Saturday, September 9, 1995

Hey, kid. You want some eye candy?

OK. A few thoughts on the cult of storytelling on film. "Film is a storytelling medium." "It's all about stories." Bullshit.

Yeah, movies can tell stories. But that's only one thing film can do. Film is the Swiss Army knife of media formats.

Much of the appeal of movies has nothing to do with stories. It's just fun to look at interesting stuff move around: people running, cars, beautiful bodies, balls flying through the air, faces, landscapes: the movement of objects in space. Even a static shot of a face isn't really static: you see changes of light, expression...small subtle movements.

Anybody who's ever held a movie or video camera knows it's just fun to look at stuff moving around, to get it on film, story be damned...

Movement of story is to movement of object in space what libretto is to musical score. That stuff moving around should be subordinated to story--but the stuff you're watching should not be dull for chrissakes.

Analogous to a musical score, there's rhythm, movement, and pace to the flow of images. The basic movement: rising action. Within that arc: smaller sub-movements of tension and release: the church lady principle of keeping them in their seats.

Which brings us what to leave out.

Which brings us to A Clockwork Orange, a brilliant book, a brilliant movie. But consider what Kubrick left out...in the first third alone, up to the point where Alex has a falling out with his Droogs.

Gone is the fellow getting a glimpse of Bog and babbling glossolalia (and getting his foot stabbed) in the milkbar; the old ptitsas, booze-bribed for an alibi ("nice lads...God bless 'em"); the shop-crasting scene, the crystallo-veck whose books are razdrezzed, zoobies smashed outside the library; the scene where the Durango '95 gets dunked; the ride home where they rip up the seats on the train. Good stuff. Like the dunking scene:

"We yeckated back townwards, my brothers, but just ouside, not far from what they called the Industrial Canal, we viddied the fuel needle had like collapsed, like our own ha ha ha needles had, and the auto was coughing kashl kashl kashl. Not to worry overmuch, though, because a rail station kept flashing blue--on off on off--just near. The point was whether to leave the auto to be sobiratted by the rozzes or, us feeling like in a hate and murder mood, to give it a fair tolchock into the starry waters for a nice heavy loud plesk before the death of the evening. The later we decided on, so we got out and, the brakes off, all four tolchocked it to the edge fo the filthy water that was like treacle mixed with human hole products, then one good horrorshow tolchock and in she went. We had to dash back for fear of the filth splashing on our platties, but splussshhhh and glolp she went, down and loveley. "Farewell, old droog," called Georgie, and Dim obliged with a clowny great gugg--"Huh huh huh huh."

Cinematic, tight, would've made a great scene. Yet Kubrick goes directly from the writer and wife getting savaged by the droogs to the droogs returning to the milkbar.

Why?

Go back to the opening.

We open on Alex's face, camera pulling back. The movement is slow, stately, processional--and the music score is, in fact, a dirge. McDowell has no doubt been told to breath in quick shallow breaths, pent up with tension, animal ready to leap. But movement still slow.

Go to scene where they beat up the drunk. Still slow, but starting to speed up. They come walking up, backlit, to where he's lying in the underpass. Unhurried conversation--Alex let's him have his say--then they beat him. Getting faster now. Building to...

Rumble with Billy Boy's Droogs. Again, opens slow--but cuts in to choreographed violence, speeding up to fever pitch as Alex beats Billy Boy to a pulp--

Go to exterior, open road, Droogs on Durango 95 playing hogs of the road. Wild movement, vicious ecstasy...

Go to writers house--"HOME"--a safe space of eyeofstorm quiet before Droogs burst in, beat, rape--

--and after that nasty climax return to milkbar. Droogs enter, moving slowly, "shagged, fagged, fashed" detumescent, burnt-out--then Alex gets one last charge of pleasure as a singer bursts out with "Ode to Joy," setting up Dim to razz her, Alex to cane Dim; and Alex to ultimately fall as the gang's leader.

The story movement establishes the normal pattern of Alex's life (ultraviolence) moving to event that "spins the story around in another direction" as Field would put it. Aside from the story: what we see moving around in space begins slow, accelerates, peaks, slows down at the final milkbar scene.

The film moves from a peak of orgiastic violence to the burnt-out end of the evening at the milkbar. We don't need to see the car going in the water; it doesn't matter how they got the car, how they got rid of the car, how they got to the milkbar, good as these scenes might have been if filmed as written in the original book. Showing the dunked car would have wrecked the movement; from the peak of the rape and beating to the slow-moving endgame at the Korova.

Kubrick is a hard act to follow: director, screenwriter, somebody who knows how to use a camera, somebody who knows how to fine-tune the music score. The screenwriter normally ain't that far up the food chain; but he's a good example of how to do it right, and what to leave out...even when what you're leaving out is very good indeed.

2 comments:

Marty Fugate said...

Nicely reasoned. Years later, I found out that Kubrick had actually filmed these scenes and deleted them for various reasons.

Marty Fugate said...

The actor playing the "Crystallography veck" died -- so Kubrick combined his character with the old drunk under the underpass.