15 Things You Might Not Know About 'A Clockwork Orange'
Ready for a bit of the ol' ultra-violence? Here are a few things you should know about Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.
1. KUBRICK ORIGINALLY DIDN'T WANT TO MAKE THE MOVIE.
The director first encountered Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange when his Dr. Strangelove co-screenwriter Terry Southern gave him a copy on the set of that film. Southern enjoyed the biting black humor of the book, and thought Kubrick should consider adapting it into a movie. Kubrick allegedly didn't like the book upon first reading because of the Nadsat language Burgess created for the novel. The language, literally translated as the Russian word for "teen" and comprised of Russian and Cockney rhyming slang, confused the eventual director until he revisited the source material after his efforts to make a biopic about Napoleon fell through. Kubrick reportedly began to change his mind when he considered Alex as a Richard III-type character.
2. MALCOLM MCDOWELL WAS KUBRICK'S ONE AND ONLY CHOICE FOR ALEX.
Prior to Kubrick taking over the adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (Ken Russell and John Schlesinger were among the directors being considered), Mick Jagger was rumored to be up for the role of Alex, with other members of the Rolling Stones potentially playing Alex's droogs. But when Kubrick joined the project, he only wanted one man to play Alex: Malcolm McDowell. Kubrick had seen the actor in his debut film role in If...., which features similar anti-authoritarian themes and McDowell playing a rebellious and violent teen. McDowell never even had to audition—and if the actor had declined the role, Kubrick allegedly would have dropped the project altogether.
3. MCDOWELL HAD NO IDEA WHO KUBRICK WAS.
When offered the part, McDowell mistakenly thought the director was Stanley Kramer, the filmmaker behind movies like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Judgment at Nuremberg. It wasn't until McDowell's friend and If.... director Lindsay Anderson showed him Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey that the actor realized who the director was.
4. KUBRICK'S SCREENPLAY CLOSELY MIRRORED THE BOOK.
Kubrick eventually warmed up to the book so much that his screenplay was mostly just dialogue and stage directions grafted from the book itself. A few early drafts of the screenplay actually changed the film's title to "The Ludovico Technique," named after the brainwashing experiment that Alex endures, but Kubrick later changed it back to the book's name. The director and actors hewed so closely to the book that sometimes they wouldn't even use the formal screenplay on set. Instead, they simply carried the novel as a reference for dialogue in the scenes.
The screenplay (and the movie) famously do not include a happy ending written and included in British versions of the book at the request of Burgess' publishers. That ending features Alex renouncing his violent past and promising to try to be a good man. Kubrick based his screenplay on the book's American version, which had the happy ending excised altogether.
5. THE MOVIE WAS PRIMARILY SHOT IN EXISTING LOCATIONS
Kubrick wanted to prove that he could make a low-budget movie after the expensive 2001, so he sought out existing locations. The only stipulation was that they had to be within driving distance from his house outside London. The most famous location was Alex's apartment block, which was shot at the Thamesmead Housing Estate in Southeast London, a housing project built in the late 1960s. The writer's "HOME" was three different locations: the road leading there was outside Munden House in Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire; the exterior was shot at a place called The Japanese Garden in Shipton-under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire; and the interior was The Skybreak House in Radlett, Hertfordshire (the art on the interior walls was all painted by Kubrick's wife, Christiane).
The record shop scene was actually shot in the Chelsea Drugstore, a hip London bar frequented by the Rolling Stones and other celebrities in the late '60s and '70s (eagle-eyed viewers might spot the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey on the front of the desk).
6. BUT THERE ARE ALSO SOME SETS.
There are only three specific scenes that were built as sets: The Korovo Milk Bar, the prison's check-in area, and the bathroom where Alex takes a bath in the writer's HOME were built in an old factory in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. Kubrick loved shooting there because it was the closest location to his house.
7. MCDOWELL'S LOVE OF CRICKET HELPED CREATE ALEX'S DROOG COSTUME.
Designer Milena Canonero sought to create a skewed near-future society with the costumes for A Clockwork Orange. But Kubrick and Canonero, who would go on to win an Academy Award for costume design on Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (plus additional Oscars for Chariots of Fire, Marie Antoinette, and The Grand Budapest Hotel) had trouble pinning down the look of Alex's costume. When McDowell, a cricket fan, came in for a costume fitting with his gear—including protective cup—Kubrick told him to keep them out and incorporate his white shirt and cup into the costume. When McDowell started to dress by putting the jockstrap under his pants, Kubrick told him it'd look better over his pants instead, and the look made it into the final movie.
