Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I remember very well all the excitement surrounding the 1975 release of Barry Lyndon; director Stanley Kubrick’s highly anticipated follow-up to A Clockwork Orange. Four years had elapsed since Kubrick’s stylized vision of an all-too-imaginable future opened to controversy and equal parts critical acclaim/antipathy, and Barry Lyndon ‒ shrouded in secrecy, costing $11 million, two-years-in-the-making, 3-hours long, and starring the eyebrow-raising choice of actor Ryan O’Neal in the lead ‒ augured no less.

Arriving on a wave of publicity crested by a lengthy Time magazine cover story declaring it “Kubrick’s Grandest Gamble,” Barry Lyndon was hyped as a painstakingly detailed 18th-century epic adapted from the little-known 19th-century novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair). Shot in Ireland, England, and Germany over the course of a 300-day shooting schedule, next to nothing was known of the film’s storyline, save for it being a kind of inverse Pilgrim’s Progress chronicling the rise and fall of a handsome Irish rake. What was instead proffered at the forefront of all publicity, eclipsing references to either the actors’ performances or the general dramatic appeal of the story itself, was the fact that it was a Stanley Kubrick film.

Like Hitchcock, Kubrick and his reputation as an innovative perfectionist were the real stars of the film. In fact, the single most-discussed element about Barry Lyndon beyond the cult of worship surrounding Kubrick himself was the film’s sumptuous cinematography. Much was made of how Kubrick & Co. eschewed the traditional use of artificial lighting to create a period-perfect look through the near-exclusive application of candles and natural light. Advance word was that it was Kubrick’s masterpiece; an epic historical spectacle with art house aesthetics.
Ryan O'Neal as Redmond Barry
Marisa Berenson as Lady Lyndon
Murray Melvin as Reverend Samuel Runt
Patrick Magee as The Chevalier du Balibari
Leon Vitali as Lord Bullingdon 
Barry Lyndon opened on Christmas Day at San Francisco’s Northpoint Theater, advance buzz suggesting an event more than a motion picture. With all this buildup, you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to see Barry Lyndon when it opened.
Not exactly.
While I loved Barry Lyndon’s Saul Bass-designed poster art (below) and was impressed by what little I’d seen in the way of movie stills, none of that translated into an interest in actually seeing the film itself.
Part of this is attributable to my not being much of a Kubrick enthusiast at the time. As a film buff, I knew I was “supposed” to like him, but being that in 1971 I was too young to see A Clockwork Orange, and only had an edited, commercial-interrupted TV broadcast of Lolita and a scratchy college campus print of 2001: A Space Odyssey to base an opinion on; I can’t say Kubrick was a director who loomed very large for me as a teen.

But the main reason for my disinterest was my (then) overall aversion to epic costume dramas in general. Sure, the Julie Christie factor was enough to entice me into seeing Far From The Madding Crowd and Doctor Zhivago, but for the most part, I was of the opinion that any movie asking me to sit still longer than two and a half hours had better be a musical. Barry Lyndon looked to me like it was either going to be a somber, picturesque snooze like Lawrence of Arabia, or (based on how often the words “scoundrel” and “rascal” popped up in reviews) one of those tediously bawdy romps like Tom Jones or Lock Up Your Daughters. No thanks.
Barry Lyndon's lush spectacle is the deceptively sentimental backdrop for a tale whose events
and characters are themselves a subversive commentary on classic romantic tradition

So I didn’t see Barry Lyndon when it premiered that December, and I’m not sure I’d have seen it at all were not for my older sister who was attending an art school at the time where it was something of an art history mandate for students to check out Barry Lyndon for its cinematography redolent of the paintings of 18th-century artists like John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough. 
Like everyone else, my sister raved about the film’s visual splendor, but her going back to see Barry Lyndon two more times persuasively backed up her assertion of it being an irresistibly entertaining film, as well; something I’d yet to come across in any of the reviews I’d read. Hailing it as the perfect costume picture for people who didn’t like costume pictures (that would be me), she sold me on the film by alluding to Kubrick’s success - intentional or not - in fashioning an epic heroic romantic drama devoid of either a hero or romance. A film whose lush spectacle is the deceptively sentimental backdrop for a tale whose events and characters are a subversive commentary on classic Romance tradition.

I saw Barry Lyndon the next day.

