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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Fri Sep 22, 2017 5:15 am 
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Knowing how Warner usually treats a new format with humpteen releases of their Kubrick, I wouldn't surprise to see at least some of them materialising. Especially, IIRC, A Clockwork Orange already have a 4K restoration available (but yet to be released on video).


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Fri Sep 22, 2017 6:07 pm 
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My 2 cents is that I think we’ll see 4K streaming on filmstruck before UHD discs.


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Fri Sep 22, 2017 8:17 pm 
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If one has a mere 50 inch (antique) plasma, will this look all that much different from its predecessor?


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 10:53 am 
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Blu-ray.com


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 2:34 pm 

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Michael Kerpan wrote:
If one has a mere 50 inch (antique) plasma, will this look all that much different from its predecessor?


Beyond the aspect ratio...?

Perhaps.


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Wed Oct 18, 2017 1:13 am 

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I forgot this came out today, I thought it was the 22nd or 25 or something like that for some reason. So what a nice surprise when I happen to be browsing my local record store's Criterion section, and find the blu on sale.

The transfer is a knockout. This is really a beautiful release. I'm so glad they got the original Warners logo at the beginning of the film back. And though the changes in picture quality from the WB blu are relatively small, they combine to create something noticeable. Also, of course the 1.66 here makes a difference, if a subtle one. That shape just so much better suits the film (I wonder why!) compared to the bland quality of 1.78:1 which ruins the height of the compositions, the tops and bottoms... and this film is in 1.66 for specific reasons, namely because that AR most closely resembles the shape of an old canvas that would have been painted when the film is set. So this is a noticeable improvement over the WB, I'd say. I haven't checked out the supplements yet but it is such a perfect treatment for one of the great films of all time, one of the great tragedies and one of the most deceptively poignant and emotional. Finally, it's gotten the release it deserves.

As a side note, one of my favorite scenes, easily one of the top 3 from the film, has to be when Barry encounters Captain Feeny in the forest. This is just such an oddly moving (and very funny) scene. The music gives it all a very melancholic undertone, witnessing Barry get humiliated further and stripped of his most needed and prized belongings. A feeling of innocence lost, or somesuch (and note how much of a professional criminal Feeny's young son seems to be already!). Captain Feeny has to be the kindest thief in the history of film. I love his droll wit, e.g. as he reminds Barry that it wouldn't be a great idea to let him keep his horse, as those in Feeny's line of work tend to prefer being at a faster pace than the people they rob. It's just a beautiful scene in every way, and thematically ties back into the whole "finding a father" thing that dominates the movie: the situation is even more charged for Barry as Feeny's loyal son has a strong, loving relationship with his father it seems, and this very relationship with a father (figure) is what Barry has been searching for since his own father died.

By the way, just while I'm here I might as well post a link to my favorite analysis of Barry Lyndon, written by the absolutely brilliant Mark Crispin Miller (whose essay on 2001 is likewise my favorite piece of analysis on that film). It's incredibly insightful stuff that feels very much on Kubrick's wavelength instead of arbitrarily forcing some ill-fitting theory on it.


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Tue Oct 24, 2017 3:28 am 
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Finally got my hands on this. The transfer does indeed look great (at least for every scene I sampled), and having the right opening logo and aspect ratio goes a huge way.

Worked my way though the bulk of the extras; the making-of has very little new info (just some anecdotal stuff), nor do the cinematography or costume features (though it's nice to see Ulla Britt Sunderland in the mid-70s). The editing one does get into Kubrick's working methods a bit, nothing too new for students of Kubrick, but not bad. One thing I've noted is that so many still images are re-used across the various extras; not a huge thing, but it gets a bit repetitive when working through a bunch at once.

The Michel Ciment interview is good, and he does put some things in terms I don't usually think of them. I have yet to watch the features on Ken Adam, the re-mix of the sound for stereo, and the one about the influence of painting on the images. I also haven't read the Geoffrey O'Brien essay in the booklet, which also includes the American Cinematographer articles on the film, which are readily available online already.

Incidentally, I have recently finished a draft of a ~25,000-word monograph on the film, if anyone who knows it is interested in any "peer review", I'm open to comments.


