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A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: Malcolm McDowell at the American Cinematheque
The four-day tribute to the actor kicks off with a 30th-anniversary screening of the Stanley Kubrick classic.
By Steve Biodrowski
June 23, 2001
Poster art for A Clockwork Orange
© 1971 Warner Brothers
On Thursday, June 21, at 7:30pm, the American Cinematheque kicked off its four-day series, "Outside Looking In: A Tribute to Malcolm McDowell," with a Thirtieth Anniversary screening of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
, one of the actor's most memorable and controversial films, in which he plays Alex, a young man whose principal interests are "rape, violence, and Beethoven." This X-rated item from producer-director Stanley Kubrick (DR. STRANGELOVE
and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
) came out during that brief period when Hollywood was not afraid of releasing a movie for an adults-only audience. Shortly thereafter, controversy in Great Britain caused Kubrick to withdraw the film from re-release, and the prints in America were slightly re-edited to garner an R-rating. Fortunately, the original cut was reinstated in 1995 for a midnight movie re-release in the States (it is this version on the DVD), and the film finally was allowed to officially screen in England again last year (there had been underground screenings from time to time).CLOCKWORK ORANGE
has maintained a perennial popularity on the revival house circuit, even in these days of home video, laserdiscs, and DVD, so it was perhaps not surprising that the Cinematheque screening, no doubt bolstered by the appearance of the film's star, was a sell out event at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Something about the exploits of the amoral anti-hero have a continuing appeal, perhaps most strongly to teenage boys when they first reach the age when they can see the film. The "ultra-violence" of the first half hour is enough to galvanize those adolescent hormones to frightening levels.
Alex (Malcolm McDowell) undergoes the Ludovico treatment, forced to watch violent movies with his eyes clamped open.
© 1971 Wartner Brothers
Based on the novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess, the story follows Alex as he inflicts violence on helpless victims with the help of his gang (known as "droogs"), then finds himself arrested and subjected to a form of psychological violence that (the film suggests) is at least as reprehensible as anything he himself committed. One of the film's ghastliest moments comes not from violence but from Alex's realization that the technique used to curb his violent impulses is also conditioning him to become ill when he hears his favorite music, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. His tortured howl ("It's a sin!") is one of the film's most moving moments, a clear condemnation that the government's doctors have no right to be doing what they're doing, no matter what crimes Alex has committed.
This sociological argument (that the government is wrong to use conditioning techniques to deprive a convicted criminal of free will, even if that will was used mostly to commit violence) has led some critics to argue that the film endorses Alex's behavior (in much the same way that later critics accuse SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
of glorifying Hannibal Lecter). Kubrick himself once corrected this misperception (back in the old days, when he gave interviews) by pointing out that old Hollywood Westerns used to portray a lynching as evil because an innocent character would be wrongly hanged. In Kubrick's view, a lynching was immoral even if the character was guilty, and in CLOCKWOR ORANGE
he set out to make a similar point, with a character who could not be considered an innocent victim.
Seen today, the film's X-rated violence pales somewhat when compared to the carnage on view in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
, but the satirical sting remains intact, and the film holds up well. In fact, rather than looking dated, this dark vision of the future now seems far too contemporary, as if taking place in some skewed parallel universe where typewriters and vinyl records still proliferate. The black humor may occasionally seem condescending, but McDowell's subversive performance, slyly engaging our sympathies against all our better judgment, holds the whole saga together.
THE STAR COMES OUT
After the screening (a print with well-preserved color, although a bit scratched), McDowell
Alex disciplines Dim (Warren Clarke), one of his droogs.
© 1971 Warner Brothers
joined the American Cinematheque's Dennis Bartok at the front of the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood for a question-and-answer session that began with a query about McDowell's first meeting with Kubrick to discuss the role. At the time, McDowell was a hot young actor on the rise, thanks to his appearance in Lindsay Anderson's IF
. Filled with confidence, he was not quite as intimidated as one might have thought.
