McDowell was chosen for the role of Alex after Kubrick saw him in the film if.... (1968). He also helped Kubrick on the uniform of Alex's gang, when he showed Kubrick the cricket whites he had. Kubrick asked him to put the box (jockstrap) not under but on top of the costume.
During the filming of the Ludovico technique scene, McDowell scratched a cornea, and was temporarily blinded. The doctor standing next to him in the scene, dropping saline solution into Alex's forced-open eyes, was a real physician present to prevent the actor's eyes from drying. McDowell also cracked some ribs filming the humiliation stage show. A unique special effect technique was used when Alex jumps out of the window in an attempt to commit suicide and the viewer sees the ground approaching the camera until collision, i.e., as if from Alex's point of view. This effect was achieved by dropping a Newman Sinclair clockwork camera in a box, lens-first, from the third storey of the Corus Hotel. To Kubrick's surprise, the camera survived six takes.
On the 24th of February 1971, the last day of shooting, Progress Report No. 113 has a summary of all the footage shot to date: 39,880 feet wasted, 377,090 feet exposed, 13,120 feet remain as short ends with a total of 452,960 feet used. Sound: 225,880 feet printed from 288 1/4" reel to reel tapes.
The cinematic adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (1962) was not initially planned. Screenplay writer Terry Southern gave Kubrick a copy of the novel, but, as he was developing a Napoleon Bonaparte–related project, Kubrick put it aside. Kubrick's wife, in an interview, stated she then gave him the novel after having read it. It had an immediate impact. Of his enthusiasm for it, Kubrick said, "I was excited by everything about it: the plot, the ideas, the characters, and, of course, the language. The story functions, of course, on several levels: political, sociological, philosophical, and, what's most important, on a dreamlike psychological-symbolic level." Kubrick wrote a screenplay faithful to the novel, saying, "I think whatever Burgess had to say about the story was said in the book, but I did invent a few useful narrative ideas and reshape some of the scenes." Kubrick based the script on the shortened US edition of the book, which omitted the final chapter.
Burgess had mixed feelings about the film adaptation of his novel, publicly saying he loved Malcolm McDowell and Michael Bates, and the use of music; he praised it as "brilliant", even so brilliant that it might be dangerous. Despite this enthusiasm, he was concerned that it lacked the novel's redemptive final chapter, an absence he blamed upon his American publisher and not Kubrick. All US editions of the novel prior to 1986 omitted the final chapter.
Burgess reports in his autobiography You've Had Your Time (1990) that he and Kubrick at first enjoyed a good relationship, each holding similar philosophical and political views and each very interested in literature, cinema, music, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Burgess's novel Napoleon Symphony (1974) was dedicated to Kubrick. Their relationship soured when Kubrick left Burgess to defend the film from accusations of glorifying violence. A lapsed Catholic, Burgess tried many times to explain the Christian moral points of the story to outraged Christian organisations and to defend it against newspaper accusations that it supported fascist dogma. He also went to receive awards given to Kubrick on his behalf. Despite the benefits Burgess made from the film, he was in no way involved in the production of the book's adaptation. The only profit he made directly from the film was the initial $500 that was given to him for the rights to the adaptation.
Kubrick was a perfectionist who researched meticulously, with thousands of photographs taken of potential locations, as well as many scene takes; however, per Malcolm McDowell, he usually "got it right" early on, so there were few takes. So meticulous was Kubrick that McDowell stated "If Kubrick hadn't been a film director he'd have been a General Chief of Staff of the US Forces. No matter what it is—even if it's a question of buying a shampoo it goes through him. He just likes total control." Filming took place between September 1970 and April 1971, making A Clockwork Orange the quickest film shoot in his career. Technically, to achieve and convey the fantastic, dream-like quality of the story, he filmed with extreme wide-angle lenses such as the Kinoptik Tegea 9.8mm for 35mm Arriflex cameras, and used fast- and slow motion to convey the mechanical nature of its bedroom sex scene or stylise the violence in a manner similar to Toshio Matsumoto's Funeral Parade of Roses (1969).
Nature of the society
The society depicted in the film was perceived by some as Communist (as Michel Ciment pointed out in an interview with Kubrick) due to its slight ties to Russian culture. The teenage slang has a heavily Russian influence, as in the novel; Burgess explains the slang as being, in part, intended to draw a reader into the world of the book's characters and to prevent the book from becoming outdated. There is some evidence to suggest that the society is a socialist one, or perhaps a society evolving from a failed socialism into a fully fascist society. In the novel, streets have paintings of working men in the style of Russian socialist art, and in the film, there is a mural of socialist artwork with obscenities drawn on it. As Malcolm McDowell points out on the DVD commentary, Alex's residence was shot on failed municipal architecture, and the name "Municipal Flat Block 18A, Linear North" alludes to socialist-style housing.
Later in the film, when the new right-wing government takes power, the atmosphere is certainly more authoritarian than the anarchist air of the beginning. Kubrick's response to Ciment's question remained ambiguous as to exactly what kind of society it is. Kubrick asserted that the film held comparisons between both the left and right end of the political spectrum and that there is little difference between the two. Kubrick stated, "The Minister, played by Anthony Sharp, is clearly a figure of the Right. The writer, Patrick Magee, is a lunatic of the Left... They differ only in their dogma. Their means and ends are hardly distinguishable."