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:34 am 
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After watching the Criterion BARRY LYNDON and being blown away by it, I dug out the old Warner Blu-Ray to do a quick check if that Aspect Ratio Thing really amounted to anything. I'd been in the "whatever" camp during all the fuss initially, and my post here about "a couple extra rocks" summed up my feelings when I saw the screen caps on DVDBeaver. So I put on the Warner Blu-Ray and went to a couple of specific compositions and noted the top and bottom of the screens (the establishing shot of the Chevalier playing cards with the Prince of Turbingen, and Lady Lyndon's first flirtation with Barry, for example) and then put on the Criterion Blu-Ray to check the difference, and yeah, there's a difference and it's small but important.

Words duly eaten.


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2017 12:38 am 
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Finished the other extras tonight. Sir Christopher Frayling did a nice job summarizing Ken Adam's contribution and relationship Kubrick; like most of the other extras, nothing particularly new, though he did mention how many different houses were used and how Adam constructed the Lyndon estate from all of them, as well as some other details of Kubrick's and Adam's correspondence (such as Kubrick writing Adam after he had screened an assembly for Warners' executives, who had effused over the film and Adam's role in particular, and in which Kubrick praised his contributions -- meaningful as Adam had suffered something of a nervous breakdown and wasn't present for much of the shoot). The feature on the sound mix played a lot of "before and after" with the original mono track and the 5.1 restoration, and will likely be of more significance to those of you with a good 5.1 setup. I found the feature on the influence of various painters on the film's look more informative, simply as 18th-century painting is not a subject of which I am largely knowledgeable.

Geoffrey O'Brien's booklet essay is good; it is, I believe, the only aspect of the package to reference the unmade Napoleon project, a key influence, and he also concisely and accurately describes the purpose and effectiveness of O'Neal's performance.

This release is essential for the transfer alone; I personally won't spend much time revisiting the extras, as this is a subject about which I've already done considerable reading and I didn't find terribly much new here, but its nearly two hours of content should prove informative to more casual and newer fans.


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:11 am 
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Despite the seeming lack of difference in a screencap posted earlier, I checked in with caps-a-holic and it does indeed look like a better scan. I figured it had to be if it was a new 4k scan, the grain is certainly an improvement.


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 Post subject: Re: 897 Barry Lyndon
PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:41 am 
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Also the stability has been improved. In the Warner release, the slow pan from the musicians to the audience in the Lyndon house ballroom had stuttering issues which have been cleared up for the Criterion release.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 18, 2017 6:43 am 
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DISCUSSION ENDS JANUARY 1st.

Members have a two week period in which to discuss the film before it's moved to its dedicated thread in The Criterion Collection subforum. Please read the Rules and Procedures.

This thread is not spoiler free. This is a discussion thread; you should expect plot points of the individual films under discussion to be discussed openly. See: spoiler rules.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I encourage members to submit questions, either those designed to elicit discussion and point out interesting things to keep an eye on, or just something you want answered. This will be extremely helpful in getting discussion started. Starting is always the hardest part, all the more so if it's unguided. Questions can be submitted to me via PM.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 18, 2017 8:07 am 
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Well I voted for Stalker, but this is my favourite Kubrick film so I’m not sorry it won. It’s more or less perfect, I think. Weirdly, I first saw it in a black-and-white 4:3 VHS version with Spanish subtitles, and it was still very obviously a masterpiece. The BFI have produced four very interesting but annoyingly uncredited (unless I’ve missed something) videos about the film, available here. And below are three questions, which are really variations on the same question; I hope they help to start a discussion.

I often associate this story with Tom Jones, maybe because I saw the films around the same time. In Fielding’s novel, the protagonist is (supposed to be) immensely likeable and sympathetic, whereas Redmond Barry is, overall, kind of a prick. How does Kubrick’s film work to keep us interested in the progress of its anti-hero across three languid hours of screen time?

The imagery in this film is famously inspired by (and imitative of) 18th-century paintings. The frequent zoom-outs make us feel like we’re in an art gallery, standing back to get a better look at the canvas, just as Barry does when he’s trying to make it as an aristocrat. (On that note, it’s telling that Kubrick switches to frenzied hand-held camerawork when Barry attacks Lord Bullingdon and thereby scuppers his chance at a title.) Is it misguided to emulate static visual art in a motion picture, especially such a long one? Do you find this film static and lifeless; and if not, why not?