"I didn't have any anxiety about meeting him," McDowell said. "I was doing another film at Elstree [Studios], and he lived a couple miles away. I was told by my agent, who said, 'Stanley Kubrick wants to talk to you.' I was, 'Stanley Kubrick...oh my god! 2001
!' Of course I knew he was a great film director, and I went in my lunch hour to see him. He was very, very nicea lot of small talk, and then as I was about to leave, he handed me this booksort of very Q.T., because he was paranoid and very secretive. He asked me whether I'd read this book, which was an underground, sort of cult book in the '60s, and was owned at one time by Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Mick was going to play the part, so I'm glad that he let the rights lapse. Anyway, Stanley had bought the rights very cheaply, and he asked me to read it and call him.
"I went home and started to read. Probably a lot of you may have read the book, and it is a brilliant piece of work by Anthony Burgess, and of course we share tonight with Anthony Burgess as well, because they're his words. It's Stanley's vision, but it's also Burgess's vision. He was a brilliant man, and I think honestly this is his masterpiece of his canon of books. Anyway, the first time I read it, I couldn't understand a word of itshows you how literate I am! I read it a second time, and I honestly had to read it three times before the penny dropped, and I suddenly realized that here was a brilliant bookand not a bad part!"
McDowell said he was quick to let Kubrick know he was interested. "I was very naïve, and I thought, I supposed, that the world owed me something, so I picked up the phone and called Stanley at this number he'd given me. Sure enough, there he was. I said, 'I read that book you gave me, Stan, andwow! That's quite something! Are you offering me the part?' Silence... Then he just said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Good, because I'd love to do it! How the hell are you going to make this film?'"
McDowell added that he worked with Stanley "every day, during the pre-production, doing the designs, the eyelashevery single nuance of it. He shot stills, because he was a stills photographer, and a very great one. A lot of his shots, I can see he's a stills manhe never lost that. He lit the film. It's credited of course to John Alcott, and he was a brilliant cameraman too, but Stanley lit this film more than anybody else. They shot 70,000-plus Polaroids, just as a lighting meter. I said, 'You must have shares in Polaroid!'"
As for the futuristic look of the film, McDowell confirmed the
Alex and his droogs applaud the drunken singing of a homeless man, just before they beat him up.
© 1971 Warner Brothers
stories that most of it was created with available locations, dressed up by production designer John Barry (no relation to the James Bond film composer). "I think we built only one set, which was the Korova milk bar. All the rest was locationas close to Stanley's house as possible, because he hated to leave home. When he did have to shoot location, you wanted to beat him out of location, because he'd get in this Mercedes and do like five miles an hour. On those little windy roads in England, there was a huge traffic jam behind himit was all the crew trying to get home! So you knew, Stanley must be in front!"
TALKING THE TALK
One of the chief differences between the book and the film is a matter of the difference between the written and filmed medium. Burgess's novel is narrated by Alex in the first person; therefore, it is written entirely in "Nadsat," a sort of futuristic dialect that requires the reader to pick up the meaning of words like "millicents" (police) and "rookerful" (handful) from the context. Many of these colloquial expressions survive into the film, particularly in Alex's voice over narration, but McDowell says they formed no great challenge for him.
"That was actually easy to do, because I had been to the Royal Shakespeare company," he explained, implying the speaking Shakespeare's older version of English was good training for learning to speak a new version of the language. "Really, the image in my head for this part was Laurence Olivier's Richard the III, initially. That's immediately what I thought ofthis wonderfully arch character that Olivier had created, one of the most memorable performances, especially to an English schoolboy. As I had been with the Shakespeare company, this language thing was no problemyou just go for it with a lot of confidence."
However, McDowell admitted that he did get cold feet about doing the film, just before production began. "The day before we were supposed to start shooting, I suddenly had terrible feelings that I didn't know how to play the damn part. There was a very lucky event that happened. I got a phone call that evening from Stanley, who informed me that he had mumps and that we would have to postpone the movie for a week. And I was like, 'Yes!
