Friday, October 29, 2004

DVD: Barry Lyndon (1975)

It’s strange how a movie can be a Best Picture nominee and the winner of four Oscars yet still end up somewhat forgotten. This epic Stanley Kubrick costume drama is perhaps the least-known of his films. But those who love it do so passionately. In the space of a week, I read about it on Matt Clayfield’s Esoteric Rabbit blog and talked to a fan who considers it not just Kubrick’s finest film, but the best ever made. I know when the universe is sending me signals, so I revisited the movie.

Even its detractors acknowledge its sumptuous beauty. The 18th century European settings are meticulously recreated. Kubrick designed the film after paintings of the period, and his vision is realized with the aid of John Alcott’s stunning photography.

But strong visuals are a given in a Kubrick film. What registers most strongly now is what a perfect match William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel is with Kubrick’s chilly, omniscient directorial style. The darkly satiric tone, the sense of characters bobbing like corks on currents of destiny, all of it catnip to the master. Kubrick also makes excellent use of narration, delivered flawlessly by Michael Hordern.

I can’t call the movie perfect, though. Ryan O’Neal remains a cipher in the lead role of the Irish social climber; Ron O’Neal (SUPERFLY) would have brought more to the part. And while the movie’s 184 minute running time is essential to its effect, there are traces of the bloat that would cripple Kubrick’s later work. It’s worth noting that the director’s best films are fleet and muscular. THE KILLING is 83 minutes long, PATHS OF GLORY is 86, while DR. STRANGELOVE – which, for the record, is my choice for the best film ever made – clocks in at an amazing 93.

Miscellaneous: Links

Lee Goldberg explains how, thanks to sex toys, attempts to halt runaway production are doomed. David Mamet offers a few of his favorite movie moments. And from the New York Times, a scenario in which January 20, 2005 could see the swearing in of ... Acting President John Edwards?