Designing For The Future: A Clockwork Orange

Designing For The Future: A Clockwork Orange

Mark Chamberlain
Nov 3, 2009

I first saw Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange when I was in high school and found it to be extremely subversive and most enjoyably provocative then — and have seen it in eight-year intervals since. Based on the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, it was filmed in 1971 and set in the near future. The decline-of-civilization narrative becomes tamer to these now-weary eyes upon each new viewing, though formally I'm still intrigued by the film's design, and what elements are used to convey the future.

In order to convey the future in set design, one must capture not only newness or "the moment," but in a way, the opposite of the moment, or the opposite of what's happening now to suggest another period in time. I remember thinking upon viewing this film in the early 80s that the futuristic writer's house couldn't possibly exist because now, in my limited teenaged slacker vision, I'd never seen anything like it before. Now I realize, in hindsight, that this sort of architecture and décor was de rigueur at the time and published widely in magazines such as L'Oeil and Domus ca. 1970. Indeed, according to production notes, Kubrik only needed to construct one set, the rest were extant structures. Let me run through a few of my notes.

If I had to guess, that one set might have been the Milk Bar — a place where toadies of Malcolm MacDowell take milk laced with narcotics as an alternate to liqueur. This set is painted black but is still stylish — certainly there were bars and pubs painted black ca. 1970, but this upscale?

Another thing — what telegraphs "the future" more than lilac, or purple? It's just hardly ever done unless it's Art Deco or grandma's bath; therefore when used, it must be another period in time.

Next we see various foil wallpapers. Shiny chrome definitely indicates "future" though the 30/60 degree angles on that reticulate pattern go back to ancient Rome.

This isn't a color note, but this was the first time I saw clean, modern, new architecture so thoroughly filthy and debased, as in the lobby of Alex's apartment building — must be old to them. Also, it must be noted, the liberal use of erotic art suggests a time in the future when things are perhaps a bit more acceptable or less shocking.

Lastly, how about that green ceiling in the Yoga Lady's stretch room, and in the color moss? I wonder if this is a counterpoint to the late Mid-Century Harvest Gold and Avocado trend. Anything would be more contemporary then that….

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

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