Does this film have an emotional impact on you? I tend to feel quite moved by the meeting between Barry and the Chevalier, and then moved to tears by the death of Bryan. These moments always take me a little by surprise, because the rest of the film is so studiedly cold, and because I hardly ever feel anything for Kubrick’s characters in any of his films. The seduction of Lady Lyndon, for instance, is prefaced by the narrator’s comment that Barry had lost all his romantic notions by this point, and the scene itself has to be one of the iciest erotic encounters ever filmed. Does the prevailing coldness throw the occasional emotive ‘spikes’ into relief (as it does for me), or does it leave you still feeling coolly detached even at moments when you might expect to feel moved?


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 18, 2017 1:16 pm 
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Sloper wrote:
Well I voted for Stalker, but this is my favourite Kubrick film so I’m not sorry it won. It’s more or less perfect, I think. Weirdly, I first saw it in a black-and-white 4:3 VHS version with Spanish subtitles, and it was still very obviously a masterpiece. The BFI have produced four very interesting but annoyingly uncredited (unless I’ve missed something) videos about the film, available here. And below are three questions, which are really variations on the same question; I hope they help to start a discussion.

I often associate this story with Tom Jones, maybe because I saw the films around the same time. In Fielding’s novel, the protagonist is (supposed to be) immensely likeable and sympathetic, whereas Redmond Barry is, overall, kind of a prick. How does Kubrick’s film work to keep us interested in the progress of its anti-hero across three languid hours of screen time?


First off, I remember seeing this for the first time around 2001 (haha)/2002 when a friend from middle school - and then college colleague - loaned me his Kubrick DVD set (first printing ... so those cardboard/snapper cases). I remember liking Barry Lyndon but I was also thinking there could be a better A/V presentation down the road. In 2017, I can say better late than never. And I'm glad I had that decade and a half gap or so as I have seen plenty more films since then and had a deeper appreciation of Stanley Kubrick at that time (and I was already enamoured of him back in 2001).

So to answer the first question, I don't find the runtime languid at all. In fact, it's one of those engaging three hours where it almost seems to be thirty minutes. It may be paced compared to something more contemporary (definitely compared to now) but there is also not a wasted moment in it. Every moment has something interesting and intriguing, even when looking at a scoundrel like Redmond Barry/Barry Lyndon.

I think what helps is if you have a bit of contempt for nearly everyone. Barry is naturally a scoundrel, but he is not entirely despicable. After all, he has to possess some bit of charm and grace in order to go from a minor Irish esquire turned rogue to an almost British peer. Also, he is more relatable than compared to the other people he has encountered: the buffoonish yet privileged Captain Quin, the stern yet fair Captain Potzdorf, the pompous Lord Ludd, the cantankerous Lord Lyndon, and (another) Oedipal descendant Lord Bullingdon ... then again, you are the company you keep (even briefly) =]. Next, he does have people in his life who do like him in some way: the second father Capt. Grogan, the charmingly schemeful "Chevalier du Balibari", even the aforementioned Capt. Potzdorf. These people help to bring out a side of him that would have been easily overlooked or even ignored. Finally, the whole story has the air of a sensational scandal, which is often guaranteed to be entertaining in its own right.

Sloper wrote:
The imagery in this film is famously inspired by (and imitative of) 18th-century paintings. The frequent zoom-outs make us feel like we’re in an art gallery, standing back to get a better look at the canvas, just as Barry does when he’s trying to make it as an aristocrat. (On that note, it’s telling that Kubrick switches to frenzied hand-held camerawork when Barry attacks Lord Bullingdon and thereby scuppers his chance at a title.) Is it misguided to emulate static visual art in a motion picture, especially such a long one? Do you find this film static and lifeless; and if not, why not?


Continuing on that note, this is far from lifeless. First and foremost, you have a filmmaker who knew fundamentally the importance of image in telling a story. In fact, this was a guy who made his photographs go for the cinematic, especially in storytelling. Yes, there is a certain beauty to marvel for sure, but - like effects - a story is what makes it interesting to start. Otherwise, it is just frilly ... funny enough, like many of the paintings of that time (more from the Continent than the UK).

One shot that sticks out to me in this regard is very early during Captain Quin's courting of cousin Norma Brady. It starts with a close-up of clasping hands and then it zooms back to reveal the two standing and finally, when it ends, you have a lovely vista ... and another couple standing off to the side. If the final part of the shot were a painting, it would be seen as a lovely landscape scenario. However, if you gave it a Hogarth-like title - let's say "An Intimate Affair Out in the Open Air of Clonegal" - it would give a hint as to its inherent satire. In Barry Lyndon, as you have the Irish folk music performed by the Chieftans and the dialogue, it makes it clear there is an undercurrent running contrary to what is going on in the surface.

