19 June 2010

The Most Beautiful Movie Ever Made

We have a mid range shot of two people talking. The camera pulls away and now we see them in the foreground of a beautiful countryside scene. They are seemingly motionless. Behind them are two people who definitely do not move and in fact seem posed. The whole shot, held several beats longer than one might expect, has the look of a large beautiful 18th century painting. We are watching Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975).

Some people find Barry Lyndon to be way too slow, too long, even uninteresting. Some people are nuts. To me watching this exquisite film (perfect word for it, exquisite) is like walking though a museum and admiring a series of paintings. But you get the bonus of a story that connects every painting together. Don't care for the story? Still got the paintings.

Watching Barry Lyndon is quite unlike any other film viewing experience I'm aware of. I am all for unique cinematic experiences. We've got plenty of run of the mill off the assembly line movies playing every day at our local cineplexes. Kubrick was one not just to break molds but shatter them into tiny shards. That's painstaking work which is why it would often take him four or five years to complete a single picture. Good things are worth waiting for.

Barry Lyndon is based on the epic 19th century novel, The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray. Really a lengthy discussion of plot, or for that matter one of moderate length, seems out of place in writing about Barry Lyndon the film. Suffice to say an Irish rogue of humble beginnings leads an adventurous life. He fights with two different armies in the Seven Years War attempting to desert both. Somehow he wins some glory for Prussia, of all things, and is in service of their royals post war. Young Lyndon then turns to gambling at which, in league with a partner, he excels. His marks include the titled gentry of Europe. One of whom he marries. The very wealthy and very lovely Lady Lyndon (Marissa Berenson). Suffice to say that our hero (more cad than hero, actually) runs afoul of most everyone as he manages to bungle the whole business....



In Barry Lyndon, Kubrick was not going to allow the actors get in the way of a beautiful story. There was not a wit of emoting, least of all from Ryan O'Neal in the title role. Among the stars of his era O'Neal is never singled out as a great thespian, but he was a solid performer and just the ticket for Lyndon as he was in The Driver (1978) three years later, in both cases playing men who kept their own counsel. This actually leads to a misconception about O'Neal and the Lyndon cast, that is that they mailed in their performances. They were intended to preen not percolate. Any "acting" would have interfered with the lovely pictures we were looking at. The story, with the aid of a third person narrator, pretty much told itself. No hams, this was a kosher production. After all, one would be rather distracted by a painting in which subjects were cavorting about.

Supposedly a picture is worth 1,000 words. I believe that goes for your ordinary garden variety picture. You take something like Jacques Louis David's The Coronation of David, and you can quintuple that easily. In Lyndon the series of set pieces strung together as the are, account for millions of words. But it is much more than story that we are getting. This is far more evocative than the telling of a tale. This is cinema touching us quite profoundly.

Lyndon not only is beautiful to watch, but to listen too as well. As he did with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Kubrick made sublime selections of classical music to accompany the visuals in this case including compositions by Schubert, Vivaldi and Bach.

This is a film to enjoyed at leisure. Make a pot of tea or open a bottle of wine. Perhaps some canapes, whatever you fancy. Give your TV screen a good wiping in advance of viewing. Clean those spectacles as well. Get comfy on the sofa, turn off your phone, pull the shades shut and press play. You will enjoy a feast for the eyes, the soul. Every scene more beautiful than the last.

Exquisite.

(I leave you with more pictures from Barry Lyndon, but first this vignette: My darling wife saw the film in Santa Barbara shortly after its release. Seated behind her was an annoying young man who kept making snide comments about O'Neal. The whippersnapper in question was the actor Timothy Bottoms.)















31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Barry Lyndon looks stunning but what about "Days of Heaven"

Anonymous said...

Barry Lyndon really is a visually beautiful movie. Kubrich has outdone himself with the cinematography, using special NASA lenses etc. to be able to only use candles as the only light source.
However the the biggest flaw of the movie is its pacing. It is so unbelievable boring and slow that it is nearly unwatchable. Most of Kubricks other movies are rather slow, but there at least some redeeming qualities that makes them good (2001, Clockwork Orange) or even amazing (Full Metal Jacket, Shining).

