Thoughts on a Clockwork Orange


Recently I had a chance to praise my friend Ryan’s podcast. While we had kicked around the idea a bit, Ryan reached out and suggested we actually do a podcast on “A Clockwork Orange” like we’d discussed via email. So we did!

The Signal Watch PodCast ยท 180: "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) - A Signal Watch Canon Episode w/ SGHarms and Ryan

I thought I’d include my notes for the podcast based on my most recent watch in this post as well.

Runtime Notes

Timepoint Element Category
Alex the Animal; Silverback of the Droogs
0:00 Opening
Opens with this oppressive wall of color, a lot like a Rothko painting
Opens with introduction to the electronic synth sounds of Wendy Carlos
Opening shot is a gorgeous symmetric (steadicam?) shot framing the handsome and menacing Malcolm MacDowell as “Alex” Camera Technical
Gender identity is different here: men are wearing makeup (like most of the animal kingdom); with the pageboy haircut, makeup, hyper-sexualized groin armor, there’s something hyper-sexual and omnisexual here.
Iconic opening line with the Nadsat language and its strange poetry
The Beating of the Tramp
Tramp: Identifies the world as stinking, but Alex doesn’t see it this way. It is as it is and available for whatever pleasures one may choose to take unto oneself.
Old against young Theme
World devoid of law and order Theme
6:08 Stellar profile shot of Malcolm MacDowell
7:15 Crew has won the fight; impotent police arrive
8:40 Playing “Hogs of the Road”
9:00 “Surprise Visit” at “Home”
Amazing architecture and framing with extreme depth Camera Technical
9:42 IBM Selectric like I learned to type on; funny after HAL =~ IBM in “2001”
11:12 Demented “Singing in the Rain” rape prelude
Malcolm MacDowell is clearly talented; choreography, beating to time
Unleashing some of the pressures of cuckoldry, voyeurism, etc. But this is subtle, Kubrick is roping us to get off on violence and power so that we’re closer to the anti-hero
“Viddy well” Dialogue
13:51 Nightcap
Here we are, barely a quarter of an hour in and Alex and his droogs have shown themselves to be pure animals without much guilt, but also without much conscience or remorse. Their at the socio-intellectual level of apes: guarding their territory, doing what their reproductive urge suggests, but Alex is like the silverback: he bullies most often, but will resort to more extreme forms of intimidation when it suits him….as we’re about to see
14:17 The Sophistos in the Korova
What are they doing here? Clearly slumming it. Class tension theme (even in (what we’re about to see) is a Brutalist totalitarian world) Theme
Encountered with real beauty, Alex notes, poetically, that she’s bringing true beauty into the wicked world Theme
14:44 Alex sees beauty
15:08 Alex greets an honor contest gladly; cowing Dim into place
We’ll notice that no world-building has happened. Things just are strange and … are. Storytelling
Alex Revels in the Ludwig Van
Wes anderson style of focus on objects (Deutsche Grammofon cassette) Direction
Beethoven balanced against the kitsch images of Christ. Religion has been sapped of meaning Theme
Alex sees himself as a Hammer-style vampire lol
Act II: Alex in the World
19 Mum knocks, beginning of the world-building; we step outside
Mum is over-sexualized, well past appropriate
Works in a common factory, hinting at the industrialization of society
22:00 Visit from Mr. Deltoid (Sir)
“Trying to save him from himself”
Interesting: Why does Alex seem to fear Deltoid? It’s really only because he is an emissary of a violence more powerful than Alex: the state. We learn Alex is in corrective school, so he understands that there’s a force out there that can do worse to him. So he puts on a fine show.
25:01:00 Alex sports about town, looking dapper at a Virgin records on acid. Most of the artists’ names are Russian. Paired with Nadsat, we’re seeing that it’s a Soviet-conquered UK we’re in.
29:00:00 Cute sex scene; but the sex here is not rape; thus the rape wasn’t really about sex at all, it was about the thrill of inducing terror in others. Alex thrills in bullying
The Leadership Challenge
A different kind of rape is afoot, Alex is post-sexual with Dim, parking his codpiece inches from his face, sitting on him, getting terribly intimate with him. His bullying is unafraid of any labels of homosexual / heterosexual, Alex is about power and asserting dominance at the psychological level…
That cold psychopathic smile
Georgie: Pitches the “big big money” “like a little child” Theme: tiers of violence
Alex sees a need to tame his flock: “Sheep, thought I.” in the dialogue
