“Initiative comes to thems that wait.”
A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick (1971, UK/USA), tells us a story of Alex, a badboy whose interests include classical music especially Beethoven’s No. 9, rape, and great violence. He leads a small gang of thugs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim), whom he calls his droogs which means buddies or pals in Russian. The film revolves around the horrific crime spree of his gang, his capture, and attempted rehabilitation via controversial psychological conditioning.
The movie opens with a shot of Alex looking directly into the camera, before it slowly zooms out to his droogs and then the room that they are in. This zoom out technique is also observed during the other parts of the film. I personally feel that this technique is used to evoke certain emotions from the viewer like suspense and tension. It is also used to capture the attention of the viewer as well.
This is the immediate next scene where a drunk hobo is found singing under a bridge. In this scene, the zooming out technique is observed. It is to show the space around the drunk and also the background, as well as the lighting to create that mysterious feel.
The movie’s primary focus was to highlight whether aversion therapy is sufficient or even appropriate to eradicate morally objectionable behaviour. After the treatment, Alex was totally reformed into a better individual, but it wasn’t by choice. The chaplain in the movie was very objectionable towards the method used and also the result, claiming that goodness must be created within the soul, and with sincerity.
However, the scientists rebutted by saying that they do not care how goodness is developed. As long as this mode of therapy works on hardcore delinquents and helps to reduce the crime rate, it is deemed right and effective.
This was Alex, undergoing the Ludivico technique, which helped him reform and destroy all violent-related and sexual thoughts in him.
(Lester) A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971, following the sexual revolution in the 60s and in the midst of the feminist movement. The film sparked a lot of harsh criticisms due to Kubrick’s unmerciful portrayal of gang rape and the objectification of the female form, especially the newly empowered feminists of the time. The film portrays women as objects of desire against which men measures to secure their masculinity. Like any period films, Kubrick’s film was influenced by the characteristics of its time of creation. Kubrick wanted to illuminate man’s unconscious fear of losing masculinity with the use of the female spectacle. However, many critics put ironic distance between themselves and the film’s misogyny as though it was unremarkable – a symptomatic silence over the issue of gender and sexuality.
Historian Susan Curruthers from Rutgers University said in her book, “Past Future: The Troubled History of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange”, “A Clockwork Orange – for all its futuristic locations and trappings – appears a quintessentially Seventies artifact; its sexual politics and “artfully” pornographic violence bespeak an age that now appears alien.” This comment, 30 years after the release of the film, shows that Kubrick’s film did not withstand the test of time.
Feminists reacted strongly against the film. Just a year after the release of the film, A Clockwork Orange was torn apart in the 1972 second issue of the early feminist journal, Women and Film. Beverly Walker, a writer for the journal, charged the film with “an attitude that is ugly, lewd and brutal toward the female human being: all of the women are portrayed as caricatures; the violence committed upon them is treated comically; the most startling aspects of the decor relate to the female form.”
Other attackers of the film also criticised his exploitation of the representations of violence. Examples of critiques from Films in Review includes: “sinks to the depths of buck-chasing (sex scribblings on walls; total nudity; sightgags for perverts)”, “commercial cynicism”, and “grotesque extension of the youth movie” Pauline Kael Gary Arnold of the Washington Post also pointed out that in one scene the film opens on the rival gang’s attempt to gang-rape a young girl, so that, she underlined, more of the stripping can be shown: “it’s the purest exploitation.”
According to Laura Mulvey in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” visual pleasure is split between the active male and the passive female, with the male projecting his gaze onto the female figure. In this traditional exhibitionist role, women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, eliciting a strong visual and erotic impact. The opening shot of the film is a close-up of Alex’s “gaze”, establishing him as the active male, while the first female figures the viewer sees are the naked mannequins on display in the Korova Milkbar as the camera zooms out from Alex. This opening scene illustrates what Mulvey describes to be the traditional visual portrayal of sexual imbalance in the history of cinema, and is perpetuated throughout the film.
(Chrystal) Kubrick was an individualistic person who stood up for what he felt was right, despite the critics’ negative response for his cinematography. In the opening scene of Clockwork Orange as mentioned before, where there is a dolly-back from a close-up of Alex, was questioned to be too long and unnecessary. However, Kubrick stood by his decision and kept the shot so that it could deliver the right emotions. Another scene that showed clever cinematography was the record shop scene, where he used wide-angle lenses and long back tracking of Alex. This was considered a difficult shot back then as back tracking was prone to accidents due to cameramen tripping over equipment since they were literally walking backwards.
(Wayne) Kubrick was also known for being innovative and breaking new ground in cinematography. In Clockwork Orange, there is a scene where Alex jumps out the window to commit suicide and the audience see a first person’s point of view as the ground collides with the camera. At that time, this ‘special effect’ had never been tested before and Kubrick, being the genius and risk taker that he is, decided to try this crazy shot. He managed to pull it off by dropping Newman Sinclair clockwork camera in a box, lens-first, from the third-storey of Corus hotel. A cool thing to note, the camera survived 6 takes.
List of references:
En.wikipedia.org. 1971. A Clockwork Orange (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Clockwork_Orange_(film)#Themes [Accessed: 26 Jun 2013].
IMDb. n.d.. A Clockwork Orange (1971). [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066921/quotes [Accessed: 26 Jun 2013].
IMDb. 2002. A Clockwork Orange Reviews & Ratings – IMDb. [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066921/reviews?ref_=tt_urv [Accessed: 26 Jun 2013].
Sirach, B. 2010. Misogyny Defending Masculinity in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange « Movable Type. [online] Available at: http://www.movabletypemedia.com/2010/04/misogyny-defending-masculinity-in-kubrick%E2%80%99s-a-clockwork-orange/ [Accessed: 6 Jul 2013].
Visual-memory.co.uk. 1972. The Kubrick Site: Janet Staiger – The Cultural Productions of A Clockwork Orange. [online] Available at: http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0111.html [Accessed: 6 Jul 2013].