Monday, August 27, 2012

596. Barry Lyndon (1975)

Running Time: 184 minutes
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Stanley Kubrick, from novel by William Makepeace Thackeray
Main Cast: Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Gay Hamilton
Click here to view the trailer


It just goes to show you that the one you dread the most will sometimes end up being the one you love the most. I was sincerely dreading watching "Barry Lyndon", an eighteenth century period piece lasting just a scosche over three hours. But low and behold "Barry Lyndon" actually ended up being, perhaps, my favorite Kubrick movie thus far.

Opening shot
The film is split into two parts, separated by an intermission. The first part tells of the circumstances in which Redmond Barry (O'Neal) acquired the name Barry Lyndon and the second part tells of the misfortunes that later befell Barry Lyndon. As a young boy, Barry falls in love with his cousin Nora (Hamilton), who enjoys seducing him and seeking his attention. She later dumps Barry for the wealth and fortune of an English Captain. Barry, distraught over the loss of his first love, challenges the Captain to a duel, shooting him and thinking he's killed him. Barry's family members urge Barry to leave town until the death of the Captain blows over and so he heeds their warning and rides off on his horse, with only a small amount of money, which he is later robbed of. With nowhere to go and no means to get there, Barry joins up with the British army, where he later finds himself engaged in combat as part of the Seven Years War. Barry wants out the army desperately and takes an opportunity to become a deserter, thieving an officer's coat and paperwork and masquerading himself as someone of a higher rank, on important business. At the time, England is in an alliance with Prussia and when Barry happens upon Prussian Officer Potzdorf, he is caught and accused of being a deserter and given the option to join the Prussian army or be shot as a deserter - he chooses the former. While in the Prussian army, Barry goes above and beyond the call of duty, saving Officer Potzdorf (Kruger) and receiving commendation for his bravery. He then is given special assignment to act as a spy on behalf of the Prussian army, where he'll masquerade as the servant to the wealthy gambler Chevalier de Balibari (Magee). Barry ultimately forms a bond with de Balibari when he finds out that he is a fellow Irishman and the two form a bond cheating wealthy aristocrats at cards. The second part gets underway when Barry meets the Countess of Lyndon and falls for her, marrying her swiftly. He is now a wealthy man, with a newborn son and only a rebellious stepson to worry about.

I used to be an ignorant movie goer, picking and choosing my movies based on what they were about, when they were set and what genre they fell into. For instance, I would dismiss certain films simply because they were set in the 18th century and I "surely wasn't going to like anything like that". If I looked at the back of a VHS case or watched a trailer and saw some of those "British guys" dressed in their stylish, powder white wigs and dressed to the nines in corsets and proper wear, my hand would immediately move that VHS case back to the shelf or I'd turn away from that movie trailer. In watching films for THE BOOK, I've been able to really broaden my spectrum and I've learned to enjoy all types of film, with "Barry Lyndon" being a particularly surprising entry.

There are three things, in my opinion, that really contribute to the success of "Barry Lyndon": the story, the cinematography and the score. The story here isn't really what I expected. I'd seen tidbits of "Barry Lyndon" before and all I had really remembered from those quick glances was guys in red coats marching into battle. So, of course, my mind went immediately to war movie. However, "Lyndon" is much more than a war movie and in fact, I wouldn't even categorize it as such, as it just happens to take place during a particular war and the entire film isn't totally centered around a war. No, the story of "Barry Lyndon" is, in fact, the story OF Barry Lyndon, a penniless man who rose to fortune and wealth and the path he took to get there. The story is filled with small anecdotes of Barry's sometimes accidental rise from Redmond Barry to Barry Lyndon. It's a story that doesn't let up and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I could've sit right in that same spot, in front of my television, for another three hours, as long as the action proved to truck along at the same pace. Sure "Lyndon" is long, but trust me ladies and gentlemen, it certainly doesn't feel like three hours. It's one of those long films that really breezes by because it presents you with interesting material, the kind of stuff you really want to see unfold.


The other two x-factors are the cinematography and the score. John Alcott, who shot this film (as well as "2001: A Space Odyssey", "A Clockwork Orange" and my next film, "The Shining") is an absolute master craftsman when it comes to working his camera, capturing memorable images and using natural lighting to it's fullest capabilities. From the opening shot, which shows Barry's father engaged in a duel with someone he's quarreling with over a disputed horse sale, I knew this film wasn't going to be bad. The shot just appealed to me. It's like walking into a party, a party where you expect to have rotten time because you don't know anyone there, and running into your best friend. The opening shot is inviting and seems to let you know that this isn't just any old run of the mill film, that it's going to be something really special, something where you're not going to want to blink, for fear of missing another glorious shot. Add that to the absolutely mesmerizing, hypnotizing and engaging score and you have the makings of a masterpiece, which is what "Barry Lyndon" is. The score here is so catchy, that it sticks in your head well after the credits have rolled and as you play it over and over in your head, hearing those beautiful instruments sing their grim tune, you begin to relive some of the more intense moments of the film, be it the duel between Barry and Lord Bullingdon or the death of Bryan Lyndon. Of course, I'm speaking of the main title theme for the film, but really all the music is spot on, featuring classical pieces from the likes of Vivaldi and Bach.

RATING: 9.5/10  I can't go the full blown '10' because I'm really becoming a picky son of a bitch in my old age, but don't let the '9.5' fool 'ya, "Barry Lyndon" is a freaking masterpiece and for the time being, this is your #1 entrant on the next TOP 20. Next up in "Kubrick Week": "The Shining".


August 27, 2012  3:04am

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