Barry Lyndon


Barry Lyndon
   Warner Bros. , 184 minutes, December 1975 Producers: Jan Harlan, Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams; Director: Kubrick; Screenplay: Kubrick, based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray;
   Cinematographer: John Alcott; Assistant directors: Brian W. Cook, Michael Stevenson, David Tomblin;
   Art director: Roy Walker; Costume Design: Milena Canonero, Ulla-Britt Söderlund; Sound: Rodney Holland;
   Film editing: Tony Lawson; Production design: Ken Adam; Cast: Ryan O’Neal (Barry Lyndon/Redmond Barry), Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon), Patrick Magee (Chevalier de Balibari), Hardy Krüger (Captain Potzdorf ), Steven Berkoff (Lord Ludd), Gay Hamilton (Nora Brady), Marie Kean (Barry’s mother), Diana Körner (German girl), Murray Melvin (Reverend Samuel Runt), Frank Middlemass (Sir Charles Lyndon),André Morell (Lord Wendover), Arthur O’Sullivan (highwayman/Captain Feeny), Godfrey Quigley (Captain Grogan), Leonard Rossiter (Captain Quin), Philip Stone (Graham), Leon Vitali (Lord Bullingdon), Roger Booth (King George III).
   In many respects, Barry Lyndon is STANLEY KUBRICK’s biggest and most ambitious undertaking. The threehour picture took three years and cost $11 million to reach the screen. Adapted from WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY’s 1844 novel, THE LUCK OF BARRY LYNDON, it chronicles the rise and fall of an adventurer and an opportunist, an 18th-century Irishman intent on gaining social status by any means, fair or foul. It combines the visual spectacle of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with the satiric edge of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, expending an extraordinary amount of screen time in establishing historical setting and social milieu in order to allow viewers to measure Lyndon against the larger outline of his age. Kubrick’s screenplay falls into two parts. The first part opens in Ireland with the death of Redmond Barry’s father in a duel. When Redmond’s cousin, Nora, becomes infatuated with a captain of a visiting British regiment, Redmond challenges the man to a duel and wounds him. In a rush to quit the scene, Barry leaves his mother and departs with part of his father’s inheritance. After being robbed of his money and horse, he decides to join the army, where he establishes his mettle by besting one of the toughs in a fistfight. With his new friend Captain Grogan, Barry travels to the continent to fight in the Seven Years’War. Grogan is killed and a disillusioned Barry deserts his company in a stolen officer’s uniform. He soon finds himself a soldier in the Prussian army. At war’s end, Barry becomes a spy for the state police in Berlin. But instead of reporting on the activities of his countryman, a chevalier, he and the chevalier conspire to send false reports. When the two men are expelled from the country, they gamble their way through the courts of Europe, and Barry dispatches any of the losers who refuse to pay up. Meanwhile, at the home of Sir Charles Lyndon, Barry meets and woos the beautiful Lady Lyndon behind her infirm husband’s back. The cuckolded Sir Charles challenges Barry to a duel, but before he can carry it out, he expires from a coughing fit. Part one concludes with the narrator intoning Sir Charles’s obituary.
   Part two begins with the marriage in 1773 of Barry and Lady Lyndon. Barry proves to be a faithless husband, as he philanders with women at a local gentlemen’s club. His alienated stepson, Lord Bullingdon, refuses to acknowledge Barry as his father, and Barry beats him as a consequence. With the birth of his own son, Bryan, Barry, on the advice of his mother, seeks a peerage. His drive for upward mobility soon depletes his resources. Moreover, as a result of another fight with Bullingdon, Barry is rejected by the aristocracy, and he and Lady Lyndon grow more estranged. His fortunes decline ever more sharply when his son Bryan is killed in a riding accident. Sunk in despondency and drink, Barry is confronted by Bullingdon, who has returned to avenge his mother. After Bullingdon’s first shot goes astray, Barry, in a moment of mercy, decides to shoot wide of his mark. But in the next exchange of shots, Barry is wounded in the leg. After the leg is amputated, Barry quits the estate and, at the behest of his mother, leaves for Ireland. He is given an annual allowance from Bullingdon and Lady Lyndon on condition that he remain there for the rest of his life. Like other Kubrick protagonists, Barry has little control over the incidents that shape his life; the best he can do is contrive to work his way out of them. He is another of Kubrick’s alienated men moving in a milieu that he only partially understands and in which he must struggle for survival. His victories are tempered by loss, usually resulting in the loss of his Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon (1975) (Kubrick estate) own individual dignity at the expense of societal mores.