The extra time, apparently, paid off. "I'd been working on it for seven months, but asking him about character was like wasting your time. I'd say, 'Well, Stan, what do you see...?' He'd go, 'Malcolm, I cast youyou just figure it out.' Okay! I thought that was what director's were supposed to do! But he was right, actually, because he looked after all the technical stuff. For him, it was like waging war. He was the general, and we went to the war room at his house, and there were these huge bath towels covering the walls, because he didn't want anybody to see all the schedules and production notes and the stills of this, that, and the other. It was really a bit like STRANGELOVE
CASTING WITHOUT THE COUCH
Despite the secrecy, there were perks to working with Kubrick. To illustrate, McDowell
"It is a sin!" screams Alex as he realizes what is being done to him.
© 1971 Warner Brothers
related "a funny story" about casting three actress who appear, topless, as Biblical handmaidens in a single shot, last about ten seconds, that represents one of Alex's fantasies: "I got a call: 'Malcolm, I want you to come right out. I want you to see this tape.' So I go out to his house, and we're taken into his inner sanctum, this little office, and the door is locked
no children allowed! He put on the video, and up comes this girl, who's topless, and she's spouting Shakespeare: 'Now is the winter of our discontent...' The camera goes...zoom...so that all you see is a pair of beautiful breasts. He pushes the pause button, takes his still camera, and snaptakes a still. This happens for like twenty or thirty girls who came in to audition this way. It's totally sexistterriblebut anyway, it was funny!
"The next day, I get a call: 'We're going to choose our handmaidens.' So here we have these stills, twelve by eight, all over the deskand they're just breasts. We're looking at these things like it's some NASA project, and he goes, 'Well, okay, there's three girls, so you pick the first.' I said, 'Oh, thank you, Stan. Wow, look at these! I think these are really nice!' He said, 'Well, I like this, and I like that.'" A problem arose, however, when it came time to identify the choices; Kubrick, apparently, had forgotten to write the name of each actress on the back of her photo. "I said, 'So, who are the lucky winners?' So he picks up the photograph, turns it over, and goes, 'Geez, I don't knowthey don't have a face.' Just shows you, with all that genius, he never worked that one out!"
SURVIVING THE LUDOVICO TREATMENT
When asked about the physical demands of the role, McDowell spoke at length about the
Alex breaks into "Singing in the Rain" while his droogs attack their victims.
© 1971 Warner Brothers
scenes portraying the "Ludovico Technique." In the film, Alex is psychologically conditioned to abhor violence by being forced to watch violent films after being given an injection that makes him feel physically ill. (This is the sequence, now restored, that garnered the film its X-rating. Interestingly, in the context of the story, the violent imagery is not supposed to be "real"; it's supposed to have been staged for the camera as part of the treatment.) As the images continue to unspool, a now sickened Alex is unable to look away from the screen, because his eyelids are clamped open.
"That was pretty nasty," the actor recalled, adding that Kubrick "showed me a photograph of some patient with the eye clamps on from an eye hospital, and asked me what I thought of it. I said, 'Wow, that's gruesome, terrible. Who is it, anybody we know?' I was trying to be cute. He said, 'No, Malcolm, I want you to do this.' I said, 'Yeah, right!' I thought he was kidding. He said, 'I would like you to meet the doctor, to make sure you feel good about it.' I said, 'Okay, I'll meet the doctor, but I know I'm not going to do it.' So I went to the doctor, who's the same doctor in the film. He said, 'There's no problem at all.' I said, 'But this patient is lying flat on his back; he's not sitting up in a straightjacket watching movies. Surely that has something to do with it.' He said, 'Oh no, it's fine, fine.'
