A Clockwork Orange Unbound
feature by Gregory Avery

Alex skips school the next day after telling his mum that he has a "pain in the gulliver" (headache, or tummyache -- whatever), and the first thing he does after he goes out is to go to the record store and pick up two girls who are flipping through the record bins while eating some rather peculiarly-shaped popsicles. (This was the scene that had been clipped out of a print I saw in April, 1980 with a friend who had been dying to see the film for the first time. It was playing on a heady double bill, at the venerable Cinema 21 in Portland, Oregon, with another Warner Brothers release, Performance).

Kubrick and the film's production designer John Barry found actual locations and buildings for almost all of the film's scenes, including the house for the scene where the "droogs" pay a "surprise visit" to the writer Alexander (Patrick Magee) and his wife (Adrienne Corri). Kubrick and the performers rehearsed for 10 days before filming the scene, and while John Alcott did the majority of the cinematography, some of the scenes were filmed with a handheld camera by Kubrick himself, including this one. (2001 would be his last film made in a Panavision format. The remainder of his work would be filmed in a 1.66:1 ratio, because it would mean as little of the visuals would be lost as possible no matter where the film was projected.) At one point, it was decided that Alex should sing something. According to John Baxter's 1997 book on the director, Kubrick asked McDowell if he knew a song. McDowell replied that he could do Singin' in the Rain. Kubrick immediately made some phone calls, including one to Stanley Donen, and that became the song that was used in the film.

Probably the most provocative scene in the film is the one involving Miss Weber (Miriam Karlin), a.k.a. the "cat lady" (she has lots of cats around the house), whom Alex's "droogs" decide to rob. (Alex's uncomprehending parents think that he earns his money doing night jobs, little things here and there, "helping people," which gives you some idea of what Alex's parents are like.) Kubrick and John Barry decided that it was conceivable that, in the near future, erotica would become a part of the pop mainstream and would be commonly used in home decoration. The rooms in Miss Weber's house are hung with huge, exhibitionist paintings done in a variety of styles. (Some of them were done by Christiane Kubrick, whose paintings would later turn up in the Hartfords' apartment in Eyes Wide Shut.) When Alex sneaks in and confronts her, she takes a swing at him with a small, silver bust of Beethoven. He takes a swing at her with a large, white, porcelain piece of erotic sculpture (one of the more admittedly hilarious touches in the film, and a piece of set decoration that was especially sculpted for the film). Later, the Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp), inspecting Alex's jail cell, finds a small bust of Beethoven -- this one in white.

"I don't understand about the 'whys' and 'wherefores'.... I only know I want to Do Good," Alex tells the prison chaplain (Godfrey Tearle), with whom he ingratiates himself. Alex is a clever lad. He doesn't give cause for quarrel, even when ordered to empty his pockets and disrobe while standing behind a white line on the floor that's at least three feet from the desk where his personal belongings are collected to be stored. Even though this is the near future, Alex has to sign for everything in triplicate. Like many people in prison, Alex figures that he can handle anything ("I've done my very best, sir, I really have!"), even after having eye clamps placed on his "glazzies" in order to watch the visual part of the "Ludovico technique." (The attendant who supplies the eye drops during these sessions is played by the wonderful actor Murray Melvin, appearing uncredited; he had earlier played a cleric in The Devils, and would play another cleric in Barry Lyndon.) Alex forebears until part of the Ninth Symphony -- "Ninth Symphony. Fourth movement," Alex's voice-over precisely tells us -- accompanies some film being shown during the treatment. Alex is not only going to emerge from the treatment conditioned so that he will have adverse reactions to sex and violence, but, now, he's also going to be unable to listen to his "lovely, lovely Ludwig van." The doctors response to Alex's panicky, utterly horror-stricken entreaties with studied indifference. ("Can't be helped. Here's the punishment element, perhaps.") Some of McDowell's portrayals in these sequences may also have their basis in the fact that the eye clamps fitted on his face scratched the cornea of one eye, almost causing him to lose some of his sight.