   The adaptation of Thackeray’s original novel to the screen reveals much about Kubrick’s thematic preoccupations and his methods. The most immediately perceived departure from Thackeray’s novel is Kubrick’s abandonment of the skeptical, bitterly ironic tone of the memoir’s “editors” and the adoption instead of a dour commentator (the voice of MICHAEL HORDERN) who, ultimately, is sympathetic to Barry, regarding him as a victim of his social milieu. Commentator Bernard Dick says that Kubrick’s narrator is “like the traditional voice of God, omniscient. The voice tells us about something before it happens or informs us of the outcome of an event without dramatizing it for us. When Lyndon is about to die, the voice even reads his obituary. ” Not only is some of Thackeray’s humor mislaid in the transition to the screen, but some of the dramatic intensity is too. Kubrick retools Lady Lyndon (MARISA BERENSON) into a much more passive wife than the intrepid lady with whom Barry (RYAN O’NEAL) has to contend in the book—a stubborn and resourceful woman who literally gives Barry a run for his money.
   Given these reservations, however, one is compelled to admit that the majority of the revisions that Kubrick made in bringing Thackeray’s novel to the screen enhanced it considerably. As the film unfolds, one sees that Kubrick wants us to sympathize with Barry much more than Thackeray did. The portrait of Barry which Kubrick has sketched for us is not that of a mere wastrel who is rotten from the start, but, in the words of commentator William Stephen-Stanley Kubrick on location for Barry Lyndon (1975) (Photofest) son, an “Irish innocent” whose “simple sincerity” is conveyed by the “perpetual ingenuousness” of actor Ryan O’Neal: “He is a disadvantaged young man of the downtrodden Irish, exploited first by the warlords of continental Europe and later by a heartless English establishment that will never admit him to its ranks. ” Arguably, watching Barry go from good to bad in the movie is much more interesting than watching him go from bad to worse in the book. Barry’s downfall in the film is brought about by a pistol duel which he fights with his stepson, Lord Bullingdon. This scene derives from a single sentence on the last page of the novel that merely states that the young man met Barry Lyndon and “revenged upon his person the insults of former days. ”Taking his cue from this cryptic remark, Kubrick builds a scene in which the embittered Bullingdon, who has suffered much from his stepfather’s selfishness, wounds Barry in the leg—crippling him for the rest of his itinerant life.
   Although Kubrick does not consign Barry to debtors’ prison for the rest of his days as Thackeray did, the film’s ending is no less bleak than that of the novel. As Kubrick envisions Barry, he is a seedy soldier of fortune who in the end has nothing to show for his troubled life but wounds and scars; he is a born loser who learned the ways of a rogue, but never mastered the art of self-protection against those more crafty and cruel than he. The film ends with the following printed epilogue, which Kubrick took from the first chapter of the novel: “It was in the reign of George III that these personages lived and quarreled. Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now. ”
   In readying Thackeray’s novel for the screen, Kubrick added some scenes, such as the duel between Barry and his stepson; but he also simplified Thackeray’s complicated plot whenever possible. Thus Kubrick summarily dropped Lady Lyndon’s old flame Lord George Poynings, who helps bring about Barry’s downfall in the book, because Lord Bullingdon is both resourceful enough and sufficiently motivated to accomplish that on his own in the picture. Kubrick also ignored Barry’s spurious political career and other plot elements which can only be called digressions in the novel.
   Kubrick managed in this film not only to translate a historical novel to the screen, but to bring a bygone era vividly to life on film. There is some dispute, however, as to the accuracy of that vision. On the one hand, one might almost go so far as to say that, if the technical equipment to make a movie had been available in the 18th century, the films made then would look exactly like Barry Lyndon. On the other hand, as Stephenson argues, the film’s view of the 18th century reflects an outmoded perception that the “entire period was an Age of Reason, when emotions were kept suppressed beneath a glittering surface of wit, and when all manners were as studied as those of Lord Chesterfield. ”To the contrary, it could be argued that recent historians “have begun to reinterpret the era as an Age of Sensibility, when fashionable people made a cult of expressing their emotions and following them out to their finest nuances. ”
   At any rate, Barry Lyndon certainly has a look that is unique, even for a visual perfectionist like Kubrick. He had been unimpressed with the standard “Hollywood” look of period films, and he reasoned that the only way to capture an age without electricity was to photograph the scenes with only natural light and candlepower. He and cinematographer JOHN ALCOTT had already discussed techniques of filming by candlelight during the making of 2001, but only now, with the development of a Zeiss lens that was 50 mm in focal length with an aperture of f0. 7 (a full two stops faster than the fastest lenses of the day), was he able to photograph such celebrated sequences as the candlelit gambling scenes.
