Sunday, October 28, 2007

No. 4 - Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon, like McCabe and Mrs. Miller, is a visually stunning journey into the past. Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film is arguably the most beautifully photographed film in cinema history. Kubrick’s penchant for perfectionism and detail pay off gloriously in this 18th Century period piece. Hand-sewn costumes, authentic locations and innovative use of candlelight to illuminate interior sets provide a palpable sense of reality. The use of period chamber music, from Mozart to Bach, adds another layer to the film.

Kubrick tells the picaresque story of an Irish rake's rise and fall with Olympian detachment. The film also has a deliberate pace, which some viewers have no patience for. But life was much slower in the 18th Century, and Kubrick's film reflects that. Some criticized Barry Lyndon for its pace, its three hour length, and its lack of emotional empathy. But I feel that it's a mesmerizing experience, if only you meet the director half-way.

One can certainly trace the influence of Barry Lyndon on Days of Heaven, The Duellists and countless period pieces that followed. But Barry Lyndon is much more than a series of pretty pictures. Despite the visual opulence, Kubrick ultimately emphasizes the emptiness of his character's regimented lives. Whether stuck in a military formation or trapped within the confines of the peerage, the characters in Barry Lyndon are hedged about by social conventions and by their own moral limitations. It is a pessimistic view of the human condition, and an undeniably powerful one. It is Stanley Kubrick at the height of his considerable powers.

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