"So I went and did it. They put anesthetic in my eyes, and his very scientific way of finding whether the anesthetic had taken or not, was to get his handkerchief and ram it in my eye! 'Did you feel that?' 'Oh, geez, yeah!' 'It hasn't taken. Another ten minutes... Feel that?' 'No, nothing.' 'Okay, stick 'em in.' So there I am like that. We did everythingI think there were like six scenesaltogether in one shot; that was it. I'm not sure how long I had the damn things in for, maybe ten or fifteen minutes in all, for the first time.
Stanley Kubrick films a scene of Alex acting (and ultimately killing) a victim.
© 1971 Warner Brothers
Trouble arose when Kubrick asked the eye doctor to deliver a line of dialogue: "How are you feeling today, little Alex?" Unfortunately, this distracted him from his first order of business "He's supposed to put these artificial teardrops in my eyes every ten/twelve seconds, to stop the corneas from drying up and me becoming blind
that's what they told me. But, the doctor is now worrying about his line. He's going, 'How are you feeling today little...little...uh, what's your name?' I said, 'Doc, just put the damn tears in my eyes.'
"He did get them in, pretty much. My corneas didn't seize up, but driving home that night, when the anesthetic started to wear off, that's when I felt the scratches on my cornea. That was no fun. The doctor had to come over and give me a shot of morphine. It was amazing. I thought I was going mad; I really did. But the next morningthe eye heals quickly, I'm glad to sayso I called in and said, 'Stanley, I've scratched my corneas. The doctor's absolutely furious with you!' He went, 'Gee, Malc. Okay, listen, if you're going to be away, for the insurance thing, just make sure you're away a week.' I said, 'A week?' He said, 'Yeah, we'll make a claim.' No fool he!"
Another painful moment for McDowell involved a scene after Alex is released from Jail. He runs into two of his resentful former droogs, who are now police officers, and they take their revenge on him by handcuffing him, forcing his head underwater, and beating him with their night sticks. The scene is painful even to watch, because Alex's head is held under water for what seems an impossibly long time. "That's a trick shot," McDowell explained. "We tried it first of all in one take. There is a cut, at the head of the scene. As soon as my head hits the water, it cuts to a slightly different angle, and I'm rather glad there was a cut, because we tried it with just putting an oxygen tank with a mouthpiece. Have you ever tried being thrust into a tank of very cold water and finding a rubber mouthpiece [without your hands]? It was rather difficult, and I couldn't do it. After three seconds, I was up again. And [Kubrick] got rather irritated with me. I went, 'You try it, okay?' That water was freezingthey couldn't put warm water in because it would steam. It was cold outside. We shot in November, in Englandvery nice. It ain't California, I can tell you! But they did put a mouthpiece connected to an oxygen tank, so I had that to breath. But even so, I'm being whacked on the back with a billy club, just for good measure."
Summing up, McDowell said, "It was a physically punishing role. As you can see, that was before the days when actors worked out to within an inch of their life. I had a pretty puny body; I think it's a little better now than it was then! But that was the look. And what about those haircuts, eh? The Beatles have a lot to answer for!"
SINGING' IN THE RAIN
Back in the '70s, Kubrick talked about what he called the "Crucial Rehearsal Period," the
Filming actor Patrick Magee (left) as the "writer of subversive literature."
© 1971 Warner Brothers
time spent with the actors before shooting, when he and the cast would try to extract everything possible from a scene. Often, this CRP would result in additional ad-libbed bits of business being added to scenes. Such was the case with several memorable moments from CLOCKWORK ORANGE
, including one of the more horrific. During the home-invasion- scene, in which Alex and his droogs beat a writer (Patrick Magee) and rape his wife (Adrienne Corri), Alex breaks into a song-and-dance routine, warbling "Singing in the Rain" while delivering a vicious kick to the writer at the end of every line. McDowell recalled that the routine "came from an ad lib, because we came to do the scene of the rape, and it was rather feebly written." The story goes that Kubrick immediately called the Warner executives to secure the rights to use the song in the film.
