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An in-depth analysis of the use of classical music in A Clockwork Orange

11.07.2016


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The film starts with the Msiuc fro eth uneFrla fo eneuQ aMyr, as an antithesis of order, harmony, and tranquility that permeates every corner of society. In A Clockwork Orange, there are many issues to be discussed and tackled with such as violence, sex, order, primitiveness, panopticon and panopticism, Foucault, society, politics, perception in general, and knowledge-power relations. Stanley Kubrick, using cinematography at its very heights, presents us with a work of art that not only incorporates these ideas into a two dimensional way of expression, but also adds it a third and even a fourth dimension using classical music (both the original and the synthesized versions). To be as clear as possible I would like to explain my way of analysis of the use of classical music in A Clockwork Orange: I will give a summary of the film mainly based on what piece of classical music is used where and for how long (in terms of events that take place during the course of the music), while doing that I will present a short account of what Foucault established in his works that I think has clear connections to the film and in the meanwhile I will be explaining the reasons why the uses of Henry Purcell, Ludwig van Beethoven, Gioachino Rossini, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Edward Elgar’s music adds another dimension to the film while still supporting the film’s governing idea: a society of control versus a society of freedom.
 

The film opens with Wendy Carlos’ synthesizer version of Henry Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (Purcell is a leitmotiv for an omniscient perspective of Alex), after the opening titles, we see Alex staring right into the camera with fake eyelashes on one of his eyes while Purcell’s piece sets the tone. Alex’s fake eyelashes represent his troubled perception and the question governing the film: “a free society likely to commit crimes or a controlled society free of crime?” The camera pans out into the Korova Milk Bar where there are white plastic milk machines in the shape of a naked woman posing seductively. The milk comes out of their breasts, and there are certain drugs in it. Quite Shakespeare-like, Alex – who is also the narrator – uses made up words to introduce us to his “droogs”. There are four of them including Alex, and they are all in white clothes. So far, we are seeing and hearing arbitrary and extraordinary things and words, a total challenging of concepts of normality, order, language (therefore perception) and society. This distorted language and setting meets perfectly with the synthesizer version of Purcell – the distortion of harmony, melody and order. The narrator tells the audience that the kind of drugged milk they drink gives them the energy they need for the good old “ultraviolence”. By ultraviolence, Alex means rape and violence, which he and his “droogies” are so fond of. This power to commit acts of violence comes from the breasts of a woman (like a mother figure), but both the milk (drug) and the mother figure (nude, posing seductively) is tainted just like the way something just as pure as classical music is tainted with a synthesizer.
 

They find a big house called “HOME”, and decide to have some of that ultraviolence. In the house, there is a man and a woman. The man is a writer; he is typing something on his typewriter, in the background there are shelves and shelves of books towering up. The woman is reading a book. The house is very neat. Therefore, it is safe to say that this house as a whole, including the two people in it, represents sophistication, knowledge and order. Alex rings the doorbell: Beethoven’s 5th symphony’s first four notes announce that something menacing is about to happen (Beethoven serves as a leitmotiv for Alex’s innate violent and unchained nature). They lie their way into the house, beat up the old man, tie him up and make him watch as Alex rapes his wife. At that exact moment the synthesizer version of Purcell starts playing non-diegetically. Alex, raping the woman and making her husband watch, represents the tainted nature of human kind and the release of what makes a person human deep down, violence and sex. And the distorted version of Purcell simply fits right into that notion of disorder, and the rotten nature of humanity. As Purcell continues, they are back at the Korova Milk Bar, sitting down side-by-side, drinking drugged milk. Our narrator jumps in and brings our focus to the people sitting across Alex and his gang: they are dressed up and look out-of-place with their bowties and suits while the rest of the customers of the bar are in whites. Among them there is a woman who starts singing a small section of Beethoven’s famous 9th Symphony (at that exact moment, Purcell stops playing).
 