Alex abuses his own
Health Farm Invasion
Based on the graphicness of “Home,” we know what to expect. Like Beethoven, Kubrick is about to vary the theme we think we know
42:21:00 Murder / Manslaughter
Malcolm MacDowell shows how shocked Alex is by crossing the ultimate taboo. This is his first murder.
Alex Re-Educated
44:00:00 Violence of the state, which is the wrath of “Good people” / Interrogation
Kubrick is wonderful at foreshadowing in dialogue
“violence makes violence”
“This is some new form of torture”
“Torture him to madness.”
47:00:00 Arrival at Prison
Readily acquits him to military life
Makes you wonder if he’d had this sort of discipline whether he’d have been a hoodlum?
Also: the practical intelligence of learning the fake smile, the fawning, the sycophancy. There’s a threat greater around him that he can’t beat; best play it cool
53 Jail Sermon
56 Alex Imagines Himself in the Bible
Pulls all the wrong lessons
Our religious books and primary source of our literary tradition are all works of gigantically scoped sex and violence Theme: Violence
LNR: “Well, as per usual, it’s yet another proof that all documents in society are centered on men.”
59 Curiosity about the Ludovico (Italian for Ludwig) Technique
“Whether this technique can make one good”
“When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man Theme: Choice
1:07 Going into Ludovico
1:11 Iconic Eye Spreaders Shot
Kubrick is taking us to task here: “The colors of the real world only seem real when you viddy them on the screen.” In this moment, I think Kubrick is looping back to us for being perpetrators of violence ourselves. All that thrill we got in the first act now loops back on itself for dissection
Here Kubrick makes the explicit case that those who make violent images are of far less culpability than those who venerate them. To seal this deal he shows Riefenstahl clips from Triumph of the Will
The Beethoven Rejection: Alex is coming to hate everything he saw as beautiful: Beethoven, Sexy women, violence. He found violence beautiful. The “horrorshow” thrill of it all. He’s not rejecting all his beauty
1:19 The Demo
1:26 “Choice” / “He ceases to be a creature of moral choice” – The Padre Theme: Choice
Act IV: Man without Violent Agency
1:28 It’s really like comic melodrama here. The “woe is I” cello intro, the self-pitying. Here’s where Alex’s predicament is almost laughable. Malcolm MacDowell is so good that instead of rooting for the world against him, we start to see that he’s now the bullied, he’s now the pitiable. This is a really stunning achievement for someone who did the unspeakable in 15 minutes at the start of the film Direction: How did Kubrick make this happen
1:34 Payback from the tramps
1:41 Payback from the droogs
1:42 Return “HOME”
1:48 “the common people must be pushed”
1:49 Staggering shot eating the spaghetti
1:52 Tension building is supreme; the yelling guy Direction
1:53 “A victim of the modern age”
The counterpoise between the writer, who wants to take on the government realizing that he was the one wronged and that his blood debt urge for violence is > abstract violence urge against the state. There’s elements of Antigone in this: how does one choose between the law of the clan versus law of the state? We see that Frank (the good public man) will attempt to claim both
1:58 The sets deserve some discussion here; this rococo set decoration recalling “2001’“s finale
The glorious snooker table shot Camera Discussion
In this we see the public literally frothing with delight (Frank) while other reasonably-minded citizens lift no finger to limit his inflicting his blood-debt drama. In Latin “to pay the cost” for crime is “to have the penalties taken,” the public is fine with the violence necessary for the penalties to be taken
Alex attempts to snuff it
Act V: Alex Inflicts Abstract Violence: Politics
2:01 Newspaper article scrolls: “By Frank Beck”
Minister: “They have done great wrong to you.”
2:04 Psych Eval
“No time for the old in and out; I’m only here to read the meter.” – first hint that Alex might be back to his old self
Alex’s dream suggests this
Power covers itself and makes itself at home to itself. Alex is bullying the minister in his old demeanor
The minister puts the writer away; the ultimate violence, executives of state with silent power are the biggest hoodlums of all. And we’re all very OK with it
An understanding between two “hoodlums” or, as it were, two silverbacks of different class and style, but of the same substance; a la Godfather 2 with the Corleone / Senator tete-a-tete: We are part of the same hypocrisy
“I was cured alright” / glorious rutting image