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Anyone who attempts to write a book on the film director Stanley Kubrick as I
have just done, resembles the cosmonaut in 2001: a space odyssey who gets
sucked into a new dimension.
It is exhilarating and exhausting. For Kubrick is enigmatic as the monoliths that kept appearing and disappearing in that film; and, although he has made his home in England for nearly 10 years now, he is almost as elusive as the monoliths. A black beard crept down his shirt front over the last year of work on his new film, A Clockwork Orange: above it, the eyes glitter darkly and move restlessly.
Something in his unpampered self-sufficiency makes one think of a hermit - though in this case it is not a hermit who has foresworn the world, but one who uses the media he lives by to keep in touch with the world, but on his terms and always at a distance.
Movies, television, the air mails, short-wave radio and the telephone are there to link this extraordinary man, at his choice, with the world outside the rambling house in Chekovian-English style that is his home and work-base.
A dozen times I have been talking to him and his wrist alarm would buzz imperiously, intimating that someone, somewhere, was waiting to call him or hear from him.
His quest for information is insatiable and communications are central to his life and indeed his inspiration.
The visitors who come to his home, set behind gates encrusted with verboten notices guarding his privacy, find themselves driven to the wall by a hail of queries about some topic currently possessing Kubrick's interest. Not inappropriately, it is like a military debriefing.
He is fanatical in preparing each film he makes, For one, I recall, which involved shooting on location near London, he used maps of the in-coming flight paths at the nearby airport - and even allowed for a change in wind direction!
Kubrick's home, where he life with his wife, Suzanne Christian, a talented artist and their three children, is also his workplace: his life-style is a reversion to the medieval artisan's custom of letting family life interact with his trade or craft.
At a minute's notice, the opportunity for leading a quieter life in England than Hollywood or New York could supply can be transformed into furious activity that keeps him up working 16 hours a day if need be.
He is an insatiable film viewer, screening features at his home cinema one after the other: together we took in most of the propaganda and many of the feature films made in Nazi Germany: partly because they tied in with his fascination with the way that film absorbs, stimulates and influences audiences, partly because evil, the power to do ill, has a strong pull on his imagination.
His ideal is probably to be found in order, harmony, balance; but the other side to him is that of the ironic humanist who relishes the unplanned-for kink in the works that sabotages the perfect plan or machine - themes he treated in films as different as The Killing, about a race track robbery going wrong, or Dr. Strangelove, about the world's nuclear deterrent going apocalyptically haywire. These two sides to his nature pull him in contrary directions giving his films a tension in tune with an age trying to balance life and science, humanity and the machine, and I think we'll find this most strongly emphasized in A Clockwork Orange.
For months before filming began on A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick and McDowell lived in each other's company, on each other's nerves, finding out about their separate natures by playing such games as chess or table tennis - such "play power" Kubrick finds useful as an index to personality that will help him when he comes to seek an effect from his player before the camera.
But if this director takes infinite pains, he gives them too. A Clockwork Orange demonstrated once again his ruthlessness in pursuit of absolute authenticity.
On his instructions sterilized water was in the hypodermic syringe that injects McDowell for the sequence where he undergoes aversion therapy. Eye-clamps on his eyelids during the sequence required a specialist standing by to determine the point at which it was risky to continue shooting lest the eyeballs dry up.
In scene after scene Kubrick's overriding interest was to discover "the moment" - the one effect that makes everything else vital and unexpected, that keys the scene to its own weird pitch.
One such occurred when a beating-up scene had reached an impasse. Suddenly Kubrick, who wanted to give the scene a bizarrely horrific twist, asked McDowell if he could dance, whereupon the actor did an impromptu buck-and-wing version of the Hollywood classic Singin' in the Rain. At once Kubrick placed a call through to Los Angeles asking Warner Bros to acquire the rights to the song and, returning to the set, told McDowell: "That's it! You'll kick the victim while you're dancing and singing." Such surrealistic moments pun through A Clockwork Orange, managing to co-exist with an extraordinarily real world. On one snowy day last winter a car took me deep into the Hertfordshire countryside to a health farm - the film was made without any use of studio facilities except for a special effects shot.
Kubrick and his crew had taken over one of the large rooms in this former country mansion. Under the corniced ceiling and high windows, it still held a jungle of gymnastic equipment - mechanical horses, rings, parallel bars - but the highly erotic paintings, out of the School of Klimt, I would say, which Kubrick had added to the walls now made the equipment look like torture apparatus out of The Story of "O." This was the set for the sequence where the Cat Woman, a vengeful eccentric, is killed in a fight with Alex.
To my surprise I found all the technical crew crouched outside the room, while inside it were only Kubrick, McDowell,
Miriam Karlin who plays the cat woman, and a man with a camera power-pack
buckled round his waist - Oh, and dozens of cats. Kubrick had decided to shoot
the fight to the death in 360 degrees with a hand-held camera, which meant that
everyone but the two people in the camera lens had to be cleared outside -
everyone, that is, but Kubrick who held the Arriflex camera, the man with the
power pack who held on to Kubrick and myself who held on to the man with power
pack by the trouser belt.
Around and around we whirled in vicious circles as McDowell and Karlin, armed with a gigantic sculptured phallus and a bust of Beethoven respectively, lunged, dodged and struck at each other till one of them was felled.