A Clockwork Orange was photographed mostly on location in metropolitan London and within quick access of Kubrick's then home in Barnet Lane, Elstree.
Shooting began on 7 September 1970 with call sheet no. 1 at the Duke Of New York pub: an unused scene and the first of many unused locations. A few days later, shooting commenced in Alex's Ludovico treatment bedroom and the Serum 114 injection by Dr Branom.
New Year's Eve started with rehearsals at the Korova Milk Bar and shooting finished after four continuous days on 8 January.
The last scenes were shot in February 1971, ending with call sheet no. 113. The last main scene to be filmed was Alex's fight with Billy Boy's gang, which took six days to cover. Shooting encompassed a total of around 113 days over six months of fairly continuous shooting. As is normal practice, there was no attempt to shoot the script in chronological order.
The few scenes not shot on location were the Korova Milk Bar, the prison check-in area, Alex having a bath at F. Alexander's house, and two corresponding scenes in the hallway. These sets were built at an old factory on Bullhead Road, Borehamwood, which also served as the production office. Seven call sheets are missing from the Stanley Kubrick Archive, so some locations, such as the hallway, cannot be confirmed.
Otherwise, locations used in the film include:
- The attack on the tramp was filmed at the (since renovated) pedestrian underpass under York Road Roundabout at the southern end of Wandsworth Bridge, Wandsworth, London.
- The unused scene of the attack on the professor was shot in Friars Square shopping centre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, (then open, since covered) but dropped due to the actor dying. For the subsequent scene where the professor recognises Alex towards the latter part of the film, the tramp plays the character who recognises Alex.
- The Billyboy gang fight occurs at the then-derelict Karsino hotel on Tagg's Island, Kingston upon Thames, demolished soon after.
- Alex's apartment is on the top floor of Canterbury House tower block, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. An exterior blue plaque and mosaic at ground level commemorate the film's location.
- The record shop where Alex picks up the two young women was in the basement of the former Chelsea Drugstore, located on the corner of Royal Avenue and King's Road in Chelsea.
- The 'Menacing Car scene' where the Durango '95 forces the VW Beetle, motorcycle and Transit van off the road, were shot on Rectory Lane just south of Shenley Lodge. Driving under the lorry trailer was shot by Colney Heath on Bullens Green Lane at the crossroads of Fellowes Lane, Hertfordshire.
- The home of the writer, site of the rape and beating, was filmed at three different locations: the arrival in the "Durango 95" by the "HOME" sign was shot on the lane leading to Munden House, which is off School Lane, Bricket Wood, the house's exterior and garden with the footbridge over the pond is Milton Grundy's Japanese garden in Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire and the interior is Skybreak House in The Warren, Radlett, Hertfordshire.
- Alex throws Dim and Georgie into South Mere lake at Thamesmead South Housing Estate, London (the background block is now demolished). This is 200 yards north of where Alex walks home at night through an elevated plaza surrounded by buildings (since demolished), whistling and kicking rubbish.
- The "Duke Of New York" pub is the since-demolished "The Bottle and Dragon" pub (formerly "The Old Leather Bottle") in Stonegrove, Edgware, London.
- The Cat Lady house where Alex is caught by police is Shenley Lodge, Rectory Lane, Shenley, Hertfordshire.
- The prison's exterior is HMP Wandsworth, its interior is the Woolwich Barracks' since-demolished prison wing, Woolwich, London.
- The chapel in which Alex scrolls the lyrics as the prisoners sing is a since-demolished lecture room at St. Edward's College, Totteridge Lane, North London. The library where he read, fantasizes and then discusses the Ludovico Treatment with the priest was underneath the lecture room. The prison governor's office, where Alex signs consent for the Ludovico treatment, is on the same site (still standing).
- The two biblical fantasy scenes (Christ and the fight scene) were filmed at Dashwood Mausoleum, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
- The check-in at Ludovico Medical Clinic, the brain-washing film theatre, Alex's apartment block lobby with the broken elevator, Alex's hospital bedroom and police interrogation/beating room (since demolished) are all at Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex.
- The Minister's presentation to the media of Alex's "cure" takes place at the Nettlefold Hall inside West Norwood Library, West Norwood, London.
- Alex is attacked by vagrants underneath the north side of the Albert Bridge, Chelsea, London.
- The scene where Dim and Georgie take Alex down the country lane in the police Land Rover and subsequent water trough beating is School Lane, Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire.
- Alex's suicide bid leap and corresponding billiard room were at the old Edgwarebury Country Club, Barnet Lane, Elstree, Hertfordshire.
- The hospital in which Alex recovers is Princess Alexandra Hospital, in Harlow, Essex.
- The final sexual fantasy was shot at the since-demolished Handley Page Ltd's hangars, Radlett, Hertfordshire.
Despite Alex's obsession with Beethoven, the soundtrack contains more music by Rossini than by Beethoven. The fast-motion sex scene with the two girls, the slow-motion fight between Alex and his Droogs, the fight with Billy Boy's gang, the drive to the writer's home ("playing 'hogs of the road'"), the invasion of the Cat Lady's home, and the scene where Alex looks into the river and contemplates suicide before being approached by the beggar are all accompanied by Rossini's music.