Anonymous said...

I've had it for a while now and still haven't gotten around to watching it. I love the works of Kubrick, so I've been wanting the time needed to view this masterpiece. Just another movie in my "long movies I don't have time for" stack, right on top of all the Kurosawa flicks I haven't had the chance to watch yet.

Anonymous said...

So that's what it's about! Seriously, this film inspired me to take up painting, leading me to a completely new world for me as well as a new life. Possibly the film that had the most influence on me.

Shaun said...

I was happily surprised to see a great blog post on Barry Lyndon, which I agree is a greatly underrated film, even in the context of Kubrick's canon. There are movies that are slowly paced, and then there are movies that are exquisitely paced, and this falls firmly into the latter. I particularly love how the so-called protagonist essentially becomes the antagonist as the film reaches its zenith, causing the viewer to realize only afterward (in my case at least), that Lyndon's stepson, who is portrayed in such a negative light, is indeed fully justified in virtually all of his actions against his stepfather.

All in all, this is among my favorite movies, and it's nice to see such a positive blog post bringing it a bit more attention. Kudos!

Anonymous said...

Is there any BlueRay version? I would love it!

KubrickFan_1 said...

I couldn't have said it better myself, I too find Barry Lyndon the most beautiful movie ever made!

John Hill said...

I saw Barry Lyndon when it came out. My older niece took me to see it. I was 15 and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hard to imagine, but Kubrick had me even then. I've tried to get others to watch it, but they are put off by the reasons you listed. Their loss.

Marc Saint-Cyr said...

Excellent piece, Richard! Barry Lyndon is one of my absolute favorite Kubrick films, for both its stunning imagery AND story. Some people complain that the film is boring and slow, but I was hooked on my first viewing. I remember constantly yearning to find out what happened to Redmond next and follow him on his twisty journey to fortune, then ruin.

Anonymous said...

Those who find Barry Lyndon too long and boring will probably be camping on the sidewalk awaiting the opening of the next Transformers movie.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Kubrick's most beautiful film. Shot for the most part in Ireland, Kubrick received death threats from the IRA (this was at the height of The Troubles) because it was believed he was making a pro-English film. This is a film which cries out for a re-release with a new print so that today's generation can see this beautiful film as it was meant to be seen - on a big screen in a 70mm print!

Anonymous said...

Saw it when it came out. Admired Kubrick's audacity to immerse us in the pace of the era portrayed. He also restricted the score to music contemporary to the setting. In so doing, he more closely approached historical accuracy then almost any other director.

marksrightbrain said...

The film is paced like 18th century life. The panoramic landscape shots evoke Sir Thomas Gainsborough's paintings. The use of the special Zeiss lenses is a marvel during the candlelit scenes. Kubrick's penchant for ultimate detail is what made him on eof the true masters of the cinema.

King Spud said...

Every scene is like a classic painting. Watching Barry Lyndon is like walking through a museum. The soundtrack is equally brilliant. It's definitely my favorite Kubrick film, yet it is rarely discussed by Kubrick fans. What gives?

Doctor Octavian said...

Terrific review of an underappreciated film. I'll second your comments about the great use of music but you didn't mention Handel, whose haunting Sarabande permeated the entire story.

Artemis said...

Absolutely adore this movie, and was surprised to see someone write about it. If there's one thing I can't understand, it's why I love Barry Lyndon so much, but detest Days of Heaven, which someone mentioned above as an example of similar filmmaking.

Anyway, great post!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The only film that rivals "LYNDON" in terms of visual magnificence is Polalski`s "TESS" but i`d still give the edge to "LYNDON"...just.

Redmond Barry said...

Why isn't Barry Lyndon on Blu-ray already?!?!?!?!?

Kubrick was a genius.

Jason M. Fitzmaurice said...

I love this film. I will admit that, to my mind it is the second most beautiful film ever after The Age of Innocence- a movie I saw 13 times in theatres when I was a 17 year old boy. I have seen that film over a 100 times now and continue to find new things in it, but Lyndon is a close second.

Hero Paperboy said...