When the lady stops singing, Dim (a member of Alex’s gang) makes an unintelligible sound to make fun of the woman. As soon as Alex hears Dim, he hits Dim in the crotch. At that exact moment, Purcell’s synthesized version starts playing again. Violence and disorder are represented by the distortion of classical music. This incident where Alex tries to control the action of one of his droogs with violence distances the rest of the group members away from Alex. After that scene, Purcell does not actually end, but we see Alex walking back home whistling the melody of the Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary. As he enters the apartment building, a different synthesizer version of Purcell is heard while Alex still whistles along. And as soon as that different version is heard, the camera turns to an art piece where there are penises drawn or scratched on nearly every depiction of man, and there are many other drawings on the actual art piece that make fun of the painting. This childish mocking and degrading of art is also the continuity of disorder, violence and sex motives of the film. In this case, Purcell’s different synthesizer version somewhat refers more to the disruption of art and perception, and not mainly to physical violence and rape. Purcell is the holistic account of the film.
 

Purcell keeps on playing until Alex gets into his room and later on decides to play ‘Ludwig van’s 9th Symphony. This scene is kind of the summary of the film, filled with heavy symbolisms. Alex, a person of disorderly conduct, has a room surprisingly tidy and orderly. Since he lives with his parents, they act as the authority factor, and under their untold and implied influence, Alex keeps his room clean and tidy. This contrasting duality existing in the house is represented by the technological (modern age) influence on a classical music piece (Purcell) still playing non-diegetically. Alex’s parents disrupt his innate nature in the same way as a synthesizer distorts Purcell. However, the synthesizer version does not only act as a representation of this duality, but also touches upon Alex’s violence and distaste of society’s boundaries: one of Alex’s drawers under his bed is full of wristwatches and money, there is also one camera and a video recorder (things he stole). Alex, the Antichrist, is there to rip away two main pillars of a society: time and money / order and the outcome of the order. The camera and the video recorder represent society’s vile attempt at saving the moment and not living in it as Alex does, so he rips them off of that as well. Just the way Wendy Carlos distorts the melody and the sound of the original piece, taking away what makes classical music classical, and imposes her own style, Alex tries to reshape society by taking away two of the three things that make a society society. The third and last pillar of society is destroyed by him in his very privacy (room) as well: religion. There are four Jesus figures (nailed and wounded, bleeding with the crown of thorns on their heads), but unlike the official depiction, they are shoulder to shoulder with their right arms raised as if they are protesting against something. This particular scene can be interpreted like this:
 

Since Alex is the antithesis of society and now we are invited into his privacy, he now lets his deepest and darkest desires surface. When we couple Alex’s detest of society and the mocking of Christianity, this scene is Kubrick’s criticism of religion which hinders protest and favors obedience to its rules – Karl Marx’s famous quote somehow supports this idea: “Religion is the opium of the people.” (McKinnon, 2005: 15) Since Purcell plays throughout our observation of the room until Alex puts on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and invites us into his very own perspective, this duality of protest and Jesus perfectly fits in with the distortion of Purcell’s piece.


As for the part where Alex puts on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Beethoven being the only composer he relates to, he later on enters an orgasmic state of mind. Before we are able to see him in that climactic state, the camera turns to a bark of a tree hanging on the wall like a piece of art with Alex’s snake on it, and the snake slithers at the genitals of a simple and artistic depiction of a woman spreading her legs and buttocks on another wall (the first sin, Adam and Eve). Right after that image, we see close-ups of those four Jesus figures. Since Purcell plays when Alex speaks to us as a narrator, non-diegetically, and only when he whistles to it alone, Purcell is our perception of Alex’s innate nature, while Beethoven is almost always diegetic. Therefore, Beethoven is Alex’s confronting and meeting his own nature, his first sin. The challenging of society we saw in Alex’s room while Purcell played is now shown to us through Alex’s perspective as Beethoven plays diegetically. To support this claim, it is enough to look at what follows next as Alex listens to Beethoven: the things he imagines while he listens to Beethoven in a climactic state. While he looks at Beethoven’s portrait hysterically, he envisions a woman in whites being hanged and looks at her from down under, a bloodthirsty vampire as himself, a bomb explosion, a train crash, rocks falling on primitive humans, and flames: all destructive forces. His state is almost as if he is high on drugs which bring out the worst in him. And in his case, the drug in him is Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. His descend from that high is not until he sees Mr. Deltoid the next morning. But the lasting effect of that high is presented with Beethoven’s 9th still playing non-diegetically the next morning. One more important aspect of that particular scene is when he exists his room. The door lock is a combination lock which is usually used for locking up one’s most valuable assets. As soon as he unlocks the door and leaves his room, we see Beethoven’s portrait staring right at us: what Beethoven represents for him, as I have established above, is his deepest and darkest desires and his first sin; therefore, Beethoven is used for representing his perspective of the world. And the fact that his room has such a lock shows Alex’s distaste of authority (his parents) and his way of avoiding that power from influencing him any further.


