To see how The Wild Bunch or the also X-rated Midnight Cowboy scored in places like Louisville and Columbus, Kubrick and his team compiled the data was charted each week from the back issues ofVariety to decipher which cinemas would serve A Clockwork Orange best. Kubrick's office painstakingly assembled ledgers filled with the numbers from each cinema in each city and made their choices. Kubrick then unraveled a city-by-city release strategy that dumbfounded even the executives of Warner Bros. After word got out, their coup spawned the modern box-office report.
Perhaps the most infuriating AFI designation is of Alex, the film's famous main character played by Malcolm McDowell, as No. 12 on the AFI Top 50 villains list, one spot ahead of Kubrick's Hal 9000 from2001: A Space Odyssey and just behind Michael Corleone from The Godfather Part II. (For those seeking connected bits of trivia to scare away potential mates at bars, David Prowse, who plays the minor character Julian in A Clockwork Orange, was also the body of Darth Vader,the #3 villain on the list.) While the Alex of Burgess's novel is a cruel sadist, many would dispute that Kubrick's Alex, in an irredeemable society with no other likable characters, is a villain at all.
Stuart McDougal, a retired professor and the editor of a book of essays about the film, argues, argues that as Kubrick presents Alex from the first person point-of-view, a bond is forged between the character and the audience. Costumes and wide-angle lenses act as physical distortions, making the violence highly stylized and more distant for a viewer.
"Kubrick always forces us to experience things a different way," McDougal adds.
Using a Moog synthesizer (a new technology at the time), famous pieces of classical music from the likes of Beethoven and Rossini become addled as they sound out during scenes that feature Nazi propaganda footage and choreographed gang violence. This tactic of defamiliarization creates one of film's most memorable moments:
"Consider the scene in which Alex and his crew beat up the writer Alexander and rape his wife, set to the tune of 'Singing in the Rain,'" says Liel Leibovitz, a visiting assistant professor of communications at New York University. "The scene, with its dancing and acrobatics, looks every bit like a big show-stopping number from a classic Hollywood musical, the sole difference being the unspeakable nature of the acts committed in front of our eyes."
Between the humor, the aestheticized violence, and the innovative use of music, A Clockwork Orange offered up a host of techniques that have been plundered ever since. But despite so many gruesome acts, Kubrick makes it possible to see Alex's impulses in a way that's less reflective of Hannibal Lecter (No. 1 in AFI evil) than the villains who were villains because of their very nature: the Shark in Jaws (No. 18), the Martians in War of the Worlds (No. 27), and a personal favorite, Man in Bambi (No. 20). As brutally unfamiliar as Alex's world was made to seem, somehow it still cosmically linked to ours.