Sloper wrote:
Does this film have an emotional impact on you? I tend to feel quite moved by the meeting between Barry and the Chevalier, and then moved to tears by the death of Bryan. These moments always take me a little by surprise, because the rest of the film is so studiedly cold, and because I hardly ever feel anything for Kubrick’s characters in any of his films. The seduction of Lady Lyndon, for instance, is prefaced by the narrator’s comment that Barry had lost all his romantic notions by this point, and the scene itself has to be one of the iciest erotic encounters ever filmed. Does the prevailing coldness throw the occasional emotive ‘spikes’ into relief (as it does for me), or does it leave you still feeling coolly detached even at moments when you might expect to feel moved?


I never quite got the whole "cool/cold" vibe when it comes to Stanley's films. There is a formal aspect that underlines all his films, for sure. But there are, at least to me, always engaging and intriguing. Perhaps, that "cold" label comes from how Stanley refused to play the simple melodrama route of classic Hollywood or even classic European filmmaking (prior to 1960 or so). Going back to that shot of Quin courting Norma, had that been in any other film, the emphasis would have been entirely on them. Then, when Redmond Barry enters the picture, it would have been about the three of them and thus you get a love triangle drama. While the love triangle drama is still there, the way it is shot and edited makes much more than just these three people. You get a sense of a greater context being conveyed beyond its apparent story. And while I can see how that can make it less personal, it doesn't negate the personal drama that's there. It just gives more colour and dimension, if you like.

At any rate, those are my thoughts for now.


Last edited by djproject on Tue Dec 19, 2017 9:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 18, 2017 2:17 pm 

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While 2001 and Eyes Wide Shut may eclipse this now as my favorite Kubrick, this still stands as one of my favorite films of all time. To be honest I also never get the Cold robot his detractors make him to be. Kubrick's films are extremely formalist, and he refuses to give in to cheap sentimentality. But I always find plenty of emotions boiling underneath the surface. I find all his films to be full of tender humanistic moments, while his ironic side always cracks me up. I truly find Barry Lyndon's first half a brilliant comedy and the second a shattering tragedy.
This is enhanced by the knowing narrator. Knowing in advance what happens creates an ironic/tragic feeling in me. Seeing all of young Lyndon's scenes after knowing he will die makes it all the more heartbreaking.
Also let's talk about Ryan O'Neil. Not a big fan of him, but I think Kubrick found the ideal actor for this role (more suitable than Redford for example). His passivity is ideal for the always changing Redmond. His character constantly changes identities and sides that O'Neil's blankness is perfect for. I also find him rather tender when needed. Sure he is a dick, but Kubrick makes us care for his quest. I think the brilliance of the film is indeed in those two halves
The first half creates the Redmond who will become Barry, shows us his adventures and in a way makes us care for him, before the tragic and in a way deserving second half.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2017 1:31 pm 
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I do find Kubrick rather a cold film-maker, and as I said above I tend not to have strong emotional responses to his work. I don’t think it’s just a case of him avoiding ‘sentimentality’, because I would say the ending of Paths of Glory, for instance, is quite sentimental, and that’s not why it leaves me unmoved; rather, it’s something mechanical in the stark emotional shift that takes place in that scene, and in the way the camera seems to be trying to engineer a response in the viewer through close-ups, or through that dolly-in on one of the crying soldiers. There’s a somewhat similar, and similarly sentimental, scene of communal song at the end of The Snake Pit, which always moves me very deeply, perhaps because it’s played and filmed in a way that feels truly invested in the lives and minds of the people we’re looking at. In both cases, the scene represents a ‘final piece’ in the overall scheme of the film: it’s the emotional pay-off following the more cerebral, analytical and objective material that has come before. But Kubrick, I think, leaves the mechanisms too visible, and I just end up thinking about what he’s doing as a director, instead of feeling what I’m supposed to be feeling. Paths of Glory makes me feel angry at the callousness and hypocrisy of the generals, but that’s inherent in the story; what’s brilliant about Kubrick’s filming of that story is the way he traces, in detail, the workings of hypocrisy and abuse. It’s a great and incisive film, but there’s something almost anthropological about its cross-section portrait of military hierarchy, and of the exploitative injustice that trickles down from the top. The final scene doesn’t seem to me to add anything to that portrait.