That was 40 years ago. And since then I’ve seen all but three of Stanley Kubrick’s movies (Fear & Desire, Killer’s Kiss, & Paths of Glory), but my opinion of Barry Lyndon then hasn’t changed: it’s my absolute favorite of all his films.
Nominated for 7 Oscars, Barry Lyndon won 4
Cinematography, Costume, Art Direction, and Musical Score 

Film critic Andrew Sarris once described the stylization in Stanley Kubrick’s films as being a form of emotional evasion. I don’t think that was meant as a compliment, but as it pertains to Barry Lyndon, it defines why this film strikes such a chord with me.
Barry Lyndon begins in 1750 and tells the episodic story of a young, naïve Irish lad (O’Neal) of modest gentry status who aspires to aristocracy. As self-deluding as Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, as social-climbing as Dreiser's Clyde Griffiths; Redmond fancies himself a well-bred man of courage and honor out to claim his rightful position in the world. That his quest calls upon him to summarily assume the roles of gambler, cheat, deserter, spy, and adulterer, proves of little consequence.
Attempting to live his life as though he were the hero of a romantic novel, Redmond’s lack of self-awareness blinds him to the flaws in his character which, while successful in getting him where he wants, unfailingly stand in the way of getting him what he wants. 
The loss of father figures is a recurring motif in Barry Lyndon.
Here, Redmond comforts longtime friend and protector, Captain Grogan (Godfrey Quigley)

The combined effect of Kubrick’s distancing camera and Michael Hordern’s subjective, coolly disdainful narration is that the chronicling of Redmond Barry’s ascendancy and decline becomes a doleful implosion of romantic myth. Dramatic irony replaces clichéd sentimentality, and the result is a film both moving and reflective. What looks at first glance like emotional evasion might well be a director not finding it necessary to tell the viewer what they should be feeling.
Marie Kean as Barry's headstrong mother

I think Ryan O’Neal gives his best comedy performance in Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon (1973) and the best dramatic performance of his career in Barry Lyndon. To my mind, he’s really quite marvelous and I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. (Robert Redford was considered and turned it down. Sparing us from having to put up with a Barry Lyndon sporting the same layered Malibu beach boy shag haircut he’s had in every film he’s ever made.) 
Barry Lyndon rests on our being able to see both the good and bad in Redmond, never being sure from scene to scene if he’s truly as dishonorable or as virtuous as he appears. I'm not sure how he pulled it off, but O’Neal captures Redmond’s idealism, cowardice, cruelty, heart, with a depth that brings home the ultimate tragedy of the story. 
Marisa Berenson, cast once again as a woman pursued by a fortune-hunter (Cabaret), has a role that's largely silent, yet her performance I find to be the film's most poignant. A former model, Berenson benefits from precisely the same subtle projection that makes models in fashion magazines appear to convey exactly what the observer seeks to find in their sphinxlike countenances. Certainly, I'm moved by the "corruption of beauty" nuances at the core of her character arc, but I think there's a great deal more to Berenson's performance than being heart-stoppingly beautiful in her period finery.

Certain critical buzzwords and phrases always raise red flags for me. Whenever I read that a stage performer “puts on a good show,” I take that to mean a meager talent is attempting to mask their shortcomings behind the bells and whistles of production values. Any fashion trend signified as “fun!” is sure to be ghastly. So, similarly, whenever movie critics go on and on about how beautifully a film is shot, I can’t help but assume there’s precious little else about it to recommend.

In promoting Barry Lyndon stateside, Warner Bros, hamstrung both by the film’s largely unknown (at least in the U.S.) cast of British character actors, and perhaps an inability to extol the acting virtues of Ryan O’Neal and Marisa Berenson convincingly built its entire marketing around the beauty of film's cinematography and the technical artistry in its recreation of a bygone era.  
Like many, I took this to suggest Barry Lyndon had nothing to offer beyond its visual grandeur, when in fact it's merely an indication of the limitations inherent in marketing a film that fails to fit into a set genre category.
Barry Lyndon is without a doubt one of the most beautiful films ever made, and in 1975 on the big screen, it fairly took my breath away. But over the years I’ve come to better appreciate the film's visual magnificence as something more than just ornamental show. Its images have a poetic quality about them that has taken on a melancholy richness in this day of CGI fabrication. 
When I watch Barry Lyndon today, I’m aware of witnessing the recreation of a time and era that couldn’t be achieved today without digital manipulation. I actually respond emotionally to the fact that what I’m seeing has been painstakingly rendered in the real world. People, not computer-generated clones, occupy the crowded battle scenes; the stately landscapes vistas are actual locations; the immense interiors are authentic.
Even Barry Lyndon’s deliberate pacing and long-held static shots, once a source of much criticism, feel positively rapturous in today’s climate of I-don’t know-what-the-hell-I’m-looking-at rapid-fire editing.
Better still, Barry Lyndon's beautiful facade masks many somber truths. There is nothing heroic in death; war is absurd; pain endures, and what happens to us can't help but change us. And not always for the better.