Maybe it's just me, but I always thought Barry Lyndon was a spoof of period pieces.
The narration often doesn't match the ribald action and while it's clear that the slowness is a deliberate take on the era, I don't know if it was meant to venerate the time as much as critique.

Funny how people can like a movie for such dramatically different movies.

JamaCreation said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

It's the rare film that really gets candlelight.

Ahmad Alokush said...

I vividly remember when I first saw this movie, how bored I was, I ended up renting it 4 times, towards the third time, I stopped listening to the dialog, I muted the sound and would turn off all lights and just enjoy the scenery. I felt kind of weird for doing that, but that is what I had to do to absorb what kubrick was conveying. I kind of ... See Moredisagree with the write about the acting of o'neil, I think the music was chosen to contrast the ugly actions barry was taking on the screen. as for the scenery, I would feel sometimes that I want to pause the movie, and just put my tv as a picture on the wall.
This movie actually affected my perspective on arts, and high culture. I was always repulsed by abstract art and had a fight with someone while being in the guggenhiem. If I ran the guggenhiem I would put frames of this movie instead of all the crap of post impressionism there.
This movie is truly a tour de force, its kubrick telling all other directors ( this is what I can do, what can you come up with ).
an important corner stone to his craft was the camera he used, a special lense with widest aperture ever used in films, .7 Fstop. The camera was developed by carl zeiss for the nasa moon exploration program.


I like your blog, even your expose on 2001 and kurusawa are in line with my views. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

this confirms everything i think about this movie. but remember, it is 3 hours long. but worth every minute.

DutchQD said...

Riku,

It's blogs like this that keep me coming back to your site: intelligent and tasteful musings from a serious blogger who has seen movies made before "Pulp Fiction." I haven't seen "Barry Lyndon" yet, but I am curious now. I'll have to search it out.

SouthoftheThames said...

Lest we forget the beauty of "Barry Lyndon" was also due in large part to the magnificent work of production designer Ken Adam. Ken Adam - famous for his fantastical sets on the James Bond films - made a striking departure for "Barry Lyndon" and ended up winning an Academy Award. There are some great stories from Ken Adam on working with Stanley Kubrick in the book "For Your Eyes Only: Behind the Scenes of the James Bond Films" by David Giammarco. One story in particular stands out in the book in which Ken Adam describes how he persuaded Stanley Kubrick to help him with some of the James Bond sets and had to secretly ferry Mr. Kubrick in and out of Pinewood Studios. It's quite an entertaining tale.

Anonymous said...

Only Kubrick would do an epic about an unlikable main character, indeed a coward. I love this excellent film. It's truly original from start to finish. Would have been a dream to have seen Kubrick's version of Napoleon...

cagliostro said...

Hello from France

I was looking for a photo to illustrate my blog on Barry Lindon music, and i stumbled into yours.I agree B-L is a great and beautiful movie, which is very "cult" in France. By the way have you seen The duellists from Ridley Scott, which happens to be my favorite movie. Mr Scott recognise that BL inspired him for his movie.

He was not the only one, a french pop singer (very very popular here) made 2 video clips in the 80's very very inspired from Lyndon, may you have a look (a virtual trip to France). I would like to have your opinion on this.

http://www.youtube.com/user/markenrylive#p/u/57/hFEeeE7QzBI

http://www.youtube.com/user/markenrylive#p/u/53/LOvshC3M44o

http://www.youtube.com/user/markenrylive#p/u/52/XsJJTpPfdW4

And if you wish you can visit my blog, you may find amusing to find articles of "Nouvelle Vague" a french band covering "new wave" british songs, and an article on duellist movi.

Au revoir (sorry for my bad english)

Anonymous said...

"Those who find Barry Lyndon too long and boring will probably be camping on the sidewalk awaiting the opening of the next Transformers movie."

That's stupid and elitist, a movie can be long and boring. I've tried to like this, but it's the worst of his 1962-1999 movies. There's some good moments, but usually I just wish I'd be watching Amadeus or something.

Richard Hourula said...

Well I'm nothing if not a stupid elitist. Nice to hear from you Sparky.