The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange

Over forty years after its release, Stan­ley Kubrick­’s film adap­ta­tion of Antho­ny Burgess’ nov­el A Clock­work Orange retains all its aes­thet­ic and vis­cer­al impact. Cinephiles would expect this of any­thing by a per­fec­tion­ist auteur like Kubrick, but as it usu­al­ly goes, works of pop­u­lar art that grow instant­ly famous for their shock val­ue tend not to hold their artis­tic val­ue. How this par­tic­u­lar pic­ture man­aged that trick makes up the implic­it sub­ject of the 30-minute doc­u­men­tary Mak­ing A Clock­work Orange, avail­able to watch on YouTube. Here was a film con­tro­ver­sial enough, and alleged­ly inspi­ra­tional of enough real-life crime, that Kubrick him­self pulled it from dis­tri­b­u­tion in the Unit­ed King­dom. What did the direc­tor and his many col­lab­o­ra­tors have to do to make a film whose own tagline calls “the adven­tures of a young man whose prin­ci­pal inter­ests are rape, ultra-vio­lence and Beethoven” obscu­ri­ty-proof? Mak­ing A Clock­work Orange’s answer: they had to think hard and work long at every sin­gle aspect of the cin­e­mat­ic craft.

Offered a com­par­a­tive­ly low bud­get of $2.2 mil­lion, Kubrick and his team had to con­struct an ambigu­ous­ly futur­is­tic dystopi­an Lon­don and an entire way­ward youth cul­ture with­in it. For­mer mem­bers of this team describe the direc­tor as a “sponge,” hear­ing every last idea any­one could offer him and adapt­ing them to his and Burgess’ hybrid vision. He worked not from a script but straight from the nov­el, exhaus­tive­ly attack­ing each page from every pos­si­ble visu­al approach. He and his design­ers sat down with stacks of archi­tec­tur­al mag­a­zines to find the ugli­est pos­si­ble mid­cen­tu­ry build­ings in which to shoot. Apply­ing to pro­tag­o­nist Alex deLarge a sin­gle set of false eye­lash­es came from a hunch by the make­up spe­cial­ist. And Alex belts out “Sin­gin’ in the Rain” dur­ing he and his gang of hoods’ fate­ful assault on the home of an elder­ly writer — a scene that assures you’ll nev­er quite hear Gene Kel­ly the same way again — because it’s the only song star Mal­colm McDow­ell hap­pened to know. Vio­lence, crime, pun­ish­ment, and even the Beethoven: A Clock­work Orange presents them all at the height of styl­iza­tion. This assures a per­ma­nent pur­chase on our con­scious­ness that grit­ty, effects-laden explic­it­ness can nev­er attain.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange: Mal­colm McDow­ell Looks Back

James Cameron Revis­its the Mak­ing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stan­ley Kubrick: A Life in Pic­tures

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • Tamaresque says:

    One of my favourite films. As well as that, once I tried to read the book, I was so grate­ful that Kubrick made the film as I found the book’s lan­guage far too dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend.

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