Barry Lyndon didn't do very well during its initial release, but as so often happens when a talented director passes on and film fans are left to contemplate the meager talents still drawing breath; Barry Lyndon has been reappraised, reassessed, and hailed by many as an overlooked masterpiece.
When those who once dismissed it as boring and sluggish now sing its praises, I try not to look too smug while suppressing a desire to jog their memories with a well-timed, "I told you so!".

I won't say it's a romp, a crowd-pleaser, or a movie that'll tug at your heartstrings, but for those open to an epic scaled to human dimensions, Barry Lyndon contains a great deal of humor (mostly ironic), action, and compelling drama. I particularly like the cast of supporting players, some familiar, many more, less so, but even the briefest roles are brought to vivid, dimensional life. In many ways Barry Lyndon is like Ken Russell with self-control: a feast for the eyes, heaven to listen to (the classical music score is gorgeous), and a roster of brilliant supporting actors with fascinating faces.
I'd be reluctant to label Stanley Kubrick a genius, but there's no doubt in my mind he was a true artist.

Stanley Kubrick's long out of circulation first film, Fear & Desire (1953) is 
available in its entirety on YouTube HERE 

"Borey Lyndon"
Kubrick's masterpiece gets the Mad Magazine treatment

Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2015


  1. I love the cartoon! Thanks to Mad Magazine, I still think of this movie as "Borey Lyndon!" I didn't see the real thing until sometime in the 80's, when I made a lucky find at the local Blockbuster, but when I did, I was amazed to see what a great job Mad did of capturing the spirit of the picture, even as a spoof. One of Kubrick's best, along with "Dr. Strangelove," "2001," "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Shining." (Speaking of spoofs, I also loved 'The Simpsons" versions, "The Shinning" and "A Clockwork Yellow.") I know war movies usually aren't to your taste, but try to watch "Paths of Glory" sometime. The scene where Kirk Douglas leads his soldiers on an attack through No Man's Land is better than anything anyone else has done, even without CGI.

    1. Hi MD,
      There was always something about those Mad magazine movie spoofs that were so on-the-money, they were difficult to shake. To this day I can't see the name Jacqueline Susann without mentally going to Mad's "Jackpot Susann" and their hilarious "Valley of the Dollars" spoof .
      You're right about me and war movies (and I also have a tough time with Kirk Douglas) but perhaps I will one day give "Paths of Glory" a a chance if it's as compelling as you say.

    2. One more thing...Over the years, I got the impression that Ryan O'Neal was something of a lightweight himself, kind of like Redmond, which made him a perfect fit for the role. (It was much better than watching Reese Witherspoon trying to make Becky Sharp into a cute and cuddly proto-feminist underdog.)

    3. I agree. O'Neal's innate pluses and minuses as an actor seem to fit ideally with what Thackeray's Barry needed to be. I've seen the film many many times and I can't imagine anyone being better in the role.
      And yes, Witherspoon was pretty dismal in "Vanity Fair" for me. Didn't believe her for a minute.

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    1. Hi Gregory
      Barry Lyndon played at the Northpoint Theater for about four months, and by the time I went to see it, it was a fairly empty, quiet house too.
      I saw it perhaps two more times after that, and, being a teenager, the fewer people liked it, the more I felt the vindicated film school student with an eye for "art"!
      I'm glad people are now rediscovering it. It really needs a big-screen re-release, even if just for one day.

      From everything I've read about the making of this film indicates that Warners was willing to finance it only if Kubrick would cast a boxoffice name. With Redford out of the running, that left McQueen or (God help us) Burt Reynolds or Clint Eastwood.
      I think sometimes with limited actors, silence is eloquence. I think Kubrick gets that out of O'Neal and especially Berenson, who (I'm alone in this for sure) I think is just so wonderful.
      I like "The More Things Change, The More They Remain the Same" as a unifying theme connecting this and 2001. The ways in which these films compliment one another seems clearer to me now than when i was young.
      I think you're onto something in saying Kubrick's films are older person's stories. Unlike so many filmmakers (like Spielberg) I feel I've outgrown, Kubrick's movies really do have an intelligence about them that one seems to grow into.
      I liked "Eyes Wide Shut" a great deal too. Maybe because Nicole and Cruz look to me like Lady Lyndon and Barry.
      Thanks so much, Gregory!

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    1. I haven't watched "Eyes Wide Shut" in a long while, but I feel like digging out the DVD now.

      Wasn't it Mae West who sang of "A Guy What Takes His Time"?
      I know what you mean about the slowed down time in Kubrick's films. i like it a great deal but have no explanation for it. So many scenes in his films have a stillness most directors would be afraid of.
      he certainly got called on it a lot be critics, and the public responded by staying away from so many of his now-classic films in droves.