It’s interesting, djproject, that you say Kubrick’s technique doesn’t negate the personal story, but adds more colour and dimension to it, or conveys a greater sense of the context. I guess I often feel that Kubrick is more interested in the context than in the personal story, or more interested in the workings of the personal story – the details and processes of human interaction – than in the emotions or the characters themselves. For instance, here’s a passage from the novel; it’s the scene where Redmond wine in John Quin’s face.
Quote:
And in I went, and took my place at the bottom of the big table, as usual, and my friend the butler speedily brought me a cover.

‘Hallo, Reddy my boy!’ said my uncle, ‘up and well?—that’s right.’

‘He’d better be home with his mother,’ growled my aunt.

‘Don’t mind her,’ says Uncle Brady; ‘it’s the cold goose she ate at breakfast didn’t agree with her. Take a glass of spirits, Mrs. Brady, to Redmond’s health.’ It was evident he did not know of what had happened; but Mick, who was at dinner too, and Ulick, and almost all the girls, looked exceedingly black, and the Captain foolish; and Miss Nora, who was again by his side, ready to cry. Captain Fagan sat smiling; and I looked on as cold as a stone. I thought the dinner would choke me: but I was determined to put a good face on it, and when the cloth was drawn, filled my glass with the rest; and we drank the King and the Church, as gentlemen should. My uncle was in high good-humour, and especially always joking with Nora and the Captain. It was, ‘Nora, divide that merry-thought with the Captain! see who’ll be married first.’ ‘Jack Quin, my dear boy, never mind a clean glass for the claret, we’re short of crystal at Castle Brady; take Nora’s and the wine will taste none the worse;’ and so on. He was in the highest glee,—I did not know why. Had there been a reconciliation between the faithless girl and her lover since they had come into the house?

I learned the truth very soon. At the third toast, it was always the custom for the ladies to withdraw; but my uncle stopped them this time, in spite of the remonstrances of Nora, who said, ‘Oh, pa! do let us go!’ and said, ‘No, Mrs. Brady and ladies, if you plaise; this is a sort of toast that is drunk a great dale too seldom in my family, and you’ll plaise to receive it with all the honours. Here’s CAPTAIN AND MRS. JOHN QUIN, and long life to them. Kiss her, Jack, you rogue: for ‘faith you’ve got a treasure!’

‘He has already ‘——I screeched out, springing up.

‘Hold your tongue, you fool—hold your tongue!’ said big Ulick, who sat by me; but I wouldn’t hear.

‘He has already,’ I screamed, ‘been slapped in the face this morning, Captain John Quin; he’s already been called coward, Captain John Quin; and this is the way I’ll drink his health. Here’s your health, Captain John Quin!’ And I flung a glass of claret into his face. I don’t know how he looked after it, for the next moment I myself was under the table, tripped up by Ulick, who hit me a violent cuff on the head as I went down; and I had hardly leisure to hear the general screaming and skurrying that was taking place above me, being so fully occupied with kicks, and thumps, and curses, with which Ulick was belabouring me. ‘You fool!’ roared he— ‘you great blundering marplot—you silly beggarly brat’ (a thump at each), ‘hold your tongue!’ These blows from Ulick, of course, I did not care for, for he had always been my friend, and had been in the habit of thrashing me all my life.

