“Don’t touch it, it’s a very important work of art”: The story of Rocking Machine – the phallic sculpture in A Clockwork Orange

“Don’t touch it, it’s a very important work of art”: The story of Rocking Machine – the phallic sculpture in A Clockwork Orange

Over half a century on, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange remains a source of controversy and discussion despite being largely embargoed for nearly three of those five decades. The hyper-stylised film sets and memorable props tell an equally provocative story. Here we delve into the story of how a shiny white phallic sculpture called Rocking Machine by Herman Makkink became head droog Alex’s chance weapon or murder.

Malcolm McDowell at Alex with Rocking Machine in A Clockwork Orange
Malcolm McDowell at Alex with Rocking Machine in A Clockwork Orange

Set in a near-future Britain and based on the book of the same name by Anthony Burgess, this 1971 film is exaggerated, electrifying and exuberant at every turn: With an unforgettable villain-antihero in the form of Alex DeLarge played by Malcolm McDowell; retro futuristic furniture; vivid costumes; distinctive music by transgender composer Walter (later Wendy) Carlos; unusual use of language; and a huge rocking fibreglass shaft merged with a pair of buttocks.

We first clap our eyes on Rocking Machine when Alex and his gang of droogs descend upon the grand Woodmere Health Farm home of a yoga-loving ‘Catlady’ (Ms Weathers, played by the husky-voiced Miriam Karlin). Georgie Boy explains in the voice over, “It’s this Health Farm. A bit out of the town. Isolated. It’s owned by this like very rich ptitsa who lives there with her cats. The place is shut down for a week and she’s completely on her own, and it’s full up with like gold and silver and like jewels”. They cannot resist the urge to check it out.

We find Ms Weathers practicing yoga in a green leotard and white tights in a large room filled with bold, highly sexual, pop art paintings by Cornelius Makkink, some exercise equipment, a green painted ceiling and a surreal number of white and black cats.

a clockwork orange filmsets catladys house
Catlady practising yoga in A Clockwork Orange

On Catlady’s desk, to the right of a tall gym wall ladder, we see three fascinating white table lamps with tulip bases and multiple bulbs in a tree-like formation, and to the side – a tall spiral of bulbs forming a larger lamp. Large round bulbs are a theme throughout A Clockwork Orange: We also see them in the Korova Milk Bar, in ‘the writer’ Mr Alexander’s home and in Alex’s bedroom in his parents’ flat. 

Alex is greeted by a Herman Makkink scupture when he enters Catlady's exercise room in A Clockwork Orange
Alex is greeted by a Herman Makkink sculpture when he enters Catlady’s exercise room in A Clockwork Orange

There are many sexual references in the film and perhaps these set decoration pieces were chosen to represent breasts or bulbous phalluses. In fact there are many film props used in a Clockwork Orange that protrude or extrude: Alex’s mask, the droogs’ cod pieces, the bulb lamps, Alex’s pointy bedspread, and so on. The largest and most obvious bulbous object however, is the Rocking Machine sculpture by Herman Makkink, which sits proudly on Catlady’s antique wooden console.

Read on to discover how Rocking Machine came to be in A Clockwork Orange and watch our video below to learn more about the man behind this notable sculpture:-

Alex and Catlady’s altercation

After Alex has broken into Catlady’s house, he enters her yoga room and goes to touch the phallic sculpture to which Catlady shouts, “don’t touch it, it’s a very important work of art”. Alex ignores her and goes ahead and rocks the phallus which jerks forwards and backwards. As the altercation continues, he thumps it and it rocks harder and faster.

As Ms Weathers becomes increasingly annoyed she picks up a small bust sculpture of Beethoven from her desk (which you will remember Alex listens to in his own bedroom) as a weapon and runs towards Alex with it.

Alex and CatLady fight in A Clockwork Orange
Alex and CatLady fight in A Clockwork Orange

Alex picks up Rocking Machine and they proceed to chase each other around the room swinging at each other, Alex with the buttocked phallus, and Catlady with Beethoven, all whilst Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra-Overture plays on.

Eventually Alex uses Rocking Machine to bludgeon the woman to death on the floor. We don’t see the result of the hit on the head, instead Kubrick inserts a fast sequence of visual extracts from the sexual Cornelius Makkink paintings in the room.

Rocking Machine by Herman Makkink. Available from our marketplace

How the phallic sculpture Rocking Machine came to be in A Clockwork Orange

The kinetic white sculpture Rocking Machine was part of an edition of six made in 1969 by Herman Makkink, brother of Cornelius Makkink (whose paintings adorn the yoga room).