      But like you say, it's nice to have something to think about. How many filmmakers offer that these days?

  4. Hi Ken. I saw this film a long while ago because I 'm fascinated by Kubrick's movies. I couldn't say that they are enjoyable but there is something perverslely gripping about the bittersweet lives and horrifying situations that he portrays in his films. As you say, there is depth in his movies due to all of the painstaking recreations with the accurate details and massive film sets without any CGI effects and frantic editing that modern films don't achieve.

    I remember that I thought the film was very beautiful. Barry Lindons character was a bit off-putting. I understand now that was what Kubrick wanted to portray. I must see this film again to see Ryan O'Neal's performance in new light and for Murray Melvin, who I loved in "The Boyfriend". Marisa Berenson looks marvelously beautiful and empty in your screen caps. Thanks for the review!

    1. Hi Wille
      Glad you brought up Murray Melvin! He is always so good in everything I've ever seen him in. If you've never seen his debut film, "A Taste of Honey" I wholeheartedly recommend it.
      I'm not as big of fan of Kubrick as some, but like you, I can't help appreciating a filmmaker who (whether I enjoy the film or not) really seems to care about what they are doing. Like every other director, I'm sure Kubrick longed for a big, moneymaking hit, but I admire that he had artistic vision he followed rather than an eye towards what would make money.
      I don;t know hat it says about me, but I've always found "Barry Lyndon" to be so entertaining, and it never feels long (I have the same reaction to the Godfather films...except Godfather three, which feels like an eternity).
      Barry Lyndon was very popular among the film school crowd. I even remember coming across some Barry Lyndon-related graffiti in the school's men's room: Someone wrote (in reference to the oft-used quote in the dueling scenes) "I have not received satisfaction" and signed, Lord Bullington. of course, beneath this, someone left his name and phone number.
      To this day I am stunned Barry Lyndon could inspire anyone to write on a bathroom wall!
      Thanks for reading, Wille!

  5. We so often share the same outlooks towards movies and when there's one that we've resisted it's always such a delight when it turns out that we love it and should have seen it long ago! I have always avoided this movie. I think it's because I don't expect Ryan to be good or right in it and I have an aversion to men in powdery makeup. However, after reading this - and seeing your beautiful and carefully-selected screen caps - I feel I must watch it now! We are SO on the same page about CGI and the virtual absence of silence and stillness in movies. This one looks exquisitely beautiful with the natural lighting and burnished furnishings, pale colors, etc... I will definitely be tuning in the next time it comes my way! (And at last I know why Ryan O'Neal named one of his sons Redmond! LOL)

    I have to hop on the Mad Magazine thing a moment. They did a parody of "The Poseidon Adventure" called "The Poopsidedown Adventure" and, while I could marvel at the likenesses and the cleverness, the movie was too dear to my heart to really love that. (This was followed up with "The Towering Sterno!") I liked Mad, but was also very into Cracked, its newsstand rival, and had a 1977 issue that collected a whole mess of disaster movies into one issue ("The Upseidown Adventure," "The Towering Infernal," "Earthshake, "Airplot 1975" and others!) I kept it in a folder in my closet and one time I got a D or an F on some test in grade school and hid it in that folder so my mother wouldn't see it and later threw the folder away with the treasured magazine in there, too! LOL Karma....

    1. Hi Poseidon
      I think we are similar in having perhaps developed over the years a pretty strong sense of what we like and don't like. We're flexible to a degree, but if you're like me, you don't like wasting your time watching something you're sure from the outset you already know you won't like.
      It spares us a lot of painful movie experiences, but every now and then there's some hidden gem we've summarily dismissed before, only to have it be a favorite.
      Barry Lyndon's pacing and tone might not be to your taste (nor Ryan O'Neal, although he does have a pretty nifty shirtless boxing scene) but with your love of huge hairstyles, you have to get a load of Lady Lyndon. Sometimes her hair looks like it would not be out of place in a production of "El Grande de Coca Cola" !
      I hope you do give it a look sometime...maybe in installments.

      I absolutely love the mad magazine anecdote! It's so perfectly what a kid would do! Thanks, Poseidon!

  6. I saw 'Barry Lyndon' when it first came out and recall being puzzled and slightly bored by it - I think it's also a mistake to advertise a film based on its cinematography; audiences are going to want to have something else to look at for 3 hours other than beautiful lighting (I'm sometimes amazed at the bad advertising campaigns studios and producers come up with). However, based on your review, I definitely want to see it again - I enjoy the experience of having expectations upended and seeing new depths or possibilities in films that have these rigidly overriding reputations as One Thing or Another - or even the opposite, realizing that a film's rep is mainly hype (I wonder how can anyone see what's basically an expensive studio product like 'Gone With The Wind' as Great Film Art?). I really like what you say about Kubrick's care to recreate a material reality in his films. The CGI-heavy stuff we see today I find dismaying - although didn't Kubrick have to use CGI in his last film, 'Eyes Wide Shut,' as censorship imposition? (That's also dismaying.)