Alex goes to a music market of some sort while we hear the synthesizer version of Ode to Joy non-diegetically, but Alex is dressed up as if he were to attend a classical music concert in a time when the actual music was composed – the first time we see Alex wearing something else than his usual white outfit. Therefore, it is safe to say that although Beethoven is non-diegetic for the second and last time, we again see the immense effect it has left on him and his appearance. His sexual tendencies is again portrayed (1) unnoticeably and (2) obviously in this scene:
(1) (http://www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/2006/04/13/alex-in-the-chelsea-drug-store/)

 


This is the actual volume of the magazine Alex picks up, shuffles a few pages and puts away. CinemaX only features stills of nude scenes in current films. Even Alex’s random-looking choice of a magazine is about sex. This is the unnoticeable portrayal of his sexual tendencies.

(2) He meets two women licking popsicles (one of the popsicles looks like a half-erected penis while the other one looks like a fully erected penis). The synthesizer version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy still plays in the background and though he is shuffling a record rack, Alex does not even pay attention to the records while he is talking to them. This is the overt portrayal of his sexual desires.


The only music that governs this scene is Beethoven and all that Alex thinks about is having sex. Still under the heavy influence of Beethoven, his animal-like-instinct of having sex kicks in. Alex invites them back to his house where they have sex (fast-forwarded) listening to the sped up synthesized version of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell’s overture’s last part. In the entirety of the film, Alex never commits acts of violence or rape or extreme sexuality while Beethoven plays, instead he somehow imagines them in his head, plans them like the way he envisioned those images in his room. The way the Guillaume Tell’s overture fits the scene is almost like a music video. About this scene Kubrick said, “It seemed to me a good way to satirize what had become the fairly common use of slow-motion to solemnize this sort of thing, and turn it into ‘art’. The [Guillaume] Tell’s Overture also seemed a good musical joke to counter the standard Bach accompaniment.” (McDougal, 2003: 125) The Guillaume Tell’s overture ends when Alex meets with his gang. He and his droogs take a walk near a body of water together and Rossini’s La gazza ladra’s overture starts playing diegetically. Being fed up with their disobedience, Alex fights his droogs, throws them into that body of water and cuts Dim’s hand to teach them a lesson. Here, just like the way Kubrick used the Guillaume Tell’s overture, Rossini’s La gazza ladra’s overture accompanies the act of violence.