Herman Makkink was a Dutch sculptor who sought to shake things up a bit. Born in the Netherlands in 1937, and after embarking on travels around South East Asia, Australia and Central America, Makkink then lived in Japan and southern California. In 1965 he began creating art from pieces of scrap iron that had fallen off the freight cars he was shunting for Pacific Electric Railway.

Herman Makkink in the 1990's c/o The Herman Makkink Estate
Herman Makkink in the 1990’s c/o The Herman Makkink Estate

In 1966 he settled in London where he learned basic sculpture technique while working as technical assistant in the 3D Department of the London College of Printing. Between 1967 and 1972 he, together with his brother Cornelis, acquired studio at S.P.A.C.E in London’s St Katharine Docks, an organisation headed by the artists Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgeley. Here, amongst other works he created Rocking Machine as well as Christ UnLimited – the chorus line of dancing Christ’s we see on Alex’s bedside table back at his parents flat. 

Both sculptures have now gained iconic status after being discovered by director Stanley Kubrick who gave them a central role in A Clockwork Orange.

Hermann Makkink said: “They formed part of my studio work at the time, and, after seeing them there, Kubrick wanted to use them for the film because they probably had the futuristic look he and his wife wanted. In the late sixties and early seventies, we, London based artists, felt terribly hip. We didn’t want to fight the establishment so much as shock them. Pop Art was in full swing and so was the sexual revolution, so I combined a penis with a beautifully shaped female rear in fibre glass. I thought this would be really shocking. I thought I could make the object move by constructing a heavy pendulum swing inside. To my surprise I found that it made an irregular movement, so I exaggerated that by adding extra weights in various places. That resulted in Rocking Machine’s specific, jerky motion.” 

Returning to Amsterdam in 1972, he began creating art in boxes and held his first Dutch solo exhibition in 1978 at Galerie Balans, and later at the Wetering gallery, where he exhibited bi-annually for twenty-five years. By 1980, he transitioned to sculptural work inspired by landscapes and ruins from his travels, alongside an increasing focus on drawings depicting disintegration and chaos. He taught 3D Art at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy from 1980 to 2000 and created twenty large works in public spaces across the Netherlands during this time. In 1995, he acquired a ruin in Liguria, Italy, intending to retire there.

During his time of creating Rocking Machine and Christ Unlimited, he was in a relationship with writer Julia Blackburn (daughter of the poet Thomas Blackburn and the painter Rosalie de Meric). We talked with Julia about her memories from that time, and together with his daughter (from another Mother) Fiona Makkink, they have shared incredible insights with Film and Furniture’s Paula Benson, into the creation of these pieces and the man behind the work (see video above).

In 1999, he and Julia Blackburn were reunited and married, and split their time between Suffolk, Liguria, and Amsterdam. His last public space work was in Amsterdam’s Westerpark in 2003. Following a battle with cancer in 2004, he shifted his focus to drawings, returning to the juxtaposition of disparate images. He passed away in Suffolk, UK, in October 2013.


Rocking Machine White Edition (2021), limited edition

The Rocking Machine has been re-released in occasional official editions from the original mould such as the Gold Edition of two produced specially for the Bonhams ‘Pop X Culture’ auction which took place in 2021 where Rocking Machine, Gold Edition, 2021 sold for £20,250.

We are delighted to collaborate with the Makkink Estate to bring you the chance to own one of the latest official limited edition (Edition of 100 + 10 A.P.’s) of the Makkink Rocking Machine, White Edition (2021) which are now available through Film and Furniture. These sculpture are made to order from the original mould. 

Made from fibreglass and acrylic, with the same kinetic mechanism as evidenced in A Clockwork Orange, these editions and are signed, numbered and dated C.O.A. by the Herman Makkink Estate.

You can find out more about Rocking Machine, White Edition (2021) here > and the chorus line of dancing Christs known as Christ Unlimited here >

Christ Unlimited and Rocking Machine also feature in the Tinto Brass film Dropout. Interestingly, rumour has it that Brass was also considered at one point for directing A Clockwork Orange. 

Please contact us for more information at [email protected] 

Discover more about the furniture and decor in A Clockwork Orange >

You might also like:-

The art and design of a A Clockwork Orange – a podcast >

The film sets and furniture of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange: “A real horrorshow” Part 1 >

The filmsets and furniture of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange “A real horrorshow” Part 2 >

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