When I got up from under the table all the ladies were gone; and I had the satisfaction of seeing the Captain’s nose was bleeding, as mine was—HIS was cut across the bridge, and his beauty spoiled for ever. Ulick shook himself, sat down quietly, filled a bumper, and pushed the bottle to me. ‘There, you young donkey,’ said he, ‘sup that; and let’s hear no more of your braying.’
If you had to guess, you might expect a film adaptation of this scene to resemble Tony Richardson’s film of Tom Jones, and Kubrick was more than capable of reproducing this kind of frenzied action faithfully if he wanted to. But he keeps the camera still, and he takes everything down a few notches. He spends about 15 seconds showing how Quin kisses Nora: Quin’s hesitant movements and the rather feeble kiss in which they culminate underline his cowardice and his mixed feelings about this marriage, and Nora’s calm, appealing stillness as she looks up at him underlines her mature, calculating approach to the union. Redmond is silent throughout this process, and though his emotions are legible – he looks from Nora to Quin when their engagement is announced, and seems crestfallen and outraged – his face is quite static. He takes his time responding to his uncle, and then speaks quietly and deliberately, whereas Thackeray’s teenage hero doesn’t even give the couple time to kiss before shrieking out his defiance and hurling the wine at his rival. Thackeray follows this action with some farcical violence, but Kubrick leaves Redmond standing in place at the table, and although others are moving around him there’s no sense of panic, no loss of control on anyone’s part. Nor is there any real sense of the bond between Redmond and his cousins, who in the film seem to regard him only as an annoyance, and not with any affection or regard. You could argue that the stillness of the scene makes Redmond’s violent gesture more shocking in its disruption of the civilised rituals taking place around him. But on the whole, I think this is now a scene about rituals: where Thackeray’s narrator observed the emotions of each individual at the table, Kubrick’s camera observes the family dinner, the way in which Quin and Nora signal their engagement, the importance of the communal toast, the embarrassment caused by Redmond’s failure to drink – and his challenge of Quin is a calculated fulfilment of another kind of ritual, not a spontaneous expression of anger. The others respond to it accordingly, taking stock of what has happened and what it means rather than jumping indecorously on Redmond.

The passage quoted above also gives a sense of how much the protagonist changes in the transition from book to film. It’s easy to see why Thackeray’s anti-hero is so likeable: not unlike Becky Sharp, he’s dishonest and often unprincipled, but he’s also vivacious, impulsive, and endearingly full of himself. I agree with what dda1996a says above about how Ryan O’Neal plays Redmond Barry: there’s a tenderness, certainly, which I think is what I respond to in the scenes with Bryan later in the film, but overall he’s a completely different character from what we see in the novel. He’s still, quiet, measured, mechanical, and his blankness is precisely what facilitates his picaresque journey through a series of different identities. At times he seems like a kind of void, assuming various vague shapes but never managing to sustain any of them. In the novel, he’s a headstrong rake, clearly destined by his character to do all the things we see him do – in the film, he doesn’t seem destined for anything in particular. I agree about his passivity; even his seduction of Lady Lyndon feels like a process he drifts through because his situation and surroundings push him into it. But this in itself is oddly appealing, oddly interesting to watch.

It’s as if the film is saying, much as in Paths of Glory, or indeed 2001, that it doesn’t matter that much who you are or what your character is; you are a blank slate onto which any number of identities can be projected, and there are larger forces working around you that will determine the course your life takes. I also agree with djproject that the resulting film is never at all boring, because Kubrick’s eye for the movements of these ‘larger forces’ makes them seem very compelling and even beautiful.

I mean I’m very glad that others don’t see him as a ‘cold’ or robotic director, and am interested in hearing from people who see the film differently; but to be clear, I don’t (in this case) see Kubrick’s cool perspective on human nature as a weakness or a failing. It’s one of the reasons I love this film.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2017 8:48 pm 
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I find this the greatest film of all time, a judgment necessarily limited to the films I've seen, but isn't that true of everyone? It is everything: emotional and analytical all at once, stylized and real, beautiful in its presentation of human ugliness, transcendent in its depiction of mortality. It's hard to narrow down its virtues. I wrote about here at Letterboxd, and earlier this year I also completed a ~80-page monograph on the film, which I'd be delighted to have any other interested party read to give some feedback.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2017 8:50 pm 
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Am I the only person here who saw this in its original release?


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2017 9:34 pm 
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O'Neal's "blankness" is essential to the storytelling pattern, which consciously owes a great deal to silent film. I'll quote myself, as it's easier than retyping:

Quote:
[The] expositional strategies are clearly reminiscent of those of silent film, a resemblance Kubrick happily proclaimed, gleefully admitting as much to Michel Ciment when it was mentioned to him. “I think silent films got a lot more things right than talkies,” he said (Ciment 174). The point was important enough that Kubrick, unprompted by Ciment, brought it up again five years later in relation to The Shining, and his comments are worth quoting at length, as they provide a guide to the director's approach here:

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I think that the scope and flexibility of movie stories would be greatly enhanced by borrowing something from the structure of silent movies where points that didn't require weight could be presented by a shot and a title card. Something like: Title: 'Billy's uncle'. Picture: Uncle giving Billy ice cream. In a few seconds, you would introduce Billy's uncle and say something about him without be burdened with a scene. This economy of statement gave silent movies a much greater narrative scope and flexibility than we have today. In my view, there are very few sound films, including those regarded as masterpieces, which could not be presented almost as effectively on the stage, assuming a good set, the same cast and quality of performances. You couldn't do that with a great silent movie (187).