McDowell credited part of the inspiration for this moment to that fact that the cast and crew had just "come off the great high of doing the end scene in the picture," which also included an ad lib. That closing scene finds Alex in the hospital, recovering after having tried to kill himself. The Minister of the Interior, whose government is on the verge of being voted out because of their Draconian treatment of Alex, visits him to plead his case, bribing Alex with offers of a job and a salary if he will help rehabilitate the government's image. As the minister cuts food for Alex, who is incapable of doing so himself, Alex snaps his mouth open with a loud pop
whenever he is ready for another bite.
"That was an ad lib," said McDowell, "because the actor playing the Minister of the Interior was very pompous, Stanley thought. In fact, [IMG17L] he's a brilliant actor, and he gives one of the great performancesAnthony Sharp. But Stanley thought him very, very pompous and very, very English, which he probably isor was. So, just as a joke to loosen him uppop! Because he had three pages of dialoguethat's a monologue he has to go throughand I don't say anything. So this poor guy had to shovel food in, and had all those props to worry about, and Stanley was laughing so hard he stuffed a handkerchief in his mouth, and I swear to god I can hear his laughter on the soundtrack stillI don't think they even took it out. He was cryinghe was laughing so hard. And that's where he was so fantastic, really. To work with a director who had done the body of work that he had done at that timeSTRANGELOVE, LOLITA, 2001, PATHS OF GLORY
these great, great classics, and to have him just laughing at me goofing around was likewow!it was bizarre!
"But my favorite ad lib is the lady who comes waltzing into the hospital with the pictures I'm supposed to answer. He had me do that damn scene fifty timesthe only time I ever went to fifty with Stanley. I know a lot of people have gone a hundred since then. This was in the good old days. So fifty came up, and I said, 'Stanley, do you think we could make it Scene 1A? Because to listen to somebody say "Take 50"you're spirits just drop. To say '1A' would help me enormously.' He said, 'No.' So I just said to him, 'Well look, can I just ad lib it?' He said, 'Oh, you can try it.' So I just forgot the dialogue, and that's the first thing, literally that popped into my mind. It's weird, because just where it comes in the movie, it's just so spontaneous, and it gives the whole thing a lift that's just amazing. So I was lucky, I guess."
MUTLI-TAKES: DOING IT UNTIL YOU GET IT RIGHT
Kubrick's penchant for doing multiple takes has become legendary. The director himself denied these stories during an interview for Rolling Stone
magazine in 1987, when he was promoting FULL METAL JACKET
. According to Kubrick, ten or twelve takes on the
Alex picks up two girls, whom he beds to the strains of the "William Tell Overture."
© 1971 Warner Brothers
THE STANLEY KUBRICK COLLECTION
© 2001 Warner Brothers
set became twenty or thirty when the actor involved retold the story; then that number was expanded to forty or fifty when reprinted by a journalist. Whatever the exact number, it's clear the Kubrick wanted to do a scene over and over again until he felt it was right. But what was the theory behind doing so many takes that actors became exasperated?
"I think he wanted to wear you down and end up with you in a box!" McDowell laughed. "I think he had a lot of theories. Most of them were absolute
crap! But some of them, god bless him, were fantastic. I'll give you a couple instances. One day, he proudly showed me this thing that reached up to the ceiling; it was like a huge carousel with slats in it for files. He said, 'What do you think of that?' I said, 'Wow, Stanley, that's really exciting. What is it?' He said, 'Ask me any question to do with the movie.' I went, 'Okay, show me the stills from the set for my apartment.' He went, 'Great!' He swung this thing aroundclimbs up, takes out the file, opens it upand it's empty! I went, 'Oh, Stanley, the human element gets you every time.' He was full of things like that, but sometimes they worked."
