Dystopian. Unsettling. Disturbing. Bizarre. Dangerous. Many words have been used to describe Stanley Kubrick’s take on Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, but there is no doubt that the 1971 commentary on morality, violence, free will, and the ills of contemporary British society remains an important slice of cinema history.
Did you know that …
1) In one of the most iconic scenes of the film, Alex is receiving the so-called Ludovico Technique. During filming, actor Malcolm McDowell’s eyes were literally held wide open by a piece of surgical equipment called a ‘lid lock’ as Alex is forced to confront the violent films used to purge him. “I scratched the cornea of my left eye,” McDowell later told Kirk Douglas. “It hurt. I couldn’t see. Kubrick said, ‘Let’s go on with the scene. I’ll favour your other eye.’”
2) The distressing rape scene of Mary Alexander was partially improvised. Dissatisfied with the way the first few takes had played out, Kubrick asked McDowell if he could do something else, maybe dance. “I jumped up and started singing ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ as an improv, on the beats, slapping, kicking, boom,” remembers McDowell. “And why did I do that? Because [that song is] Hollywood’s gift to the world of euphoria. And that’s what the character is feeling at the time. So Stanley shoved me in the car, we drove back to his house, and he bought the rights to ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. We came back, he constructed what happened in the rehearsal and for the next week, we shot it. And it’s sort of the key moment in the film, really. And then he was brilliant because he worked it into the plot that that’s how the writer knows it’s me because I’m singing it in the bathtub [later]. That was very clever.” However, Kubrick was rumoured to have never actually paid Gene Kelly for the rights. “He was cheap,” said McDowell in 2014. “Of course, he never paid him. He thought it was enough that ‘Stanley Kubrick’ was going to use the song.”
3) The film was never actually banned in the UK. Following a series of gruesome copycat crimes and death threats to Kubrick’s family, the director himself chose to remove the film from wider circulation and refused permission to screen it. Only after Kubrick’s death in 1999 was the film was cleared to return to British big and small screens – legally anyways.
4) In another Star Wars/Kubrick crossover, Dave ‘Darth Vader’ Prowse played Patrick Magee’s musclebound assistant Julian, with the script calling for him to carry Magee – in a wheelchair – down a flight of stairs and into a dining room in one continuous shot. Concerned about the number of times he would be asked to repeat the herculean task, Prowse asked Kubrick to keep the number of takes low, telling him: “Your name’s not ‘one-take Kubrick’ is it, you see?” The famously recalcitrant – and much feared – director took head and nailed the shot in just six takes.