Archive for January, 2012


Malcolm McDowell’s Seemingly Rebellious Smirk

Malcolm McDowell's rebellious smirk in If...

I was excited to see Malcolm McDowell’s name in the opening credits for The Artist (2011), which I saw this weekend. Although I enjoyed the movie overall, disappointment enveloped me when I realized that his role was merely a cameo near the beginning; I kept thinking that he was going to pop up again, but that was not to be.

My first exposure to Malcolm McDowell, who has unfortunately become more famous for his villainous roles, happened in an undergraduate Cinema Studies class, which was supposed to be a “gut” course. I walked away with a B and a fascination with Malcolm McDowell, the star of three of the films on the syllabus. The class watched A Clockwork Orange (1971, traumatizing for me the first time, but now, I can’t live without it) as well as If… (1968) and O Lucky Man! (1973), both punctuated titles directed by Lindsay Anderson. (For more anecdotes about these films and his friendship with Anderson, check out McDowell’s filmed performance, Never Apologize (2007).)

Several years later, I traveled to New York City to attend a three-day film festival in honor of McDowell, who would appear in tandem with some of the screenings, at the Lincoln Center. I bought tickets for five or six screenings, including Clockwork, If, O Lucky Man, Figures in a Landscape (1970), and Caligula (1979). McDowell conducted Q&A’s after most screenings with the glaring exception of Caligula, which promptly replaced Clockwork as my new (and still-intact) traumatic McDowell film experience. I had several chances to meet McDowell at the festival but didn’t grab the opportunity, including when I could have introduced myself to him and his wife during a break, but something held me back for the sake of their privacy.


Malcolm McDowell's congratulatory smirk in The Artist

My fascination is with the smirk. McDowell’s persona is usually that of a punishing-and-punished little boy who turns on a rebellious, “screw-you” smirk when the heat is on and he wants to say, “I’m still here. What else have you got to throw my way?” He wears this smirk ever so briefly in The Artist but more as a gesture of “congratulations, job well done” toward the heroine. Maybe that’s what his seemingly rebellious smirks have been all this time, only turned in toward himself.