Regarding multiple takes, McDowell went on to elaborate, "He wanted it to be perfect. He didn't really know how to tell you how to make it better, most of the time. Whereas I'd worked with this wonderful director called Lindsay Anderson, and he was a very different director. He wanted to talk about it and give you ideas, and give you brilliant stuff. It was just a different kind of direction. Stanley, if he couldn't find a way to give you a key to a scene, he'd just make you repeat it, repeat it, repeat it. Somebody like me, I'm there usually there in five takes maximumusually two; usually, the best one's the first one. I start to get bored, so I start to do outrageous things, just to amuse myself. That's when he starts to love it. He did that with Peter Sellers, too. Sellers used to tell me he'd go into funny characters, mimic things, and go off on tangents, and Stanley would love that. So I think that was one of the reasons. But a lot of actors like to stick to the book; they don't like to ad lib.(Oh, come off it!) Then you have a problem. You have a lot of takes, and it can go on and on."
But the multiple takes weren't merely about the actor's performance. According to McDowell, Kubrick "was a perfectionist in terms of the technical stuff. If the zoom and the track or whatever isn't perfect, then you just go on until it is perfect. You know, it's funny because at the end of the daythis is how I used to get through it myselfI'd say, 'You know, in a year's time, nobody's going to remember this painful process. All they're going to say is, "Wow, that was great!"'"
McDowell had nothing but superlatives to bestow on his fellow cast members, such as Aubrey Morris, who played Alex's cynical "post-corrective advisor," Mr. Deltoid, and Warren Clarke, who played a fellow droog known by the nickname of Dim. "There's so many great performances in the movie. Warren Clarke, Stanley did not want to cast. I pat myself on the back because I kept making him keep looking at Warren, and he kept saying, 'No, Warren's not right.' Because he made him do a tape, not even with the director there, just some casting director. So Warren comes in and does some pretty bland tape. It's a big mistake, casting a major role like that. Stanley really didn't put much store in actors. I think he just felt they were a pain in the ass, and they were whinerswhich is trueand some of them don't know their lineswhich is also true. So actor's were the one element that he couldn't really control. I think that always made him a little uneasy. Thank god there was something, is all I can say!
"Anyway, Anthony Sharpgreat performance. Michael Batesthe prison guardbasically built up that performance until Stanley said, 'Put it in the scene.' Because it really added something and was terrific. Warren Clarke is wonderful, and Aubrey Morris gives a wonderful performance. I think that was all shot in a day if I remember. I think it's all him just in two-shots, until his single at the end. So, basically, a lot of these great scenes are shot in just one shot, which is so fabulous. The shot of the Minister of the Interior walking through the prison, and all that dialogue, is in just one shot. That's just brilliant filmmaking. Stanley really knew how to choose the location to make it interesting, and how to choose the lens, and obviously the light. It's all one-source lighting. The light that you see in the picture is the light for the scene. There's no bounce lightsnothing. What you see is what you get."
"Patrick Magee as the writer is wonderful. He's Irish and a bit of a drinkerand known for it.
Alex and his droogs play "hogs of the road."
© 1971 Warner Brothers
Not that all Irish are drinkersI'm Irish myself! Patrick kept saying to me, 'What is with this man? Do you understand him, Malcolm? Because I don't! He has no Guinness on the set.' I go to Stanley, 'Why don't you provide just a few little Guinnesses for Pat?' He said, 'Can't have liquor on the set!' I said, 'Why not? It's a legal drug, you know; you can buy it at a pub.' So they got a crate of it in for him, and Kubrick took me aside and said, 'Malcolm, that was a very bad idea of yours. It's only been two days, and there's no more bottles left.' I said, 'But look at the performance you're getting!'
McDowell shifted into a dead-on imitation of Magee's intimidating tone in the film, when his character is urging Alex to partake of a meal that viewers know
must be poisoned: "Food all right? Try the wine!
" Laughing, McDowell added, "That was also ad-libbed, all that stuff. We kind of worked that out as we went, all that whole section," said McDowell, adding, "Patrick Magee said, 'I don't understand him. He has me sitting there like I'm taking a shit!' I said, 'Yeah, but it is very effective!'
