“Vinyl”: Andy Warhol’s first filmed adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange”

By on November 4, 2015

Andy Warhol’s Vinyl — lensed on a minuscule budget in June 1965, and featuring Factory regulars Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick — was actually the first filmed adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, although many will probably have a hard time recognizing the now-familiar dystopian morality tale about droogy gang violence if Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film is the only one they’ve seen.

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Malanga’s Victor — both Burgess and Kubrick had called him Alex — doesn’t quite seem to make as much with the material as Malcolm McDowell did, given Malanga’s limited acting skills, and Warhol typically leaves in the flubbed lines and stammering in what appears to be just three long takes, rather than edit around them, which emphasizes Malanga’s limits dramatically.

You sense this immediately, from the opening shot of the hungover-looking Malanga, close-up and looking directly into the lens, and it doesn’t get much better as the film progresses from this first shot, as the camera zooms backwards to reveal the setting, Victor holding court in the Korova Milk Bar. Even the cigarette he smokes later looks bored with being smoked.

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Indeed, Warhol’s raw, rambling 66-minute black-and-white film is possibly the exact opposite of Kubrick’s visually thoughtful, plotted-out cinematography and directing style, and Warhol’s film suffers greatly in comparison, which is probably why its mosty-forgotten today.

Warhol — working from an off-Broadway-ish sounding script penned by Ronald Tavel, and again, even a writing credit feels too generous here — doesn’t do much with the static, unmoving camera position, which leaves us with a film that feels as amateurish as it is experimental, and provides too few memorable scenes.

There’s one — Malanga weirdly dancing to Martha Reeves’ and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run,” which we get to see and hear twice, which provides the film’s biggest laughs at most screenings — but not a lot else here that you’ll remember later (we also get to hear “Tired of Waiting for You” by the Kinks, “The Last Time” by the Rolling Stones and “Shout” by the Isley Brothers).

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Most of the time, the camera shows a cramped ise-en-scène of untrained, unskilled background actors in the corner of Warhol’s Factory loft, and then rarely strays from this claustophobic positioning. Calling this mostly-shirtless, tired, rough trade-looking bunch of Factory workers “actors” feels too generous — mostly they are insolent, bored-looking bodies with sullen faces, lolling around, smoking, looking like freaks or even punks before either word was over-familiarized in the later Sixties and seventies

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Even luminous Edie Sedgwick — lounging seductively off to one side, wearing a black mini-dress and leather thigh-highs, chain-smoking and then dancing, her eyelashes fluttering, while a couple of droog thugs beat and torture a man they’ve captured, shoving a fist into his mouth — isn’t as memorable as she is elsewhere in Warhol’s films, and we believe this is her first significant appearance onscreen.

Her character isn’t even named, it’s simply one of Andy’s acolytes sitting amid others, all of them clearly trying their best to appear as actors, and only half-trying at that, looking like a debauched bunch of drugged-up socialites and social pariahs who hang with Andy Warhol than they do serious actors.

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photo by Steve Schapiro

We also get to see Ondine as Scum Baby, Tosh Carillo as The Doctor, J.D. McDermott as Cop, Jacques Potin as Extra, and those are only the actors credited with character names.

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Watch the rest of Vinyl here:

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.