The voice-over and third-party dialogue thus take on the role of audible silent film title cards (and, in fact, many silent movie theaters employed “lecturers” to provide explanatory verbal accompinament to the visuals [Aumont 7]). Even the cutting pattern of scenes allows for important dialogue spoken by others to accompany shots of Barry, and other characters frequently pick up the slack when The Narrator is silent. When Barry interrupts a romantic idyll between Quin and Nora, the camera focuses on Barry even as Nora's brothers complain to him, only cutting to them when absolutely necessary. After Barry throws the glass into Quin's face, the confused father of Nora is told by one of his sons what Barry's motivation is, as Barry silently glares at Quin. After the staged duel with Quin, that same brother discusses with Barry's mother the boy's future – the bulk of the conversation, about Barry, is staged as a three-shot where Barry sits silently between the interlocutors, as though their conversation is a voice-over explaining his options; only when Barry speaks do we cut into a more conventional coverage of a shot-reverse shot between Barry and his mother for their short conversation. And not long thereafter, once Barry's assets are stolen and he is in a desperate strait, an army soldier's recruitment speech focuses on the speaker for most of his pitch – but the only cuts to Barry accompany lines in the speech (“All clever young fellows who are free and able and are ambitious of becoming gentlemen” and “Those meeting the qualifications will immediately receive his majesty's royal bounty of one-and-a-half guineas”) which refer specifically to him.

Speaking to Ciment, Kubrick likened these silent film techniques to the efficiency of storytelling in “the best TV commercials” (Ciment 187), a theme he would repeat in further interviews. Promoting Full Metal Jacket to Rolling Stone's Tim Cahill in 1987, Kubrick made similar comments, but also allowed that he “suppose[d] there's really nothing that would substitute for the great dramatic moment, fully played out” (Cahill 375). Barry Lyndon has its share of this sort of presentation, as well, though the unconventionally inert performance of Ryan O'Neal upset some viewers and also runs the risk of making the character seem passive.

[...] Barry Lyndon comes in the middle of a curious back-and-forth in the dynamism of Kubrick's leading men. Very few characters are allowed the large performances that hallmarked A Clockwork Orange – Leonard Rossiter as Captain Quin, Frank Middlemass in the tiny role of Sir Charles Lyndon, and arguably at points Leon Vitali as Lord Bullingdon are the only exceptions. Big performances would contradict the stable, ordered high society that comprises the milieu of the film: decorum rules the day, even when characters find themselves in opposition.

Beyond the fairly affectless performances being appropriate to the film's historical and societal setting, they also, of course, contribute to the effectiveness of the application of the silent film strategies discussed above. O'Neal as Barry is frequently a manifestation of the actor in Kuleshov's experiments; and the times where he is not, and is asked to overtly emote, such as when he meets the Chevalier or sits vigil at Bryan's deathbed, gain all the more significance for their break from the film's otherwise established patterns.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2017 9:38 pm 
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Some thoughts on the zoom and voiceover:

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[One] result of the zoom's use is that it delays the release of information, and control of information is integral to the film's structure, both visual and narrative (as though “visual” and “narrative” can be separated in a Kubrick picture) – in addition to its delays, the film also frequently provides information earlier than is typical in dramatic presentation. The most striking aural exemplar of this fluid approach to the dissemination of information is The Narrator sardonically and sonorously voiced by Michael Hordern. In one of the film's most curious strategies, The Narrator frequently informs as to the conclusion of events right before they happen, completely removing from the viewer the element of surprise and investing instead the experience of suspense.

Kubrick spoke about this directly with Michel Ciment, drawing a parallel between our being “told that … Bryan is going to die at the same time we watch [Barry and Bryan] playing happily together” and the “dramatic effect” of having “the knowledge that the Titanic is doomed while you watch carefree scenes of preparation and departure.” He further asserted that “Barry Lyndon is a story which does not depend upon surprise” (Ciment 170-171).

The narration finds its source in Thackeray's novel, though its use is very different. In both serial and novel forms, the narrative is presented as the memoir of a braggadocios fool, and the reader must deduce that the narrator is self-serving and unreliable (the original, serialized form of the novel included an editor who would chime in to dispute Barry's claims from time to time). Kubrick, having just made a film presented from the point of view of its unreliable narrator, rejected that approach here, telling Ciment “it might have worked as a comedy by the juxtaposition of Barry's version of the truth with the reality on the screen, but I don't think that Barry Lyndon should have been done as a comedy” (170).