(La gazza ladra’s overture is still heard non-diegetically, accompanying the incoming act of violence) They decide to rob a health farm, which only an old cat lady is looking after at the time. Alex tries to lie his way in as he did when they penetrated “HOME”, but the cat lady does not open the door. Alex forcefully penetrates the house from an open window (trespassing = penetration of private property = rape) and enters the room where the old lady practices yoga. In that room, sex and violence is described in various forms of art ranging from a statue to paintings. There are paintings depicting bondage and women with cut off body parts. The lady owns many cats/pussies (which is also a centuries-old innuendo for women and vagina). There is a white statue representing sex. Alex notices it and as he attempts to touch it, the cat lady warns him not to for it is an important piece of art. Alex (sex through a more primitive/involved perspective) and the cat lady (sex through a more sophisticated/distanced perspective) fight each other; Alex uses a statue in the shape of a penis with the shape of an ass replacing testicles as a weapon (the aforementioned statue), and the cat lady uses a small bust of Ludwig van Beethoven as a weapon. This fight scene symbolizes the fight between philistinism or the very core of humane actions (sex and violence = using an art piece in the shape of an ass-penis as a weapon) and knowledge or sophistication (Beethoven’s bust). The cat lady eventually hits Alex with the bust, Alex gets up, knocks the cat lady down on the floor on her back, lifts the penis-ass penis side facing the lady to hit her, and just as he is about to hit her she opens her mouth to scream and it looks as if she is being raped (oral rape; she also dies). The cat lady’s hitting Alex in the head with Beethoven’s bust results in her being metaphorically raped and actually killed. In another words, Beethoven gets into Alex’s head and results in sex and violence as they are what Beethoven connotes for Alex. Hearing the police sirens, Alex makes his way out of the house, meets with his droogs, tells them to run, but Dim hits him with a full milk bottle in the face. They run off, leaving Alex behind. The police arrive and then La gazza ladra ends with the scene.


From that point onwards, Alex is arrested, and put into jail for fourteen years’ time (while showing the prison from an above panning shot, the Guillaume Tell’s overture – an opera glorifying a revolutionary figure who goes against authority – starts playing non-diegetically, announcing his imprisonment and instilling sadness into the audience in order to establish sympathy while the context of the opera sets a different tone). Things get really interesting here. To better illustrate the points I will be making about Alex’s imprisonment, below there are two images: Image 1.1 is of the panning shot of the prison Alex is confined to, Image 1.2 is an example of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon.



 


According to Encyclopædia Britannica Online: Panopticon is an “architectural form for a prison, the drawings for which were published by Jeremy Bentham in 1791. It consisted of a circular, glass-roofed, tanklike structure with cells along the external wall facing toward a central rotunda; guards stationed in the rotunda could keep all the inmates in the surrounding cells under constant surveillance.” (2016)


When one observes Image 1.1, the cellblocks are stationed to have some sort of a surveillance tower right in the middle just like the surveillance tower in Image 1.2. Michel Foucault took Bentham’s idea and metaphorically applied it to modern societies’ inclination to observe and normalize the unfit in his book titled Discipline and Punish which was published in 1975 – four years after the release of A Clockwork Orange. According to Foucault, “Knowledge linked to power, not only assumes the authority of 'the truth' but has the power to make itself true.” (Foucault, 1995: 27) In Alex’s case, a society driven by the knowledge that violence is to be corrected (which is dictated by the state) makes it true that what Alex has done is to be punished according to the law. Additionally, Foucault argues that the constant surveillance of the society finally gets internalized by the observed and after a certain threshold, the observed becomes his own apparatus of surveillance (Foucault, 1995). During his stay in prison, Alex starts reading the Bible and imagines himself whipping Jesus while Jesus carries his cross on his back (at that moment Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade: the Sea and Sinbad’s Ship starts playing) and then he imagines naked women feeding him black grapes in a very orientalist fashion while Scheherazade: the Story of the Kalandar Prince starts playing. His imagination and the music is cut off by the priest. I think the use of Scheherazade in this scene was Kubrick’s way of portraying a dream-like sequence, and the melody fits it perfectly. Alex talks to the priest about a new treatment called the Ludovico Treatment which is a form of aversion therapy and he tells the priest that he wants to get treated with that new technique. What Foucault said about the internalization of surveillance by the observed and Alex’s eagerness to be treated fits perfectly together. One day when the Minister of the Interior of England visits the prison and does an inspection, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 starts playing, which Kubrick’s mocking of England’s authority. When they inspect Alex’s cell, we see a similar bust of Beethoven that the cat lady used to hit Alex, but this one is white while the one the cat lady used was black. Alex mixes the color of the ass-penis art piece with Beethoven’s bust. His eagerness to be treated is also presented here by the forced transition of his violent and dangerous sexual tendencies into Beethoven. Alex gets chosen for the Ludovico Treatment and as he enters the treatment facility, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 starts playing and stops when Alex goes into his designated room, still as a criticism of England and its branches of authority. During the course of this treatment, Alex is given a stimulant drug which puts him into a paralysis-like state as he watches various films depicting violence and rape. In one of the films where they show Hitler’s army and the concentration camps, synthesizer version of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony 4th Movement plays as background music diegetically. Alex then begs them to stop the treatment saying “It’s a sin! He did no harm to anyone! Beethoven just wrote music!” As for the question of “how are Foucault’s ideas related to the use of classical music in these scenes,” let me explain:


The answer to that question surfaces at this very moment where Alex begs them to stop playing Beethoven. First of all, I will dissect the symbolisms used during his imprisonment. The prison and the Ludivico Treatment Facility represent the society constantly observing and holding the observed under perpetual surveillance. Alex – the unfit, the Antichrist, the antithesis of society – reaches the threshold Foucault argued that would eventually make the observed internalize his own surveillance. As I have established above, Beethoven represents the deepest and darkest reaches of Alex’s human nature, and since his nature is what makes him unfit, the treatment is focused on changing that. He becomes aware of Foucault’s threshold which he is about to pass and begs them not to rip him away from his own self. The doctors and the Minister of the Interior represent knowledge linked to power, which entailed panopticon in the first place by imposing truth and preying on societies’ inclination to normalize and observe. During the course of the film, Alex hears the distorted version of the 9th Symphony for the first time ever while looking at some clips from Hitler’s campaigns and concentration camps. He is now about to become the observer of himself as they alter his very own pillars of humanity (= distorted Beethoven). And the fact that the Guillaume Tell – which is about a man opposing authority – was played as Alex first went to prison represents the oppression of revolt.


After the treatment, whenever Alex tries to commit an act of violence (including rape), he gets so sick that he wants to die. As a complication of this treatment, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony has the same effect on him, so he cannot listen to the one composer he loves and relates to the most.


When the treatment is over, to show the results of the treatment, the doctors and the Minister of the Interior does a presentation of Alex. While delivering the opening speech, the last thing the Minister of the Interior says with great emphasis is “Observe all.” (panopticism). First, with a theatrical musical accompaniment in the background (non-diegetic) a man mocks him, hits him, and makes Alex lick the sole of his shoe and Alex feels sick. Alex speaks to us as a narrator right before the Minister of the Interior lets the male performer go. Secondly a women wearing only her underpants appears on stage and right at that moment the synthesized version of Purcell starts playing non-diegetically. The reason why Purcell plays is not because it is related to sex only, but because Alex the narrator tells us about what he desires to do to that woman. When he tries to reach for her breasts, he gets sick. Here are his exact words defining that feeling of sickness: “But quick as a shock came the sickness like a detective that had been watching around the corner and now followed to make his arrest.” When we juxtapose what the Minister of the Interior said at the end of his opening speech, what Alex said while describing his sickness, and how Foucault tackled with the issues of power, knowledge and surveillance, Alex’s hearing the distorted version of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony fits right in, and the fact that Purcell is the omniscient leitmotiv for our confrontation of Alex is strengthened.


