Monday, July 20, 2009

Barry Lyndon (1975)

US (1975): Historical drama
Written, produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick
From the novel "The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq." by William Makepeace Thackeray
With Ryan O'Neal as Barry Lyndon//Marisa Berenson as Lady Lyndon//Patrick Magee as The Chevalier//Hardy Kruger as Captain Potzdorf//Leon Vitali as Lord Bullingdon//Steven Berkoff as Lord Ludd//and Marie Kean as Barry's Mother

This three hour drama directed by Stanley Kubrick can be found on many critics' top ten list of 1975. It's the story of an Irish farm boy who makes a name for himself in high society. Kubrick decided to tell the story through a narrator, detaching us from the story completely. We are completely shut off from the characters and are forced to learn from the narrator. It's as if we are peasants receiving privileged information of the upper crust. It's clever, but it just doesn't work.

The film begins in Eighteenth Century Ireland, where young farm boy Redmond Barry is in love with his cousin. After she throws him over for a wealthy English general, Barry kills him in a duel and flees from the law. He is soon robbed and is forced to join the English Army during the Seven Years War. He soon deserts and is again forced to fight, this time for the Prussian Army. After saving the life of a captain, he is selected as a spy in the court of Chevalier de Balibari, a suspected spy himelf...and that's just the first half.

One of the most peculiar things about the film is that the actors are treated more like sets than the actual sets. We can probably gather more story from the production design than we can from the actors. They're lifeless. It gives the feeling of thumbing through a textbook on the subject or studying specimens under a microscope. This was most likely Kubrick's intention regardless of how misguided it was. The inhuman qualities of the story itself make for a painfully tedious three hours. Marisa Berenson is the only actor who manages to give a performance. The film's only bright spot as far as the cast goes.

Visually, Barry Lyndon is indeed a masterpiece. The art direction/production design is top notch. Beautifully crafted and constructed by wizards such as Ken Adam (who previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove), the sets speak for themselves and show much more depth than anyone on screen. John Alcott's cinematography is masterful in the way it uses natural lighting to evoke the style of paintings of the period. It is clear that Kubrick is relying more on these aspects to tell the story. Of course, no costume drama would be worth while without great costumes. Ulla-Britt Soderlund and Milena Canonero won Costume Design Oscars for their work on the film.

To say that Barry Lyndon is a true masterpiece is insane, but it is far from terrible. Is it that hard to believe that Kubrick made a film that was just OKAY? Because that's what Barry Lyndon is. It's just OKAY. Indulgent and misguided, but's okay. Stanley Kubrick's career was indeed a great one, but this film stands as one of his misfires. Rated PG, 184 Minutes. C+

7 Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Direction. Won 4 Academy Awards for: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation (Leonard Rosenman). Also won two BAFTAs.

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