This is actually my introductory piece for AS Media class, written last September. Which means that it may be a bit dodgy, sorry ’bout that. I mainly discuss aspects of mise-en-scene and why I believe the film is successful, but I also thought it may be an enjoyable read for any film fan! Feel free to leave comments.
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, is a visual masterpiece. However, others may argue it’s a chaotic mess, only pursuing to glorify the sadistic main character, Alex DeLarge. The film is, admittedly, controversial.
Being set in the near-future it allowed Kubrick and Alcott (the film’s cinematographer) to play around with aspects such as the mise-en-scene, lighting and sound. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons ‘ACO’ is profoundly popular and became a milestone in the film industry. One of my favourite facets is the idiolect of the narrator and main character, Alex. He talks in an almost-Shakespearean dialect, referring to his ‘droogs’, a group of his friends whom he performs acts of ‘ultraviolence’ with, including rape and murder. Using Alex as the narrator completes the film, it’s as though he is telling a pleasant story and wants us, the viewers, to relax as we watch the journey of him before, in and after prison ad treatment, in such a way that it appears he is acclaiming violence.
What I love about ‘ACO’ is the feeling that you are an active viewer throughout the film. The narrator is subjective and unreliable, the setting and characters are unfamiliar and the plot is irregular and queer, therefore it takes working out to form your own opinion on the story.
The use of props and costumes compliments the abnormal genre and plot. Alex and his ‘droogs’ are dressed head-to-toe in white, a colour of saints, which is ironic due to their misconduct. Alex also sports a pair of false eyelashes on his right eye, representing ‘clockwork’, cleverly taken from the novel’s cover. To match this, he has false gauged eyeballs glued to his shirtsleeves, contradicting with the idea of white being ‘saintly’. The ‘droogs’ outfits, in particular, contrast with the other choice of colours in the film. Many main scenes include a lot of shadow, dark colours or low lighting, making the ‘droogs’ be more distinctive yet keep their mysterious disposition.
Another feature I love about ‘ACO’ is the unique editing style. Bill Butler (editor), who’s other work includes Jaw’s, Rocky II and Grease, intelligently uses many close up shots continued by a slow zoom-out. This allows us, the viewers, to see in great detail what someone may be feeling, or a zoom out on a strange object builds up tension, making us think ‘Where is Alex now? What is he getting up to?’, there’s a lot of twists and turns therefore the zooms fit in proficiently.
On the contrary, Butler also uses a technique of either making a clip much quicker or longer, building effect, mostly for violent or sexual scenes, causing the feel of discomfort. These sections of the film are commonly accompanied by loud, dramatic music; notably Beethoven. These editing techniques appear immediately as you begin the film, the opening sequence is most memorable.
As the simplistic title scene eventually passes with loud, slow and eerie-futuristic music we are immediately introduced to a close-up of Alex’s face. At a steady speed the camera zooms out after we merely watch him breathe for 15 seconds with a sinister half-smile across his face, we are then made familiar with where he is and whom he is with. Immediately, one familiar with ‘ACO’, can recognise his three ‘droogs’ in their strange white attire, sat along a sofa in the ‘Korova Milk Bar’, a bar serving milk replenished with drugs and bizarre décor including tables in the shape of naked women.
This opening scene, in my opinion, is one of the best of any films. Not only does it apply the perfect scheme of colours and mise-en-scene, but the way Butler uses the rule of thirds makes the opening scene aesthetically pleasing and instantly we can identify the film is unique to any other on the market. Within the first ten minutes we see not only one but several murder and rape scenes, making ‘ACO’ a landmark for on-screen violence.
It can be named a successful film for a considerable number of reasons, however we cannot leave out the exquisite acting skills of Malcolm McDowell, who portrayed Alex faultlessly. The film is brilliantly psychedelic, a genre that personally interests and appeals to me, and there is no other film quite like it. ‘ACO’ makes us sympathise with a villain, an aspect many people will dislike, nonetheless I find this an interesting approach to take, comparable to the novel ‘Lolita’, then adapted into two films, one of which also by Kubrick. Overall, I adore this film and definitely recommend it to anyone who has a high tolerance for on-screen violence, fondness for the psychedelic genre and appreciation of the film’s aesthetics.