   Moreover, Kubrick was determined to avoid the soundstage artifice of fake sets and props by photographing mostly in actual period settings (it was the first Kubrick film to be shot entirely on location). Battle scenes were photographed near Dublin. Dublin Castle was used for the chevalier’s home. Castle Howard in England served as the Lyndon estate. A second unit was dispatched to Germany to photograph castles and period streets. Costumers Milena Canonero and Ulla-Britt Söderlund purchased 18thcentury clothes, which were still available in England, and supervised the making of many more costumes modeled on actual designs. The eminent hairdresser Leonard of London fashioned dozens of hairpieces, including the ornate wigs worn by Marisa Berenson. Period paintings by Fragonard and Watteau were carefully studied and imitated. Rather than shoot with his customary dolly and tracking shots, Kubrick and Alcott frequently employed zoom lenses, which had a “flattening” effect on the image, comparable to the surfaces of paintings. An exception to this technique came in the battle sequence, where a long tracking shot on an 800-foot track captured the action.
   The sound of the music score was also intended to be authentic. Kubrick selected composer LEONARD ROSENMAN to select and arrange music from period composers and folk songs. Rosenman has subsequently complained that the final choice of music—at Kubrick’s behest—included a number of anachronisms, such as Schubert’s E-flat Piano Trio, composed decades after events in the film. Moreover, complained Rosenman, one of the main musical motifs, a sarabande by George Friedrich Handel (also attributed to Arcangelo Corelli) was repeated so incessantly—particularly in the climactic duel scene—that it wore heavily on the viewer. “When I saw this incredibly boring film with all the music I had picked out going over and over again, I thought, ‘My God, what a mess!’”
   The film was shot under the tightest security Kubrick had yet imposed on a project. Biographer VINCENT LOBRUTTO reports that Kubrick became likewise obsessed with the details of the postproduction, spending as many as 18 hours a day on the soundtrack and plotting the advertising and publicity Kubrick shooting Barry Lyndon with Vivian Kubrick behind him and Anya Kubrick to the left of camera (1975). (Kubrick estate) campaigns. “There is such a total sense of demoralization if you say you don’t care,” LoBrutto quotes Kubrick saying. “From start to finish on a film, the only limitations I observe are those imposed on me by the amount of money I have to spend and the amount of sleep I need. You either care or you don’t and I simply don’t know where to draw the line between those two points. ”
   After its premiere on December 18, 1975, Barry Lyndon drew a mixed critical reception in England and America. As had happened with 2001, the stunning cinematography and production values were praised, while the development of character and motivation were damned as superficial. Also criticized were the inordinate length, desultory pacing, and the use of a narrator who all too often informed viewers of events before they happened, much in the manner of a D. W. Griffith silent film. In a more recent assessment of the film, William Stephenson complains that it “presents formidable obstacles to enjoyment by the viewer: a lethargic pace, a use of camera which forbids intimacy with the characters, a cold, terse style of dialogue, and an overall emotional barrenness in the storytelling which is in strong contrast to the film’s visual splendor. ”
   Indeed, as biographer Wallace Coyle notes, Kubrick does make unusual demands on an audience’s involvement and commitment: The viewer must bridge the gap between the real world and the cinematic world “by a willed sustaining of belief in the director’s vision. ”
   Among the film’s awards were Oscars to cinematographer John Alcott, production designer KEN
   References
   ■ Coyle,Wallace, Stanley Kubrick: A Guide to References and Resources (Boston, Mass. :G. K. Hall & Co. , 1980);
   ■ Duffy, Martha, and Richard Schickel, “Kubrick’s Grandest Gamble: Barry Lyndon,” in Stanley Kubrick Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 159–170;
   ■ LoBrutto, Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Donald I. Fine, 1997);
   ■ Metz,Walter, “Barry Lyndon,” in The Encyclopedia of Novels into Film, ed. John Tibbetts and James Welsh (New York: Facts On File, 1998), pp. 27–28; Stephenson,William,“The Perception of ‘History’ in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon,Literature/ Film Quarterly 9, no. 4 (1981): 251–260.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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