SWITCHED ON CARLOS
McDowell also had words of praise for the movie's soundtrack, which combines traditional classical pieces with electronic interpretations and original compositions by Walter Carlos, performed on a Moog synthesizer. Carlos, of course, had made a name for himself with his synthesizer recording of SWITCHED ON BACH
, which had become the most popular-selling classical music album of all time. "When Stanley said Walter Carlos, that was fantastic," said McDowell. "Now it's Wendy Carlos; he had a sex change, just to confuse it! But he was the most extraordinary person. Actually, when I went to New York for some reason before the movie came out, he played me all the music, and some of the stuff that Stanley didn't use was just magical. It's a fantastic soundtrack, and I think it was the first film soundtrack to become a gold record, whatever that meant. It was the very first time they realized how much money could be made from soundtracks to movies." (After the official soundtrack was released, Carlos came out with his own version, which contained music not used in the film; both versions are now available on CD.)
McDowell also had conversation with Kubrick about the music used in the film, since in many cases these were not used simply as background scoring but were supposed to be source music heard by the characters. "We talked through the Beethoven. He had me learn the whole bloody chorus of the Ninth [symphony], because he had some idea I was going to sing it. I said, 'Sing it? It's an opera singer thingI can't sing that. He said, 'Well, maybe we can dub you. Let's hear it.' Anyway, I ended up whistling itthat was enoughin the lobby of the complex for my home." (In the final dubbing, the whistling was actually changed to another tune to match with an atmospheric Carlos piece heard on the soundtrack.)
One of the film's more outrageous combinations of music and imagery is the infamous William Tell Overture Orgy. In Alex's only non-
Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange.
© 1971 Warner Brothers
violent sexual behavior in the film, the character picks up two girls at a futuristic-looking record store (which, strangely enough, still stocks vinyl records) and takes them back to his room for a ménage a trois. Filmed at a slow speed (so that the action looks speeded up during playback) the scene has a ridiculous pixilated effect as Alex beds the two girls numerous times in under two minutes.
McDowell explained, "That whole orgy scene, which is fantastic to the William Tell piece, in actual shooting time took twenty-eight minutes. You try doing twenty-eight minutes with two girls, I tell you! He's shouting, 'Okay, take her bra off! Take her knickers off! Okay, take her over to the beda little pump action there!' I'm talking to him all the way through, although you can't see it at all. I'm going, 'How's this, Stanley?' Now, he rather fancied the brunette, so just to piss him off, I spent a little longer with that one! All I could hear was, 'Okay, Malc, that's enough! Okay, that's enough!
OKAY, ON TO THE NEXT ONEENOUGH'S ENOUGH!'"
A CLOCKWORK WHAT?
The title of the film is something of an anachronism, in that it is retained from the book, but it's meaning is not. At least, it goes unexplained, and viewers have to infer that it suggests the psychological treatment that leaves Alex looking like an organic human on the outside, but with his behavior mechanistically determined; in effect, he's a "clockwork" being, no longer a person capable of exercising free will and making moral decisions.
According to McDowell, the term is one that author Anthony Burgess "heard in a pub in the East End of London, where the saying is 'as queer as a clockwork orange,' meaning 'he's an odd fellow.' It's interesting, because I spent a week with Anthony Burgess in
The Korova Milk Bar, one of the few sets built by production designer John Barry for the film.
© 1971 Warner Brothers
New York with him, and he told me all the stories about what everything meant. It's an interesting story, because Burgess was told by a Welsh doctor that he had a terminal illnessgod knows what it wasand he would be dead in nine months. Now he had a youngish wife and two young kids, I think. He thought, 'My god, I'm going to be dead in nine months; I better start writing to leave them a legacy and leave them some money.' He wrote five novels in that nine months, one of which was CLOCKWORK ORANGE
. He used different names, pseudonyms, because he couldn't put out five novels with his name on themthat's flooding the market. So he put these novels out under different names, and as it so happened he was the literary critic for the Yorkshire Post.
: McDowell paused at this point, as the audience was already laughing in anticipation of the expected punch line. He continued, "You know where I'm going with this one! Glowing reviews! They found out, and he was fired. He outlived the Welsh doctor by thirty years."