Kubrick's decision to maintain the voiceover technique, while relocating it from Barry to an unseen and allegedly impartial observer, allows him to condense exposition but still provide “ironic counterpoint,” as he put it about the sequence where a romantic idyll between Barry and Lischen (Diana Koerner), a peasant German woman, is undercut by The Narrator's snide gossip about the high turnover of her bed. This control of the release of information is key, and in speaking to Ciment, Kubrick betrayed a bit of his own strategy of using image, performance, and voiceover narration to create a cohesive whole (still in discussion of the Lischen sequence): “You could have had Barry give signals to the audience, through his performance, indicating that he is really insincere and opportunistic, but this would be unreal. When we try to deceive we are convincing as we can be, aren't we?” (ibid.)

Thus Kubrick can dramatize scenes on multiple planes: the external, superficial reality of the situation (Barry and Lischen's outwardly sincere emoting and claims of “Ich liebe dich”) is presented along with the internal, truthful reality of their inner attitudes (using each other for temporary physical affection). Central to this is an understanding that people do not always speak their true feelings or even behave according to them, and in fact the high society to which Barry aspires has its own sets of codes and mores in which contempt and dismissal can be concealed by politesse and ritual. Body language, spoken language, voiceover, and, indeed, the musical score all work together to present the entire picture – as though we had started with one detail (Barry and Lischen's expressions of affection) and zoomed out to gain a complete understanding of the encounter.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2017 9:52 pm 
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One aspect of the film seldom discussed is how it is a fulfillment of Kubrick's unmade picture about Napoleon. Not merely due to the rough time period, but also to Napoleon's/Barry's/[Kubrick's?] status as an outsider, who runs into trouble due to the powers-that-were showing resistance to an upstart. The Taschen volume on the unmade film includes the text of a series of interviews between Kubrick and a Napoleon biographer Felix Markham.

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Markham described Napoleon's background to Kubrick as being similar to Scottish highlanders, a people “rather barbaric as compared with Parisians, but definitely noble, not bourgeois, like poorish Highland squires” (Ellis 94). This paints a picture of an outsider, a position Napoleon also, as Kubrick and Markham discussed, found himself in relative to other monarchs. “[H]e wasn't one of them,” Markham pronounced (112). Napoleon went out of his way to remind the other kings “that they were kings by blood and he was king by achievement. … He was just not one of them.” “Obviously,” Kubrick responded, “he must have felt that in a thousand ways when he was dealing with them. … You know, in every conceivable way people communicate things psychologically and emotionally. He must have felt this all the time” (ibid.).

Kubrick was deeply interested in this outsider dynamic, and in dramatizing it in his film. “I think it's very, very important in the scenes – it'll have to be done subtly – but it's very important, I think, to portray in this very subtle way their attitude about him, the way they feel about him, and the way they treat him, and what they think about him,” he told Markham (113). “I mean, he wouldn't have had such a bad time of it if they weren't so offended by him.”


This seems an apropos description of Barry, as well, and his dismissal by Lord Wendover when they encounter each other at a club after the brawl with Bullingdon exemplifies Kubrick's stated aims above.

There are also a number of scene vignettes in Barry Lyndon that Kubrick had conceived for Napoleon, appearing in his late-60s screenplay:

- Napoleon's opening VO refers to his mother's undying love for him, similar to The Narrator of BL's early comment that his widowed mother stayed devoted to him;

- the opening scene of that script has Napoleon's mother telling him a bedtime story, perhaps resonating with the bedtime story Barry tells to Brian twice, the last time on the latter's deathbed (a Kubrick invention);

- Josephine's son comes to Napoleon to reclaim his father's sword, taken in a seizure of private weapons; Kubrick adds Barry's father's sword to the items lost to the highwayman;

- the scene of Barry standing by a fire after Grogan's death was initially to be used for an image of a Napoleon worrying about the possibility of Josephine's infidelity;

- the farmhouse pillaging while Barry is with the Prussian army was similarly raided from the earlier script;

- Napoleon first meets Josephine at a gaming table, while later Josephine and her lover Hippolyte Charles share their first kiss in a midnight garden, two scenes/images combined here for Barry's meeting/seduction of Lady Lyndon.


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