    Like some of the other commenters here, I would urge you to see 'Paths of Glory,' a very good anti-war film. Kubrick's direction of the battle scenes is remarkable, the flow of movement and how he uses the depth of the screen is visually exciting while yet emphasizing the horror you see happening. Even such an early film in Kubrick's career (I think it was his 3rd or 4th) already has the cynically dispassionate cool eye of his; he's firmly in control of what's happening onscreen. Probably the major drawback is Kirk Douglas's performance, which is standard breast-beating heroics (the other actors seem to 'get' Kubrick's temperament). Though Douglas was, I believe, a producer of the film and largely responsible for getting it made, so that's in his favor.

    1. Hi GOM
      Perhaps because so many movies today adhere to such pat formulas, advertising now seems merely a matter of saturation-to-submission. But as you note, when directors were making films that didn’t easily fit genre expectations, unusual movies like “Barry Lyndon” sometimes suffered from unimaginative marketing strategies.

      Too much hype can make me stay away from a film, and in today’s TCM-era, lemming-like hailing of every old film as a classic (as you allude with Gone with the Wind), I can enjoy certain films, but I’m really reluctant to put them in the category of art merely because they’re competently made.
      I rave about non-CGI imagery, but I'm aware that, were the technology around, I'm sure that Kubrick would have availed himself of it like everyone else (i hope not, but suspect he would).
      This leads me to wonder: did they ever release "Eyes Wide ShuT" on DVD WITHOUT all that digitizing? It was kind of annoying.

      For years I avoided "Spartacus" and then a friend gave me a copy for a gift. Douglas was as disappointing as ever, but the film was rather wonderful. Woody Strode stands out as having ten times Douglas' star quality and bearing., yet such a tiny role.
      After your comments I'm fairly certain "Paths of Glory" is in my future. You all have such great taste, you certainly wouldn't hand me a bum steer!
      Didn't Kirk Douglas AND Burt Lancaster produce a lot of their films? I can only imagine his own money behind "Come back Little Sheba" got Lancaster the job
      Thanks, GOM. As ever, comments that are knowledgeable, personal, and food for thought!

    2. You're right, both Lancaster and Douglas started their own production companies (Burt had Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions; Kirk had Bryna Productions, named after his mother). John Wayne also started his own company (Batjac). It was part of a post-WW2 phenomenon of star actors eschewing the studio system (where you would be under contract and have to make films the studio told you to do) and using their star power to create their own product. One of Lancaster's produced films was 'Sweet Smell of Success,' which I doubt any studio of that time would have greenlighted. It was all part of that tumultuous era of the break-up of the studio system (other contributing factors being TV, challenges to the Production Code, and the breakup of studio monopolies on theater ownership and distribution). It's probably why Douglas could produce a strongly anti-war film like 'Paths of Glory,' or produce 'Spartacus' (he was the executive producer) and hire blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo AND get him a screen credit, thus breaking the blacklist taboo. Another man who produced his own films was Otto Preminger, who made movies like 'The Moon is Blue' and 'Anatomy of a Murder' that challenged censorship. The 1950s were really quite an interesting historical era.

      I also agree with your assessment of how so many classic-era films are now hailed as masterpieces, when they're basically just good, solidly made studio products meant to entertain. I'm somewhat bemused by the auteur status granted some Hollywood directors of that era; they were basically only doing a job. The producer and studio heads had far more power in determining what a finished film looked like. That's why when Orson Welles was able to negotiate a 'hands-off' contract with RKO to make 'Citizen Kane,' his audacity produced such shock waves among the moguls; and, of course, when the film was not a financial success--due largely to the hostility of the Hearst press--Welles was never allowed such freedom again.

    3. Thanks for providing such a marvelously informative breakdown of the post-WW2 surge in actors striking out on their own and taking control of their own careers. Hollywood doesn't always acknowledge it, but a great many of the more groundbreaking films from the "classic" era were made outside of the studio system.
      Contributions like yours are of the reasons so many repeat visitors to this blog head straight for the comments section!

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    5. Ha! OK, so I'll hang on to my old DVD.
      Also, excellent point you make about CGI that I tend to overlook in my own criticisms: There is indeed a difference to CGI intelligently done. I'm not such an old fuddy duddy as to be anti-CGI across the board, but I do tire of movies that look more like video games than films (Luhrman's "Gatsby", the last Spiderman film I saw).