And, on top of that, Kubrick almost drowned him in the scene where two policemen, after he's released from prison, decide to drive him out to the country and give him a good dunking in a horse trough. Much of "Clockwork Orange" is done in long, continuous takes: this scene is one of them. Alex's head is held underwater for about two minutes, long enough to leave him, weak and disoriented and scrambling in the middle of nowhere, stumbling finally upon a house with an illuminated sign in front that says "HOME."

The colors red figures in Clockwork Orange. The stolen car that Alex drives, the "Durango 95" that "purred real horrosho," is red down to the thin steering wheel that Alex drives it with. Adrienne Corri wears a red body stocking which is stripped away from her, leaving her wearing only red matching socks. One of the visuals in the "Ludovico technique" features a girl wearing a vivid red wig. Joe (Clive Francis), the Stanley Baker-like lodger who displaces Alex in his home with his "P. and M.," is wearing a (hideous) red knit pullover when he tells the prodigal son, "I've heard about you. I know what you've done. Breaking the hearts of your poor, grieving parents." And the typewriter that Alexander is seen working at when Alex stumbles, for a second time, into his home, is neutral gray; the one he was using in the earlier scene was red.

Alexander's bodyguard and, presumably, companion in the later scenes, Julian, is played by David Prowse, probably the only guy in the country at that time who could do a scene where he carries Patrick Magee in his wheelchair down a length of stairs. Prowse's stature and performing abilities would come in handy later on when he was asked to put on the black helmet and uniform of Darth Vader in Star Wars. Here, he has a marvelously understated quality, with neat brown hair and hornrimmed glasses. When he sits down on one side of Alex at a dinner table while Alexander sits on Alex's other side, pouring one glass of wine after another for the young man, Prowse says nothing but folds his powerful arms across his chest, his gaze fixed on Alex, giving us a good enough impression that Alex isn't going to be going anywhere just yet.

Alex does jump out of a second story window, an effect achieved when Kubrick sent an actual, operating motion picture camera flying out of a window. It wrecked the camera, but Kubrick got the shot that he wanted. 

The world that the story takes place in being what it is, it comes as no surprise that authority comes off looking very badly. There are denigrators, opportunists, and backpedalers. The chief prison guard barks at the inmates with the classic high-pitched squall of a rigidly-trained Royal Marine. ("Shut your filthy hole, you scum!") There is the horrible Mr. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), Alex's correctional counselor, who, having long since written-off Alex in his mind, uses their meetings as an opportunity to play kneesies and footsies with the young lad (but always letting Alex know just who's in-command). The warden at Alex's prison tells him that he believes in "an eye for an eye," but that the new government has informed him that their "New Vision is that we turn the Bad into Good." The Minister of the Interior, responding to a complaint that the "Ludovico technique" reforms criminals by merely removing all real choice while rendering them helpless and self-abased, dismisses these points with a lame "[T]hese are subtleties...," adding, "We're not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are only concerned with cutting down crime!" He just wants to meet the immediate public demand to do something about criminals. Later, he will request Alex's cooperation in repairing the damage, in the press and otherwise, made by such a hasty decision.

But there is a scene in Kubrick's film that has generally been overlooked, or misread, in assessments of the film. When Alex asks the prison chaplain about the new experimental treatment that's supposed to help prisoners get out quicker, the chaplain is initially reluctant to endorse it. Rehabilitation isn't something that can be immediately served-up, as if from a fast-food counter or convenience store. "Goodness comes from within. Goodness is chosen," the chaplain tells Alex. "When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man." The character of the chaplain is generally lumped in with all the other negative depictions of hapless authority in the film, or his relationship with Alex is, incorrectly, reported as having homoerotic undertones, like the one with Mr. Deltoid. Not so. Even though Kubrick directed the actor Godfrey Tearle to deliver much of his dialogue in the same high-flown, declamatory manner as the other actors portraying officials or politicians (possibly a diversionary tactic on Kubrick's part), his character turns out to be genuine, not hypocritical or corrupt, and the scene where he advises Alex on the nature of goodness and, especially, choice is one that turns out to be a key point around which the rest of the film, and one's reaction to the film itself, will turn.

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