9/27/13: A Clockwork Orange


Stanley Kubrick released A Clockwork Orange in 1971. Its setting is the near future London. It was originally given an X rating for full frontal nudity. It would undoubtedly be rated NC-17 if re-released. This movie is not for everyone. It’s a very disturbing film, but also “a very important work of art”! Early on, a beautiful woman (Adrienne Corri) is brutalized during a home invasion. “She was very badly raped, you see! Assaulted by Alex (Malcolm McDowell) & his droogs – a gang of vicious, young hoodlums – in her seemingly safe HOME in the suburbs! It may have well have been in this very room you are sitting in now! SHE’S THE VICTIM OF A DYSTOPIAN AGE! Poor, poor girl!” Alex & his droogies – Dim (Warren Clarke), Georgie (James Marcus) and Pete (Michael Tarn) – are teenagers who have their own slang. The sadistic thugs think “ultra-violence” & forcing girls to have “the old in-out” is real “horrorshow”. But Alex’s probation officer, Mr. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), keeps a keen eye on his goings-on. His next transgression is going to land him in prison, a failure that Deltoid does not want to see occur.

Clockwork - Stanley   ???????????????????   Clockwork - Alex Clockwork - HOME   Clockwork - Droogs   Clockwork - Deltoid

The most common question is: Why the title? What exactly is A Clockwork Orange? Well, Stanley’s screenplay was adapted from the famous book by Anthony Burgess. Burgess lived for a few years in the Southeastern Asian country of Malaya. The Malay [Muh-lay`] word for man is ‘orang’ [Orr`-ahng], as in orangutan which means forest man. Orangutans are native to Southeast Asia only. So a clockwork orang, or A Clockwork Orange, is clockwork or mechanized man. Alex is, from the start & progressively throughout the picture becomes more & more of, A Clockwork Orange.

Clockwork - Burgess 

The film was nominated for 4 Oscars in 1972 at the 44th Academy Awards, winning none: Best Picture; Director; Adapted Screenplay; and Editing. Clockwork’s Film Editor, Bill Butler, received that nomination. The other 3 went to Kubrick as Producer, Director & Screenplay Writer: Yes, A Clockwork Orange was very much Stanley’s baby. But what I want to call your attention to in this film is an aspect for which it was not recognized with an Oscar nomination: Production Design. Until recently, the category was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences with the Art Direction Oscar. That Award no longer exists. It was replaced this year with Production Design. The Production Designer, or P.D., of a movie is the head of the Art Department, whose chief reports are the Art Director and Set Decorator. The first film with a P.D. was Victor Fleming’s Gone With the Wind: William Cameron Menzies held the position & gave himself that title. The P.D. is responsible for all the visual elements of a film that do not involve acting; including the creation of the sets, mood, lighting & realization of on-location settings. In the very first scene of A Clockwork Orange, Production Designer John Barry (who won Oscar for Art Direction as P.D. of Star Wars) sets the tone of the piece. We find droogies in the Korova Milk Bar, with its dark gray & white motif, getting wasted on milk-plus before a night of ultra-violence despite their ages. The milk dispensers & tables are statues of completely naked young women, all white but for their head & pubic hair. The Production Designer, in this case John Barry, tells the story for our eyes to see. And what a disturbingly violent story it is! The trailer below gives a taste of the ultra-violence that will ensue when go to Amazon.com & buy a copy. You may as well just do it right now. Once you borrow it from the library, you’ll want to keep it. 4 Stars!

Clockwork - Menzies   Clockwork - Barry   Clockwork - Milk


2 thoughts on “9/27/13: A Clockwork Orange

  1. I first saw the movie at school, and read the book for a class a year or so later. Alex serves as narrator for both, and his slang can be daunting. It was helpful to me to learn that it’s intended to be: Even if you’re the same age he is (as I was, more or less, when I first encountered ACO), you’re of a different generation, and you’re supposed to have a hard time “getting” him and his friends. So the point isn’t to decipher all the strange words; just go with the flow and you’ll get the gist. If you’re really keen for translation, the publisher put a glossary of all the slang terms in the back of the U.S. paperback edition, but author Burgess supposedly considered it unnecessary. (After a while with the book, I agreed: Once my first few guesses at words’ meanings proved correct, or at least close enough, I stopped looking them up.)

    You’re so right about the movie’s production design. The book gives a vague impression of post-industrial bleakness (as seen in the movie’s bunker-like apartment block, where Alex lives with Mum & Dad), and it touches on the fanciness of the rich folks’ house they break into, but there’s not much in the way of detail for designers to draw from. Kubrick’s team’s conception of the apartment, house, milk bar, and other settings is unforgettable. Even though it dates from the 1970s, the sets and locations still look unsettling and futuristic. (The same is true for the costume design, and even makeup: I don’t think the detail of Alex’s single false eyelash, which gives him such a weird, punky look, came from the book.)

    As is always the case, the book delved into some aspects of the characters (chiefly Alex) that the movie didn’t get to explore. But there’s a key element of the book that comes across even more strikingly in the film: Alex’s disarming love of music (and not nihilistic headbanger thrash, but classical music — the works of “Ludwig van”). Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (or, as Alex calls it, “The Ninth”), becomes almost a character in the story, and Kubrick’s use of music in the soundtrack is breathtaking. The last scene of the movie gives me chills of elation and horror, and Kubrick’s use of “Ode to Joy” is a huge part of that.

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