  7. Another superb piece of writing, Ken. I have to say that I loved "Barry Lyndon" since I first saw it in theatrical release; its mixed reviews were puzzling to me at the time (I understand better now); I loved the gradual pace, the delicate, subtle detail, and the depth of the characters and situations - I was genuinely moved by the film. My appreciation and understanding of B.L. has only grown over the years - Kubrick brings that God's-eye-view of his to history, to time and place, and the human struggles and motivations that are common to all eras. For me that godlike sense of detachment (as in “2001”) that pulls back, and then pulls in to reveal, is a big part of what makes this film timeless (it won't ever appear dated). I'm reminded of Gustav Flaubert, who gave us such a sublime and supremely crafted work like "Madame Bovary", and achieved it with subtle and ironic detachment, along with an almost cinematic use of language that embraced aesthetic beauty.

    1. Thanks, Joel!
      Wonderful to hear you enjoyed "Barry Lyndon" way back when. Honestly, at that time I hadn't known anyone who liked it, but my sister raved about it like nobody's business.
      You relay rather eloquently the charm and appeal of "Barry Lyndon", at least what has always been there for me. And it's true that this film will never feel dated (as does Doctor Zhivago with those bangs Julie Christie insisted upon). A lot of time can pass between viewings, but each time I see it I'm transported.
      Thanks for sharing your appreciation of this film with us!

  8. I got chills reading your review. It's been quite a few years since I saw Barry Lyndon, but some frames of it are etched in my mind like it was only yesterday. I too love Marisa Berenson's performance the best, but then I'm biased as she is perfection in my eyes. Thank you for the review - and I echo what others have said, do see Paths of Glory. It's bleak and grimy and, I'd argue, the best WWI dramatization there is.

    1. Hi Sandra
      And thanks! So many of the images I chose for screencaps are the ones which I have never forgotten. And while I'm biased about Berenson as well, I truly think silent roles are thankless because people tend to think "nothing is going on" when the truth is the miracle of movies is that the camera is capable of capturing what an actor is thinking and feeling.
      I found hers to be a very moving performance, too.
      And thanks for casting another vote for "Paths of Glory"! I'm honestly going to HAVE to check it out now. My wish is that I discover a new favorite! Thank you very much for reading this post and commenting!

  9. BL is one of the two films I walked out of. Around the 3/4 mark I just couldn't stand the too one-the-nose sardonic nature of it all, with the winking casting of O'Neal and Berenson and the mastubatory lighting.

    It had all the grace of a heard of buffalo trying to dance the menuet to me. I think I was especially mad that I saw it during a revival in cinemas with the critics just raving, instead of just being underwhelmed by it all on TV for free.

    Subtlety and Kubrick definitely didn't mix.

    1. Hi mangrove
      I recall there was talk of quite a few Barry Lyndon walk-outs (at least in San Francisco) during its first run, in addition to perhaps apocryphal reports of people having to be awakened by ushers for snoring.

      You've got to let us know what the other film you walked on was! It's rare for me to walk of a movie, but I recall doing so at a revival house screening of Polanski's "The Fearless Vampire Killers, " and when I was very young, I walked out of Ken Russell's "The Billion Dollar Brain," but that probably had to do with my expecting a james Bond-type adventure.

    2. Hey Ken,

      That is quite the bombshell you dropped!

      The second movie I walked out of, about 7 minutes in, was Maurice Pialat's 'Van Gogh'. I went at my local art house cinema fully expecting a revival of 'Blazing Saddles' but got my times mixed up and was faced with France's then reigning champion auteur's latest. I cursed my inattention but set in to watch the movie all the same since he was very acclaimed.

      Unfortunately I had forgotten that Pialat loved to work with non-actors (to better berate and belittle them is my guess since his atrocious behavior behind the camera was the stuff of legend). Faced with a wall of non-acting, ugly as sin photography and cheap as hell art direction and costuming, I left in a hurry.

      I later bought 'Blazing Saddles' on disc and it was pretty amazing.

      But 'Vampire Killers': what possessed you in hating (I'm guessing) the movie? When did you leave? It is, for my money, much more gorgeous than BL!

      And that ending is still one of the best cinematic gut punches alongside 'Time Bandits' and 'Devils On The Doorstep'.

    3. Although I own a copy of the DVD and eventually made it all the way through for the sake of friends of mine who swore that I simply didn't "get" it; "Vampire Killers" has just never been to my taste.
      Which of course is at the core of most critical discussion, personal taste- not objective quality of the film itself.