8. ALEX'S "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" WAS IMPROVISED.
McDowell came up with the idea for his character to sing the Gene Kelly classic. Kubrick thought the film's famously brutal scene, in which Alex and his droogs attack the writer and his wife, was playing flat during rehearsal. To adequately convey the violent nature of the scene and the sinister nature of the character, he asked McDowell to do something outrageous—like dance around. The actor began humming while dancing, then broke out into "Singin' In The Rain." McDowell would go on to say, "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."
9. A REAL DOCTOR APPEARS IN THE LUDOVICO TECHNIQUE SCENE.
For the scene in which Alex is forced to watch horrific footage as aversion therapy, McDowell's eyes were kept open with antique lid locks used for delicate eye surgeries. The doctor administering eye drops was an actual doctor from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. He was supposed to remain offscreen, but Kubrick eventually put him in the scene because McDowell would have been incapable of keeping his eyes open without the drops.
10. MCDOWELL WAS INJURED ANYWAY.
Though his eyes were anesthetized, McDowell was forced to endure excruciating pain. The eye clamps were only supposed to be used for patients lying down, but Kubrick insisted that the character be sitting up watching footage for his rehabilitation. McDowell actually sliced his cornea during the scene, forcing the legendary perfectionist Kubrick to cut it short.
11. THE FAST-MOTION SEX SCENE TOOK 28 MINUTES TO SHOOT.
Kubrick chose to use fast-motion blur to film the sex scene between Alex and the two women from the record shop in order to ensure that it wouldn't be specifically cited by censors for sexually explicit content. The scene ended up contributing to the film's eventual X rating, not for explicit content, but because the censors feared the technique would be co-opted by actual pornographers who could speed up their films as a loophole to get their films passed by the ratings board.
12. DARTH VADER HAS A SMALL PART IN THE MOVIE.
The disabled writer's muscular aide in the film's third act is none other than David Prowse, the former bodybuilder and Mr. Universe contestant who would go on to occupy the Darth Vader suit in the original Star Wars trilogy.
The brawny Prowse initially protested the scene where he would have to carry the writer and his wheelchair around a corner and down to a dinner table in a single take. Kubrick had a tendency to do dozens of takes, and Prowse approached him, saying, "Your name is not one-take Kubrick is it, you see?" The crew fell silent and thought Prowse would immediately be fired, but Kubrick simply laughed the comment off and told him he'd be fine. They were able to get the shot in six takes.
13. PING PONG HELPED TRIM THE BUDGET.
McDowell recorded the film's voiceovers over two weeks of post-production sessions with Kubrick. To break up sessions that stretched on for hours, the pair would retreat to a ping pong table outside the recording studio to play a few games before heading back to work. Following the two weeks of sessions, McDowell's agent learned the actor was only paid for one week of work. Kubrick's explanation was that the one-week amount was for the work they did. The unpaid week had been spent playing ping pong.
14. KUBRICK PULLED THE MOVIE FROM UK THEATERS BECAUSE OF DEATH THREATS.
The press blamed the violent film for a series of alleged copycat break-ins and killings in the UK in the early 1970s, prompting calls for it to be banned. The film remained in theaters and available for distribution until an incident caused Kubrick to request that Warner Brothers pull the movie from UK cinemas.
While on the Ireland set of his next film, Barry Lyndon, Kubrick received death threats against him and his family. The perpetrators promised to break into their secluded house outside of London to carry out attacks just like Alex and his droogs do in the film. Distraught, Kubrick kept the studio from publicly showing the movie in the British Isles and Ireland until after his death in 1999.
15. IT GOT A BEST PICTURE NOD DESPITE ITS X RATING.
Despite all the controversy, A Clockwork Orange was never pulled from American theaters and was nominated for Best Picture and three other Oscars, including Best Director for Kubrick and Best Adapted Screenplay for his script. The film whiffed on all four categories at the ceremony, but it still earned a place in history. Along with Midnight Cowboy, which won Best Picture in 1970, it's one of only two X-rated films to be nominated for the Oscars' top prize.