When Alex returns home, he finds out that another man has moved into his room, that his snake has died, that his personal belongings are sold, and that his parents do not want him in the house anymore. As he is saddened by this situation, the Guillaume Tell’s overture starts playing non-diegetically (the beginning of Guillaume Tell’s overture was only played once with the panning shot of the prison). The oppression of revolt is again strengthened as he is distanced away from even his own parents who were deeply affected by the collective perception governing the society. He then runs off, gets beaten by the drunkard they beat in the first few minutes of the film and then he is saved by two police officers: Dim and Georgie. Right as he notices them, the distorted version of Purcell starts playing non-diegetically. In the following scene where Dim and Georgie take him to a secluded area, Dim tries to drown him while Georgie hits Alex with his truncheon. However, unlike any other scene in the film where Purcell plays, the music is affected by each blow of the truncheon. This is a clever portrayal of Alex’s weakened/eradicated innate nature. Since Purcell, as I have established above, is our/the omniscient perception of Alex, we are allowed to be affected by each blow now that Alex is more like us, the general public, the audience. He is crushed under the truncheon of authority as we are to be crushed as well.


Alex survives the beating and goes back to “HOME”. He is so exhausted that he does not even recognize the sign and rings the doorbell: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, same notes, still menacing. The writer (Mr. Alexander) whom Alex beat up is now crippled and is confined to a wheelchair, his wife is dead. Alex takes a shower and gets a good rest. Afterwards, he sits down to eat some spaghetti, Mr. Alexander comes in and drugs Alex. The people who are supposed to help him, ring the doorbell (Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, same notes, still menacing) and come in. Mr. Alexander works with a party which is protesting against this Ludovico Treatment and criticizing the current government for this inhumane technique. Their plan is to make him commit suicide so that the party can use Alex’s suicide as an excuse for replacing the current government in the upcoming elections. They lock Alex up in an upstairs room, and blast off the synthesized version of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony from downstairs (diegetic). Now that Alex is ripped away from his very humanity (Beethoven), Beethoven becomes a weapon to be used against Alex (the cat lady’s using Beethoven’s bust as a weapon could easily be interpreted as a foreshadowing). The fact that they are playing a synthesized version represents the corrupt nature of the party – they are protesting against inhumane actions while sacrificing Alex to achieve their goal of ruling the country. Alex cannot stand it and decides to end his life (panopticon), so he jumps off the window and as he hits the ground the scene and the music end altogether.


He survives the jump and wakes up from a coma in the hospital. On the screen the audience (we) is presented with newspaper clippings of Alex, accusations of government officials (the Minister of the Interior), and headlines such as “GOVERNMENT IS MURDER”, while the synthesized version of Purcell (with a happier tone) accompanies them. While Purcell still continues, Alex wakes up to see his parents bearing gifts, visiting him and apologizing. The happier tone of Purcell switches a little bit towards the original tone when Alex sees his parents. Just the way Purcell was affected by the truncheon blows, it is now affected by the current situation and we are again invited into the omniscient perception of Alex. His perception of the world is a little muddied somehow. The changes in Purcell show us that Alex has again been changed. And when the psychologist comes in to do a test on him, Alex asks a very specific question about his dreams. According to Alex, since he jumped from that window he has been having dreams in which doctors meddle with his “gulliver” (brain). The momentary cold and shocked look on the psychologist’s face gives away everything, and we figure out that Alex has again been subjected to a different treatment, which was foreshadowed by the changes in Purcell. When the Minister of the Interior visit him, he almost recites a practiced speech and leads Alex towards where he wants: to bow down to power. Alex agrees to his terms and as a token of their friendship, the Minister of the Interior brings in ginormous speakers blasting off the finale of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (not synthesized). Alex smiles for the cameras and poses with “Frederick”, but in less than a minute he ventures into his own imagination where he envisions raping a girl (both of them naked) on snow while a society of order and sophistication applauds him. This shows that how knowledge linked to power can create new truths because that vision is a foreshadowing of events that will take place: Alex will be victimized and his crimes will be forgotten, he will be cheered on while the ruling party (instead of the opposition) still uses him as a tool of control for their power.

Ş. Özümcan Akın

 

Works Cited

A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. By Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, and Michael Bates. Warner Bros., 1971. DVD.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage, 1995. 27. Print.

McDougal, Stuart Y. Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 125. Google Books. Google Inc. Web. 21 May 2016. .

"panopticon". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 19 May. 2016
<http://global.britannica.com/technology/panopticon>.

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