nadsat word for “young girl”.

Immediately after ACO, McDowell returned to Anderson to film part two of the Mick Travis trilogy, “O’ Lucky Man” which was a symbolic representation of the struggles of life in capitalist society. The film was developed from a script by McDowell based on his previous experiences as a coffee salesman. Anderson worked Alan Price into the movie, the keyboardist from the British group, The Animals, after failing to make a documentary about his band because of the cost of licensing all the songs they covered while on tour. Price left The Animals in 1965 and agreed to compose the score, which took on a Greek Chorus type of role in the film. McDowell believed it to be Price’s greatest work.

After a slew of box office flops, McDowell married Margot Bennett Dullea and moved to the U.S. to escape the failing British film industry. It was at this time that he starred in the notorious film, “Caligula”. Bob Guiccione of Penthouse Magazine financed the film based on the work of Gore Vidal (who later asked to have his name removed from the project), and provided them with a flock of Penthouse pets as well. The young Italian director, Tinto Brass, agreed to direct the controversial film, which featured big talents such as Peter O’Toole, Sir John Gielgud, and

Helen Mirren. Yes, “the queen” does some surprisingly naughty things. This film is certainly not for the faint of heart. Guiccione filmed scenes with the pets at night and later edited them into the movie, replacing scenes that had been

shot by Brass. While the film managed to portray the depravity of Rome under Caligula’s rule to a certain extent, it was overshadowed by the gratuitous sex scenes, which left the critics disgusted.

The soundtrack of the scandalous film however, was actually somewhat respectable. A

majority of the music was written by Paul Clemente, better known as Bruno Nicolai, the Italian composer and orchestra director. Bruno attended the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome where he became friends with Academy Award winning-composer, Ennio Morricone. The two went on to collaborate on many fine projects together. Also wedged into the impressive soundtrack was the work of the Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev. By age seven, Prokofiev had already written his first piano composition and was an avid chess player as well. I was still learning how to tie my shoes. First you fashion them into bunny ears and then you… well, never mind. At age nine he composed his first opera. Now he's just making me look bad. One of the pieces that was used in the film was from, “The Love for Three Oranges,” a Prokofiev creation from 1919, based on the play, “L'Amore delle tre melarance” by Carlo Gozzi which was based on Giambattista Basile's fairy tale "The Love for Three Oranges". (Kind of like how “He’s Just Not That Into You,” was a movie based on a book that was based on an episode of the television show, “Sex and the City,” which was also based on a book. Oh what tangled webs we weave.) The opera is in the form of Commedia dell’Arte and is one of Prokofiev’s most popular pieces.

Fun Musical Fact: The electropop musician, Little Boots, got her stage name from emperor Caligula, who was nicknamed Little Boots because he wore a soldiers uniform like his father, Germanicus’ at the wee age of two when he attended the campaigns in northern Germania with him.

McDowell made his American film debut with, “Time After Time,” in 1979 and fell in love with co-star Mary Steenburgen. Together they had two children; Lily Amanda McDowell and Charles Malcolm McDowell. Shortly after, McDowell returned to theatre and received rave reviews. The 1980’s were cruel to McDowell who developed a devastating cocaine habit, aged poorly, and could no longer get the leading man roles he once received. To spare me the pain, let’s gloss over this dark and cruel period of time.

McDowell managed to kick his cocaine addiction after turning to the Betty Ford Center for help, and remarried to artist, Kelly Kuhr in 1991, with whom he had three more children; Beckett Taylor McDowell, Finnian Anderson McDowell, and Seamus Hudson McDowell. He later appeared in the 1994 Sci-fi film, Star Trek Generations. Dennis McCarthy was in charge of the music and used a series of blended electronic sound effects, and William Shatner was in it. Enough said!

More recently, I have spotted McDowell in popular television series such as “Heroes” and “Entourage”. In "Heroes," he portrayed Daniel Linderman, a notorious mobster with the superhuman ability to heal any living thing. In the hit show, "Entourage," he played the distinguished Terrance McQuewick; former boss of super-agent Ari Gold and his stiffest competition. The Entourage soundtrack ranges from hip-hop to indie (okay, mostly hip-hop) featuring rappers like Saigon, who had a small part on the show, and bands like TV on the Radio, whose most recent album, Dear Science, was proclaimed the best album of 2008 by Spin, MTV, Rolling Stone, and readers polls orchestrated by the Gods over at Pitchfork.

Although McDowell is now 65, it is comforting to know that he's still playing those high status villain types that made his career flourish 40 years ago. Yesterday, I was flipping through a magazine when I came across a list of the Top Twenty Scariest Villains. Sandwiched between Darth Vader and Michael Myers (did I mention McDowell was in Rob Zombie's 2007 release as Dr. Sam Loomis?) was his portrayal of Alex DeLarge. The following page displayed McDowell fully equipped with the customary "Clockwork Orange" bowler hat and cane. The eighties may

have turned his tresses white, but there is still a twinkle in his blue eyes and a knowing smile hidden in the corners of his signature Alex DeLarge sneer.

For further information on the illustrious Malcolm McDowell, you may visit his Wikipedia page here or browse this extensive website created by a fellow fan.

A Clockwork Orange

The Thieving Magpie (Abridged) by Wendy Carlos mp3

Ninth Symphony, Second Movement, Beethoven (Abridged) by Wendy Carlos mp3


Wood Sequence by Paul Clemente, becomes Prokofiev's, "The Love for Three Oranges" at the end mp3

No comments:

Post a Comment