Stanley Kubrick, Part 10 — A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The Stanley Kubrick Exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has moved on. It is now on its way to Sao Paulo in Brazil, and after that is scheduled to move to Toronto, Canada. But it will continue here at Naked Filmmaking, as Stanley Kubrick was one of the first naked filmmakers.
This was more than a departure. It was a complete break with the studio system and how it worked. His recent films Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strngelove and 2001 had been financed by studios and were made and post-produced almost entirely within the shrouded walls of studios.
He liked the professionalism that he found in the studios. And he knew that there was no better distribution organization than being backed by a major Hollywood studio. But he also saw that it could be done much more efficiently.
Stanley Kubrick was one of the first people to live by the phrase, Do More With Less.
Stanley Kubrick wanted total control over his films, from what he wanted to make and how he wanted to make it, to the advertising posters and even approval and technical oversight of the conditions of the cinemas that the films were initially released in and specifications for projection and audio playback.
After 2001 Stanley Kubrick signed an artist contract with Warner Brothers which agreed to finance and distribute his films, but Kubrick would be making them as an independent producer and could make them any way he wanted.
Kubrick traded the walled confines of a studio for the walled confines of his own English estate. In effect, he became the most independent, authoritative, powerful and radical “bedroom”/”home movie maker” the cinema has ever known.
When he worked in the studios he used the studio equipment and space. Once he turned to working out of his own estate, he converted a garage barn into his production and editing offices, bought all of his own cameras, lenses, lights and sound equipment — and rented it back to the budget provided for by Warner Brothers. And he ruthlessly watched every penny.
Kubrick had been working on another epic roadshow movie, Napolean, but it was taking a long time to mount and he wanted to make a new movie. And he wanted to make it cheaply.
It was the late-60s — the Hollywood studios were in turmoil. The films they were making were out-of-step and old fashioned. The didn’t know what to make to appeal to the new audiences. It was the time of counter-culture, hippies, acid rock music, drugs, anti-war, anti-everything. Easy Rider was a box-office megahit. Kubrick wanted to show what he could do and that he could out-do the studios.
One night he picked up a paperback book that had been given him by Terry Southern, who had co-written the script of Dr. Strangelove with him. Southern thought the book was just out-there enough for Kubrick. Kubrick read it in one sitting and decided to do it.
The book was Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Set in the near future, it followed a breakdown in society where gangs rove wild at night. Perhaps it was to prescient.
This film would be Kubrick’s first film as a completely independent producer. He would control every aspect of it. This would be his statement of who he was as a filmmaker and how he was going to work from then on.
Unlike his films of the past, Kubrick wrote the screenplay himself without a collaborator.
Film production equipment had become radically smaller. When he made 2001, shot mostly in 1965 and ’66, sound was recorded on a big steel armed boom that fed into a truck parked just outside the sound stage. Now Nagra had come out with a portable tape recorder that could literally be slung under the arm of a soundman.
Sound had to be recorded in sound studios to get the best sound conditions. But Sennheiser in Germany had developed new shotgun and wireless lavelier microphones that could get excellent isolated sound in ordinary real locations. This would be the first time where actors would wear wireless lav mics for their audio.
Kubrick detested looping and was determined to record all the sound in the actual location shooting and only add post sound for narration. Not one line in A Clockwork Orange was dubbed. This was a landmark breakthrough.
And movie cameras had made huge advancements as well. The Arriflex 35 IIC was small, hand-held, and could be blimped. Kubrick bought one and would continue to use it on every film that he would make after this, including Eyes Wide Shut.
Kubrick brought in John Alcott as director of photography. Alcott had been on Geoffry Unsworth’s camera crew on 2001 and when Unsworth had to leave to work on another film Kubrick had moved Alcott up to finish.
This would also be a pattern in Kubrick’s workings. He would take talented people in various departments and move the up a few steps in the ladder in sound and the camera crew. But Kubrick would be in control of them. They would be working to Kubrick’s standards. In effect, he was the head of those crews. Kubrick would be the main camera operator on A Clockwork Orange.
Further more would be the radical break in budget. 2001 had started out at $4.5 million and was completed at $10.5 million. For him to maintain control on his first independent film and keep the studio Warner Brothers from interfering it would have to be to work within an almost insignificant amount of money.
The budget for A Clockwork Orange was $1.8 million.
The shooting schedules on low-budget films were also smaller. Smaller budgets meant shorter shooting times. Usually 4-6 weeks. But that would be with not too much smaller size crews. Here, Kubrick changed the game again.
The schedule for shooting A Clockwork Orange was around six months.
Kubrick could do this because he maintained a very small crew. And he didn’t have the whole crew around all the time. He would have per diem day workers.
Kubrick became a ruthless penny pincher.
As the photographer in Kubrick came out, he also became fascinated with using faster films and lenses to shoot with as little extra lighting as possible. Often with just augmenting photoflood lamps to existing sockets so that he could shoot any direction he wanted.
The studios have their own advertising and marketing departments, as well as hiring outside advertising agencies, to design ads, posters and make the trailers.
Kubrick would have none of that. He commissioned his own posters and edited the trailers himself.
Considering how these days so many film trailers are less advertising as micro, condensed versions of the films themselves, this was a wise precedent that more filmmakers should strive to control.
Released films would always send out photographs from the films for advertising. These have traditionally been taken by on-set photographers of scenes in rehearsal or staged situations with actors. Kubrick would have none of this as well. Kubrick was so proud of the look and photography of his films that, starting with A Clockwork Orange, all shots of the films would be taken from actual frame blow-ups from the films themselves — which Kubrick selected personally.
Kubrick continued his break with his former films with the subject and rating of A Clockwork Orange. 2001 was rated G for all audience. It received praise from all corners, including the Catholic church, and organizations that didn’t even understand 2oo1. A Clockwork Orange was rated X on its initial release, meaning that no one under the age of 17 was admitted to the theater. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing (Bill Butler). Amazingly, Malcolm McDowell was not nominated for Best Actor in the role of his life. Later in the year is was re-released with an R rating. Although I think it is still an X, or NC-17, film. I think the images are far too violent and disturbing for younger people.
From dollar-invested to dollar-returned, A Clockwork Orange was, and continues to be, one of the most financially successful films that Warner Brothers has ever produced. It would be even more successful for Warner Brothers if Kubrick had not been able to command such a large profit participation for himself. But this was also part of his negotiating strategy. He would not pay himself for making the films — he would get paid by the profits the films returned, which he was always very confident in. Part of that confidence was strengthened by the added fact that he determined the advertising and contractually required the size of the ads in newspapers around the world. Warner Brothers would even have to send him copies of newspapers so he could make sure that the ads were to his specifications.
Every one of Kubrick’s films had been custom-made. With his newly established achievement as an independent producer of, in essence, his own studio entity, that was financed by Warner Brothers and guaranteed of world wide distribution, Stanley Kubrick became the most admired filmmaker by other filmmakers in the world.