STUDIO POLITICS AND AVOIDING THE WRITER
During his lifetime, Kubrick was known for exercising absolute control over his films, but that doesn't mean he never felt pressure from studio executives. Rather, he knew how to deal with them as a producer, so that it wouldn't affect his work as a director. In the case of CLOCKWORK ORANGE
, one audience member at the
Alex invades the home of the "Cat Lady."
© 1971 Warner Brothers
Cinematheque asked whether the controversial nature of the project led Kubrick to ban studio execs from the set, for fear that they would get cold feet. According to McDowell, Anthony Burgess "was banned much more than the executives from Warners. The writergod forbid he be allowed within a million miles of the set. Stanley was very suspicious of the writer. It's a shame actually, because Burgess was just one of the most brilliant raconteurs I've ever heard, and a great writer."
Of course, Kubrick had some reason to be wary of Burgess. When originally released in England the novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
contained twenty-one chapters, but only twenty survived when the book was released in America. It is this version of the story which Kubrick filmed, omitting the final, twenty-first chapter in which Alex finds himself "cured" and back on the streets, trying to recreate his former life as a droog. But a strange thing happens: Alex matures. He's no longer a young man with the energy and appetite for violence; he finds himself with new desires, yearning to get married, settle down, and have children. By dropping this redemption, the film cynically implies that the story has come full circle, with Alex ready to launch into a new series of assaults on society. Burgess would later object to this interpretation of the film (on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW
, for example), and eventually the last chapter of the novel saw publication in the U.S. courtesy of ROLLING STONE magazine, finally giving American readers a chance to decide for themselves which was the better ending.
So much for Kubrick's reason to avoid Burgess. What about the studio suits? McDowell went on: "Were the executives banned? No, they just weren't made welcome. I only remember Ted Ashley and John Calley coming one time. There was a whole load of Rolls Royces, and these guys were sitting there waiting. We'd been on location, so we came back at ten at night. Then [Kubrick] wanted to see dailies, and they weren't invited for that, so they were still sitting there when we came outit must have been midnight. I didn't know who the hell they wereand they owned the company! But I think they knew what they had in Stanley. The obviously let him go and do his thingwhich is what he's done on practically all his movies, I think, except for the last one [EYES WIDE SHUT
]. Unfortunately, he didn't survive; he died before it came out. I think he probably would have trimmed it. But that's another story, and I could be wrongI don't want to step on any toes!"
McDowell added, "He was a brilliant politician with the studio. I think he was a brilliant producer. That was his strengthhe was a really good producer. Every single piece of equipment, he bought, and rented back to them. The guy made a fortune from doing thathe was very smart. This film cost $3-million to make, and I don't know how many millions it's made in DVD sales now. It's shown repeatedly all over the world. They just opened it again in London last year and did another $14-million or something, so it's a never ending cash cow for somebodybut it ain't
Overall, McDowell seemed extremely pleased to revisit the film thirty years later. He was especially glad to see a decent print on the big
Alan Sharp as the Minister of the Interior in A Clockwork Orange.
© 1971 Warner Brothers
screena rare opportunity for him, as an actor living in England where the film was out of circulation for most of the past three decades. "He had that in his contract, that he could do whatever he wanted with it in the United Kingdom," said McDowell of the long absence from the British screen. "They weren't allowed to see it for twenty-eight years. Except of course, it was piratedthe copies you used to see in England were so badscratched. It's so nice to see it with a wonderful copy. Warner Brothers are to be congratulated for keeping the copies so nice."
Looking back on the film, which has survived long enough to earn the designation "classic," and which stands beside the best of Kubrick's work, McDowell told the standing-room-only audience at the Egyptian Theatre, "It was an amazing time, and it's a brilliant piece of work, really. I mean, there it isthirty years later. Now I look at it and I think I'm looking at my son, Charlie. That's what he looks like, much more than I do."