Kubrick was possessed of the energy of three times everyone else, and since I was on the tail of the operation I received the full measure of centrifugal force and in addition had to sidestep the panicky cats, a whole power station of oddly-contorted electric lamps specially imported from Germany, as well as the bobby-traps of gym apparatus.
It was nearly 7.30 p.m. before he called a halt. And all of this was on New Year's Eve. It crossed my mind as I made my exhausted way home with him that the day had been specially selected to show a layman like myself that even watching Stanley Kubrick direct a film is not a passive occupation.
(Reprinted by kind permission of the Evening Standard)
Perhaps no film in the history of cinema has caused so much comment, prompted so
much publicity and generated so much interest as Stanley Kubrick's A
Clockwork Orange. Seeing the film is an experience. It lingers in the mind.
Such is the power of this fascinating film-maker.
Kubrick was born in New York in July, 1928. He was raised in the Bronx and first became interested in photography when his father, a doctor, gave him a camera at the age of 13. It took Kubrick a year to master the basics of photography and he was only 17 when the picture editor of Look magazine gave him a job as an apprentice photographer.
Kubrick's first feature film was Fear and Desire which he made with 10,000 dollars he borrowed from his family and 3,000 dollars of his own. Then came Killer's Kiss and The Killing. It was, however, in 1957 that Kubrick really established himself. He made Paths of Glory which is still considered one of the best anti-war films ever made.
In 1961, after completing Spartacus, Kubrick came to London where he made Lolita. He then went on to make Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
There was me, that is Alex...
...and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie
...and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks...
...what to do with the evening.
The Korova Milkbar sold milk plus...
...milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom...
...which is what we were drinking.
This would sharpen you up and make you ready
for a bit of the old Ultra-Violence.
The Durango 95 purred away real horrorshow...
Soon it was trees and dark, my brothers...
...with real country dark.
What we were after now was the old surprise visit.
That was a real kick and good for laughs...
...and lashings of the old ultra-violent.
It was around by the derelict casino that we came across Billy
Boy and his four droogs.
They were getting ready to perform a little of the old in-out, in-out...
...on a weepy young devotchka they had there.
Go on do me in, you bastard cowards.
Just singing in the rain
There was a bit of a nastiness last night, yes.
Some very extreme nastiness, yes?
Viddy well, little brother, viddy well.
You are now a murderer, little Alex. A murderer.
It's not true, sir. It was only a slight tolchock.
You try to frighten me, sir, admit so, sir.
This is some new form of torture...
...say it, brother, sir!
You are now 655321...
...and it is your duty to memorize that number.
...Hymn 258 in the Prisoner's Hymnal.
Right, let's have a little reverence, you bastards.
I read all about the scourging and the crowning with thorns...
...and I could viddy myself helping in and even taking charge...
...of the tolchoking and the nailing in...
I like the parts where these old yahoodies tolchock each other...
That kept me going.
I was bound up in a straight jacket...
...and my gulliver was strapped to a headrest with like wires running away from it.
Then they clamped like lidlocks on my eyes so that I could not shut them...
...no matter how hard I tried.
Tomorrow, we send him out with confidence into the world again.
|Mr. Alexander||Patrick Magee|
Featuring in Alphabetical Order
|Chief Guard||Michael Bates|
|Stage Actor||John Clive|
|Mrs. Alexander||Adrienne Corri|
|Dr. Brodsky||Carl Duering|
|Prison Governor||Michael Gover|
|Prison Chaplain||Godfrey Quigley|
|Dr. Branom||Madge Ryan|
|Produced and Directed by||Stanley Kubrick|
|Screenplay by||Stanley Kubrick|
|Based on the Novel by||Anthony Burgess|
|Consultant on Hair and Coloring||Leonard of London|
|Associate Producer||Bernard Williams|
|Assistant to the Producer||Jan Harlan|
|Electronic Music Composed and Realized by||Walter Carlos|
|Lighting Cameraman||John Alcott|
|Production Designer||John Barry|
|Sound Editor||Brian Blamey|
|Sound Recordist||John Jordan|
|Dubbing Mixers||Bill Rowe, Eddie Haben|
|Art Directors||Russell Hagg, Peter Shields|
|Wardrobe Supervisor||Ron Beck|
|Costume Designer||Milena Canonero|
|Stunt Arranger||Roy Scammel|
|Special Paintings and Sculpture||
She came towards me with the light like it was...
...the like light of heavenly grace...
...and the first thing that flashed into me gulliver was that I'd like to have her right down there on the floor...
But as quick as a shot came the sickness...
And, oh my brothers...
...would you believe your faithful friend and long suffering narrator...
...pushed out his red yahzick a mile-and-a-half...
...to lick the grahzny, vonny boots.
They laughed at my blood
and my moans.
Then there was like a sea of dirty, smelly old men...
...trying to get at your humble narrator...
...with their feeble rookers...
...and horny old claws.
It was old age...
...having a go at youth...
And I daren't do a single solitary thing, O my brothers...
...it being better to be hit at like that than want to sick...
...and feel that horrible pain.
Frank this young man needs some help.
...O my brothers and only friends...
...there was your faithful narrator...
...being held helpless like a babe in arms...
...and suddenly realizing where he was and why HOME on the gate had looked so familiar.
The pain and sickness all over me like an animal.
Then I realized what it was.
The music coming up from the floor...
...was our old friend Ludwig Van...
These scans and format © 2001-10 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net