Kubrick was a perfectionist, and his dedication to achieving just the right image, keeping to a low budget, and portraying violence artistically made A Clockwork Orange a classic. Kubrick was known to reshoot scenes scores of times, which was often difficult for those who worked with him. However, many of the actors he directed have praised his ability to bring out of them a unique expressiveness. Kubrick began his career as a photographer, and he made himself famous both for his distinctive aesthetic vision and for his technical skill in realizing that vision. His ability did not come only from technical mastery but also from technical creativity. For example, when Kubrick wanted to capture the physical feeling of Alex’s fall from the window during his suicide attempt, he wrapped a camera in Styrofoam boxes and threw it out the window. He threw it out the window six times, until he achieved the effect he wanted.
Kubrick made A Clockwork Orange on a budget of just $2 million, which is very small for a major feature film. He shot much of the film on location to avoid building sets, and he avoided using expensive lighting by shooting many of the scenes with natural light. Similarly, Kubrick determined that handheld cameras should be used for much of the film. This choice was not just a budgetary decision but also an aesthetic one. Kubrick shot the famous “Singin’ in the Rain” rape scene, for instance, with a handheld camera. The handheld camera provides an intimacy that intensifies the savagery of the scene. Also, the visual disorientation we experience as the camera switches perspective increases our own sense of disorientation. Sometimes we see the action from the victim’s vantage point, while at other points we see it through Alex’s eyes.
Violence is at the center of A Clockwork Orange, and it is easy to see Kubrick’s signature on these scenes. He distorted and stylized the violent actions, creating an artistic detachment from the violence that seems to match Alex’s own detachment. For example, early in the film, Alex’s gang fights a rival gang. They meet in an abandoned theater, once a model of classical splendor, now utterly run down. Appropriate to the setting, Kubrick set the fight to soaring classical music. The characters engage in bloody battle, but as the camera pans in and out, offering close-ups and panoramic views of the action, Kubrick has his actors move in ways that make the action look more like acrobatics or ballet than a gang fight.
In scene after scene, Kubrick directs images of violence in a similarly artistic way. Alex prepares to rape Mrs. Alexander while singing “Singin’ in the Rain” and doing a soft-shoe. When Alex beats up his two Droogs, Dim and Georgie, Kubrick once again sets the fight to classical music, and this time he slows down the motion. The actors’ physical gestures become so exaggerated in this slow-motion scene that the fight again looks like a dance. The exceptions to these artistically rendered scenes are the scenes in which policemen beat Alex. There, Kubrick uses no music, and the blood flows, suggesting that the police are simply brutal thugs, not artists working in the medium of violence. Kubrick uses his directorial vision to offer us an experience of violence as Alex would have experienced it.