      Polanski is my favorite director, and I'm aware of the film being one of Polanski's own favorites, but "Vampire Killers" has staunchly remained the one film of his I can't abide. Most of it having to do with the humor.
      As for when I walked out- I lasted until Tate was abducted from her bath, but somewhere not long after that, around the 9,000th pratfall, I'd had enough. That was when much ado was made of a restoration of Polanski's cut of the film hit the revival theater circuit.

      So I keep my DVD copy around for those film school friends of mine who react as though their personal tastes under attack when I don't like a film they worship. It seems to calm them down a bit just knowing I own it.

    4. Oh, I checked out the trailer for "Van Gogh" and I see what you mean....

    5. Not just “Barry Lyndon.” I saw “The Shining” in a full theatre back when it was new, and there were walkouts.

  10. Hi Ken,

    I can't say I have much fondness for this beyond the beauty of its production. The first time I watched it I thought it was a gorgeous ponderous white elephant with O'Neal only average in the lead. However it was re-recommended to me last year by someone who loves it passionately and since it had been well over a decade since I watched it last I decided to give it another whirl.

    I was again struck by the beauty of its design, and like you gloried in the fact that it was blissfully free of CGI, but it was just too languidly paced for me. It's not as if that is necessarily a shortcoming for me either especially in this type of film but this felt static in many places.

    That's a good observation about the role suiting O'Neal's limitations and strengths as an actor, heaven knows he has many of the former and a short supply of the latter, and I thought more of his performance on the re-watch but while he was certainly attractive and somewhat charismatic he was never riveting. Since he was the focal point of the entire production that's a heavy flaw.

    I can't see myself watching it again anytime soon but if nothing else visually it's a masterpiece with beautifully composed shot after shot. All the women but especially Marisa Berenson's wigs are awe inspiring in their construction and detail.

    1. Hi Joel
      What's impressive about your comment and so many others here, is how many people have given "Barry Lyndon" a second try. I think that's awfully fair. Some movies really do hit us very differently after our initial exposure (especially in the atmosphere of hype). In later years, when revisionist thinking and follow-the-leader fandom can transform a former flop into a misunderstood classic, it can be tough to reassess a film through one's own prism and not the atmosphere of trend (like "Vertigo")
      But it seems you have given "Barry Lyndon" a fair chance and accept that your feelings for it have remained largely unchanged. No director could ask for more!

      I still go back in my mind to how much it was love at first sight for me back in 1975, and how afterward I had to dig up all the (pan) reviews from the local papers just to reread how different our impressions of Kubrick's film were.

  11. Has anyone ever noticed the Gainsborough-like paintings on the wall of the White Room at the end of 2001?

    And to think, by way of this, what his "Napoleon" would have been....

  12. Have you still not seen Paths of Glory? This strikes me as cinema blogger misconduct and you should be reported. Seriously, it might be Kubrick's most perfect movie. You know who's great in it? Adolphe Menjou. Seriously, he's one of the two principal heavies and its the best acting he ever did.

    1. My motto: Be wary of the cineaste who would have you believe certain films are essential. They're usually mostly essential to them.
      Seriously, I have seen "Paths of Glory" since writing this, and while it hasn't unseated "Barry Lyndon" as my personal favorite Kubrick, "Glory" is indeed magnificent, and Menjou is wonderful.

  13. I adore Kubrick and this is my second favorite of his films (A Clockwork Orange is my number one), as well as the movie that made me fall in love with his work. I saw 2001 at a university screening when I was 19 or so, but didn't much react to it. However, Barry Lyndon held me spellbound. I've seen it plenty times since and discover new layers every time.

    And yes, this couldn't be made as effectively today, though one modern movie that reminds me a bit of Barry Lyndon is The Favourite with Olivia Coleman and Emma Stone.

    1. I have a BluRay copy of A Clockwork Orange and I keep telling myself I will watch it again. I'm so much older than when I first saw it, I wonder if my perceptions will be the same.
      But Barry Lyndon still holds me spellbound, as it did you. Remaining my favorite. And I like your noting how THE FAVORITE (in Emma Stone's character) bears a similarity to Barry Lyndon.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  14. I loved "Barry Lyndon" from the get-go. I just surrendered to the beauty as it unfolded onscreen and watched fate do what it would to Barry. Kubrick was most wise to abandon Thackeray's picaresque telling, and reset a part of the tale as tragicomedy...we didn't need another "romp" ala "Tom Jones".

    Repeated viewings just shore up my first impression re Ryan O'Neal: it's such an authentically good portrait of a man that - not unlike most elements of the film - one wonders where film and reality begin and end. I doubt even any of the usual suspects (Clift, Brando, Dean in their prime(s)) could ever make Barry Lyndon live the way O'Neal does. I shudder at the thought of Redford even being an extra in the movie!

