Of all of the shimmering cinematic jewels that Stanley Kubrick gifted to us over the latter half of the twentieth-century, it is perhaps his 1975 period piece “Barry Lyndon” that has received the least amount of attention. “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “The Shining” are required viewing for film fans, but ‘Lyndon’ remains a curious oddity in Kubrick’s filmography. The master’s superb, stylized, three-hour epic was perceived upon its release as being a bit too cold, too dissolute, with a protagonist whose behavior alternated between heartless, almost reptilian ambition and a sort of eerie blankness.
Granted, “cold” has become a sort of reductive shorthand to describe Mr. Kubrick’s body of work for a while now, but time has been good to “Barry Lyndon,” and many now view the Ryan O’Neal-starring drama as one of the director’s finest accomplishments. In case you’re unconvinced, Must See Films has assembled a nifty look back at Kubrick’s alienating masterwork, and it’s a treat for die-hards and novices alike.
On an aesthetic level, there is no way to overstate the significance that “Barry Lyndon” has had within its genre. The initial shoot itself lasted over 300 days, with Kubrick determined to abandon what he believed to be the artificial and overly-lit look of most of the era’s costume dramas. In its place, Kubrick used only available light (a technique Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu has borrowed for his trouble–plagued revenge film “The Revenant”), and the film’s candlelit scenes carry with them a luminous, otherworldly feel. The video also examines the film’s signature zooms, which, in the words of professed fan Martin Scorsese, “flatten [the image] out like a pancake,” and are themselves anachronistic to the otherwise stiff and tasteful period detail.
All of this staggering technique is executed in service of a story that is often deliberately static, with a hero who is seemingly devoid of redeeming human qualities. He is, in the words of the video’s narrator, a “common opportunist,” a human cipher who drifts like a ghost through some sterile manifestation of a mythic tableau, and whose only aspiration is to observe, emulate, and, finally, conquer those who have what he desires. There’s a lot to dig into here – as much as with any of Kubrick’s films, frankly. Watch the entire video below and please, please go check out “Barry Lyndon” if you haven’t already.