A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Though this encounter is not recorded in any history books, it was memorable enough for those who took part.

In classics, drama on June 28, 2009 at 4:29 am

There are so many directions that the movie I have to talk about can/will take me in that I felt the need to forego my initial double review – along with Tom Twyker’s PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER – and focus more on the story at hand. It’s been pressed on me lately – both by some people that I’m working with, and by people around the internet – that a movie I should watch is Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 movie, BARRY LYNDON, starring Ryan O’Neal.

The movie tells the story of young Redmond Barry, and his (mis)adventures, constant duels and conscription into armies and affairs with a number of women. It is through these numerous experiences that through marriage, he takes on the name and style (as is told to us through the chapter headings) of Barry Lyndon. The movie starts with a narrator (Michael Hordern), who tells us the story of Barry’s father who is killed in a duel over some horses. We are then lead through seeing Barry’s first time falling in – at least what he’d call – love, with his cousin, Nora Brady (played by Gay Hamilton). Only to lose her after duelling with an English officer that also was looking for her hand in marriage (or being pressured by Nora’s family, in order to bring in some much-needed money). So, Barry then sets out from his home, to the wider world. He’s robbed of his money, joins the British army; deserts from them to fall in with a young and lonely Austrian girl; then is taken into the Austrian army after being caught lying. All of this leading him on his way to meeting the Lady Lyndon, who is wealthy and married to a fairly disgusting man who is quickly out of the picture. The rest of the movie plays out as a tragedy as we watch Barry spend all of his wife’s money, destroy his standing in society and eventually have a final duel with his step-son, leading to him being forced from his home.

There’s a gigantic cast in this movie and all of the main roles are played by people that you might not initially recognize, but would know. First of all, Ryan O’Neal does a great job of playing the titular role, in so much as he plays innocent enough that his questionable deeds never really come off as villainous and his quiet exterior belies his numerous showcases of physical prowess with weapons and his own fists. Also, by the end of the movie, even though his character doesn’t look much different you can tell that he’s a broken man, both mentally and physically – some of this might have been carried over from the actor who was part of this movie’s amazing 300+ day shooting, and the legendary Kubrick way of directing which includes numerous takes and utter perfection.

It’s kind of sad that O’Neal’s star never really rose much higher than this and his previous movies LOVE STORY and PAPER MOON – both of which were part of the reason why he was considered for the role, which was down to him and Robert Redford. It is nice that he’s made a comeback of sorts, recently in movies like ZERO EFFECT (yeah, it was ten years ago, but I love that movie!) and on TV as Temperance Brennan’s father, in the show BONES.

Playing the main ladies of Barry’s life are his mother (Marie Kean), who goes from being the mourning mother over the loss of her husband, to eventually the caretaker of the Lyndon estate, for a while. Lady Lyndon is played by former 1960’s VOGUE model Marisa Berenson, who has also been in CABARET and in another Kubrick related – though not directed – movie COLOUR ME KUBRICK (a movie I’ve previously discussed). Then as the supporting other characters we have Kubrick regulars Patrick Magee (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), Philip Stone (THE SHINING) and Leonard Rossiter (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) and a score of others.

But, the true star of the movie is Kubrick himself. I have to say that I now have to call BARRY LYNDON my favorite movie by Stanley Kubrick (I don’t even know if I could name what would have previously been my favorite, probably FULL METAL JACKET). The main reason for this is that the majority of his other movies are far too cold, and detached. With his usual stilted dialogue, long zooming takes and unsettling close-ups of his actors; his movies have always been affecting for me, but not really movies that I could say I loved. But, maybe it’s to do with the passion he had for the never-produced project on Napoleon – which he wanted to do previously to this movie but was denied because of another movie that had bombed dealing with the same subject matter – and this movie allowing him to sort of carry through with the setting if not the same character, that allows this movie to have more warmth (he’s still not anywhere near a director like Spielberg in creating a setting that shows anything close to actual love) and characters that are a little more relatable.

Also, the unique way in which this movie was created was beneficial, I think, in helping to make the way that Kubrick liked to shoot. The lenses he used were at a wide aperture, so that in numerous scenes he could capture the scene using (mostly) natural and candle light, creating a more authentic look and feel to the sets. And with this, it caused the whole movie to be forced into a specific style. The actors had to move slower, if they were allowed to move at all. The almost square frame of the movie made the zooming and panning of the camera, somehow less showy than when watching a regular movie. Because with a normal widescreen movie, you’re zooming in on one small part of that frame, which usually leaves a lot of extra space – whether it’s setup to fully utilize the whole frame or not, focus is drawn to a certain point – whereas in this movie, space is limited.

I don’t know, really what it is; but it worked for me better here than it has in most of Kubrick’s other movies. There’s also the story. Which is really a journey of a man’s life. to compare it to more contemporary movies, I’d have to say it’s sort of FORREST GUMP/THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON and even Anthony Minghella’s COLD MOUNTAIN, in the sense of this character moving through history, meeting people (real or imagined) and always coming out – for the most part – unscathed. There’s also the fact that the main character is malevolent, that there’s not really anyone to root for, or against in the movie. Barry’s search to just better himself, after having been cast out from his home, is really the only real motive for the character. And he never sets out to hurt anyone – in a number of occasions when presented the opportunity to flee a certain predicament, he tends to stay and do what would be considered the “right thing” to do – but he is plenty opportunistic.

Finally, with its three hour running time, when I first sat down and realized the length of the movie, I was really concerned for what I had signed up for. But, the time goes quickly. The movie moves at a fairly quick pace, moving from one scene and situation to the next. It helps that the movie is interspersed with numerous duels – which equate to the movie’s main “action” pieces, other than two moments of war-time set pieces – and the narrator who pops in with fun comments on the going’s on, and to lead us from scene to scene. And while in no way, would I call this movie a comedy; it does feature quite a few moments of humor, which without it being cruel (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) or cynical (DR. STRANGELOVE), really adds to my appreciation of this movie.

Kubrick’s movies, as I’ve mentioned, have always come off as cold to me and it’s nice that with this movie I get a different feeling from the director. And I can now honestly say that everyone should watch this movie.

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