The Cinematography in “A Clockwork Orange”
by Victoria Silveira
Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, released in 1971, depicted the lifestyle of a British gang in a near future, based on a same-named book by Anthony Burgess. Alex and his trio of droogs engaged in fights, muggings, rapes and other assorted viciousness; all this offered a new zeitgeist-decade of violence, anger and misogyny that relied completely on the participation of this internal society that saw these acts as everyday events.
Not different from other Kubrick’s productions, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and The Shining (1980), the cinematography plays a very important role in A Clockwork Orange. The color palettes, frames and camera movements were used in such a way that they became extremely necessary for the full comprehension of the plot and the characters’ personalities traits. In some way, it is possible to infer that, when talking about such troubled characters being portrayed without any taboo, the cinematography presents itself as a form of storyteller without the actual needs of words:
When you think of the greatest moments of film, I think you are almost always involved with images rather than scenes, and certainly never dialogue. — Stanley Kubrick
When talking about the cinematography in this film, it is worth pointing out the great occurrence of zoom-out shots. They are mainly used to place the characters in the space realm of the story and to outline their personality features. This happens not only with Alex, but also with other characters such as the drunk man, Mr. Alexander and the guys from the rival gang. Let us illustrate the above considerations with the two first scenes of the film, which outlines two different, and even opposite, positions in this dystopian society:
II. The First Scene of A Clockwork Orange
The first scene from the film starts with a close-up on Alex’s face, emphasizing his facial expressions during a 15 seconds take. This typical Kubrick stare Alex is giving while looking at the camera (Figure 1) is used as a breaking of the fourth wall, projecting an uneasy and uncomfortable effect on the audience. This close-up also introduces him as the main character, before his own narration does.
After 15 seconds, a slowed down zoom-out reveals that Alex isn’t drinking milk plus alone: two of his friends are introduced (Figure 2). No dialogue nor narration was yet used. Then, the zoom-out keeps going, transforming itself into a continuous backward tracking. The third friend is shown along with two tables made up of female mannequins (Figure 3). All the features mentioned compose, now, the most important subject of the scene.
Thus, the backward tracking keeps going (Figure 4, 5 and 6) until the whole scenario, Alex and his friends are in, is revealed. Other shaped tables, persons and milk plus drinking fountains woman-shaped are shown. Alex’s narration just starts by Figure 4 stage. Even like that, without any words, the audience could fully understand the position Alex and his friends are in, and also could freely deliberate their next actions.
The bar itself is designed in a misogynistic way, which means that everyone there keeps pace with attitudes like these, such as using women as objects, whether tables, drinking fountains or even as sex ones. Attitudes like rapes are now expected, and seems like nothing more can surprise the audience after so many big revelations in the first two minutes of the film.
III. The Second Scene of A Clockwork Orange
The second scene of the film starts with an object close-up: the liquor bottles (Figure 7). Differently from the first scene of the film, the bottles are more important for building the character than the man’s face. This is, the identity of the man is not important for the comprehension of the scene as a whole. Thus, this close-up emphasizes his condition as a drunk man, more than anything else.
A zoom-out exhibits the whole man. He was singing out loud lying down while holding a liquor bottle (Figure 8). The zoom continues, showing that, instead of Alex and his friends, the man is alone. In result, his vulnerable state is portrayed; which leads us to Alex’s gang arriving (Figure 10). Only their shadows can be seen, and they are a lot bigger than the man. Then, they are portrayed as the superiors and, as a gang, they could do terrible things to that vulnerable man.
The moment they approached the man is not pictured in the same zoom-out shot, but we all know what is about to happen. All the attributes of the first scene of the film, which Alex personality features are described, let us guess what will happen to that lonely drunk man.
In this analysis, we could explain and exemplify the role of the zoom-outs in A Clockwork Orange. It is important to points out that this camera movement was able to shape Alex’s personality traits in both scenes without the necessary use of narration. Alone, the zoom-outs could introduce, in the first two scenes of the film, the features of the character that will be developed throughout it.