    Some trivia: a Georgian expert scholar friend assured me that only one coach & one set of uniforms in "Barry Lyndon" weren't totally authentic to the exact year, but absolutely everything else onscreen was.

    1. Hi Rick
      Seems like old times reading you here! Thanks for the visit. I think you might be the only person besides my sister who liked Barry Lyndon from the get-go. And it truly has help up remarkably well over the years.
      I share your enthusiasm for Ryan O'Neal in this. You express very well what is ingenious in the casting, what gifts O'Neal is unique in bringing to the role, and the utter unimaginability (Is that even a word?) of anyone else in the role. Kubrick's clinical cool has never been put to better use, in my opinion, and the film still gets to me.
      And that is a remarkable bit of trivia you related. I'm so impressed. These days a period film can take three years to make, cost ten times as much as LYNDON, and yet be overflowing with the most basic anachronisms. Now more than ever filmmakers need to grasp that films last and get replayed and replayed ad infinitum -"they'll never notice" should never be uttered by another director.
      Thanks for contributing here, Rick. Much appreciated!

  15. One thing leads to another with this blog. Round and round and round she goes... and somehow I landed on BARRY LYNDON. The discussion was so interesting that I dug out my DVD (that I’ve never watched because it is only seven minutes shorter than CLEOPATRA) and viewed it again. The only other time I saw it was 1975. And I loved it then. I went with three friends. At the end of the film, two of us were sitting on the edge of our chairs, enraptured by the film. The other two were staring at the ceiling and bouncing in their seats like four year olds. When the credits ran, they did, too.

    The natural light photography was much more impressive in 1975. It was new then and it was breath taking. Today, if you didn’t know it was supposed to be special, you wouldn’t necessarily notice. That might be okay. Perhaps the newness of what we were seeing was a distraction. Through this recent viewing, I marveled at how well the story advanced even when so little was happening on the screen. At times, it is like watching a tableau vivant. ‘One Grecian Urn. Two Grecian Urns! Three Grecian Urns… and a fountain!’ to borrow from The Music Man. I want to know about how that came to be. Kubrick is credited with writing the screen play. Did he have this vision and wrote to realize it? While he was writing, did he have the ideas about how he wanted to film it? Its distinctively his. There aren’t a lot of others like BARRY LYNDON.

    He was wise to cast Ryan O’Neal and Marisa Berenson. They are both photogenic from 360 degrees, no matter the lighting or the other circumstances. And since they actually get up and do so very little, it works beautifully that they photograph so well. Miss Berenson did, from time to time, remind me of Dovima in FUNNY FACE, reading Minutemen from Mars or being directed by Fred Astaire. (No FUNNY FACE on this blog!) As Redmond Barry, Ryan O’Neal never has to take a moral stance or champion a noble cause or do anything but weasel around for his own enrichment. A perfect role for Ryan O’Neal. All the acting needed to be done is handled adroitly by the character actors. Marie Kean was tremendous, equally fine as a doting mother or the vicious manager of the estate. Lotsa range. Brava.

    The MAD Magazine image from BARRY LYNDON made me laugh. But not as much as MAD’s “The Sound of Money.” Julie on a mountain with speakers tucked here and there, “I’m not singing now, I am pre-recorded. I’m just mouthing words that I’ve sung before….”

    Thanks for unwittingly prompting me to have another go-round with BARRY LYNDON. It was a lot of time well spent. But not as much fun as CLEOPATRA. Not even as much fun as GANDHI.

    1. Hi George - Given how often I've seen this movie (and find I'm so engaged it breezes along) and how I've only watched my copy of CLEOPATRA one because it felt like it took 7 days to watch the whole thing, it's fairly startling to me to be reminded BARRY LYNDON is a mere seven minutes shorter.
      I'm thrilled by the notion that the comments section here may have played a part in your revisiting this film for the first time in decades.
      You make some very interesting points, too. About how contemporary audiences are perhaps not likely to take note (at least not in the same way as '70s audiences did) of the natural lighting in the film. Also, the way the mannequin beauty of Berenson and O'Neal work in context with Kubrick's tableau visuals.
      It sounds as though your revisit to the film was pleasant enough. After so many years I can only suppose it was in many ways like seeing it for the first time.
      Thanks for ping-ponging around the blog as you've been. It's nice to know some of the old posts still get visitors.
      And yes, FUNNY FACE is a movie that really should be on this blog but is nowhere to be found. One day I shall get to covering it and all with be revealed regarding its not wholly unintentional absence.
      And thanks for the MAD Magazine laugh recalling the hilarious The Sound of Money.