The film A Clockwork Orange (1971) was not banned in Britain. On the contrary, it was passed uncut by the British Board of Film Censors with rating 18. But it was withdrawn from distribution, and only in December 1999, after director Stanley Kubrick died, did Warner Brothers announce that it would be released again. Who was responsible and what were their exact reasons?

There is a lack of clarity here, partly because Kubrick never discussed the withdrawal in public. Thus Alan Travis writes in the Guardian in 1999 that the withdrawal resulted from a decision in 1974 "by Stanley Kubrick, the police and Warner Brothers". He quotes John Senior, vice-president of Warner Brothers, whom he describes as "involved" in the decision, as saying that "The police were saying to us: 'We think you should do something about this. It is getting dangerous'." In 2000, a few months later, Peter Bradshaw explains, also in the Guardian, that Kubrick "instructed" Warner Brothers in 1973 to withdraw the film from British distribution. Is there a reliable source for that statement? Is it certain that Kubrick had the contractual right to require a withdrawal?

We know that Warner Brothers pulled the film. We also know that after it was passed by the BBFC the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, was concerned about it. According to the BBC, film critic Alexander Walker recalled that "Stanley Kubrick and the distributors, Warner Brothers, suddenly realised they were being put in the dock by no less a person than the home secretary of the day." Walker is writing metaphorically, since neither Warner Brothers nor Kubrick were criminally prosecuted. The record shows that Maudling had expressed his worry that the film might contribute to real-life violence on 10 January 1972, three days before it was publicly released in Britain and before the instances of actual violence for which some held the film to be at least partly to blame. It would be interesting to know whether any relevant state papers have been released, perhaps under the 30-year rule. What were the contributions of the British state, Kubrick, and Warner Brothers to the decision to withdraw this film?

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Not exactly an answer, but here a source close to Kubrick is quoted:

True enough, Kubrick was deeply disturbed by press reports claiming to link the film to acts of street violence but, as his brother-in-law Jan Harlan told me, this had more to do with the absurdity of the claims being made. 'It was very upsetting to him,' he says today. 'Stanley was a very sensitive person, and he would call me early in the morning and say 'look at this article, they must be out of their minds' He was deeply upset by all of this bad press he got in the UK almost all of his life - even after his death.'

Harlan - Executive Producer on all of Kubrick's remaining pictures after A Clockwork Orange - recalls how 'Stanley got such a hammering, and was accused of contributing to the falling apart of society in the broadest sense, and of course he personally was very hurt by this, because really the film should have an opposite effect. It's a deeply democratic film, and of course it is only a film. I dare say that most of those who criticised him hadn't even seen the film anyway.'

Kubrick's widow Christiane told Sight and Sound magazine a few months after his death in 1999 that the director had been baffled by press reaction both to this film and, increasingly, to himself. 'It's only in England that there's this envious, strange joy in knocking him off his pedestal,' she said, adding 'even if he himself never climbed onto one. Because A Clockwork Orange played with the background of England, they blamed every crime in history on Stanley's film. That only happened here, nowhere else.'

Potentially more serious than the press reports, however, were the letters which began to reach Kubrick who, Harlan says, 'was singled out by various groups as a villain, and received personal threats.' Warners Advertising Executive Julian Senior worked closely with the director on the film and agrees that Kubrick was coming under increasing pressure from a number of directions. 'Nowadays they are called stalkers,' he says, 'but we started having guards in a mobile van on the driveway, and Hertfordshire police said some of the letters were becoming a little bizarre.'

The joint decision was taken by studio and director that the film would no longer be available in the UK although, as Harlan makes clear, 'strictly, in legal terms, Stanley had no rights, but they agreed to do this, at great expense to themselves. It was much more than a matter of contracts, he and they had an excellent relationship, and Warner Brothers simply complied with his request.'

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