by Allan Fish
(UK 1975 187m) DVD1/2
Saraband for Embalmed Lovers
p Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams d/w Stanley Kubrick novel “The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon” by William M.Thackeray ph John Alcott ed Tony Lawson md Leonard Rosenman m Franz Schubert, W.A.Mozart, George F.Handel, J.S.Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Paisiello, Frederick the Great, Irish folk music art Ken Adam, Roy Walker, Vernon Dixon cos Milena Canonero, Ulla-Britt Soderlund
Ryan O’Neal (Redmond Barry/Barry Lyndon), Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon), Patrick Magee (The Chevalier de Baribari), Hardy Kruger (Captain Potzdorf), Leon Vitali (Lord Bullingdon), Gay Hamilton (Nora Brady), Leonard Rossiter (Captain John Quin), Murray Melvin (Rev.Samuel Runt), Godfrey Quigley (Captain Grogan), Arthur O’Sullivan (Highwayman), Diana Koerner (German girl), Marie Kean (Barry’s mother), Frank Middlemass (Sir Charles Lyndon), André Morell (Lord Wendover), Philip Stone (Graham), Steven Berkoff (Lord Ludd), Pat Roach (Cpl.Tool), Ferdy Mayne, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Sharp, Michael Hordern (Narrator),
As the Radio Times put it, a.k.a “1789: A Georgian Odyssey”. How can I put into words my feelings for this incredibly savage film? Taken on face value, it is probably the most pictorially beautiful film ever made; a series of breathtaking painterly images put together with the barest threads of plot, with several exquisite uses of candlelight and sunlight that remain unsurpassed for their beauty, shot by Orange lenser Alcott with equally spectacular clarity and through natural light (and with the help of the groundbreaking lenses of Carl Zeiss). Some have said that as a narrative it’s too drawn out and far too slow. On that score alone they are absolutely right. However, though neither was quite as long, the same could also be said of Kubrick’s two previous visions of the future, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. He was forgiven there because they were prophecies of the future that must, by their very definitions, be symbolic to a point. Those who praise A Clockwork Orange praise it not for its plot but for its savage (in more ways than one) damnation of society. That is where people have made an understandable but fatal mistake with regards to this Thackeray adaptation.
Barry Lyndon should not be taken primarily as a story. (For what it’s worth, in the 1770’s and 80’s, an Irish gentleman of fortune, after several adventures in Europe, settles down to marry a Lord’s widow, but has affairs, treats his step-son harshly, and lives to regret it.) Nor is it about its performances (Barry needed Errol Flynn, but Kubrick came along forty years too late, though Michael Hordern’s narration is a constant delight). Kubrick has never been interested in telling stories, but in people and society in general. Thackeray’s plot is thus used as a clothes horse on which to drape an ornate critical autopsy on a former society, in this case Georgian Europe. Yes, it’s funereal, represented by the cortège following the white coffin of Barry’s dead son. But it’s meant to be, right down to the use of the music. As Alex was turned into a ‘clockwork orange’ to gain society’s acceptance, Barry also has to follow society’s conventions to gain acceptance. He must conform, but he fails to do so, symbolised by his failure to kill his stepson in the fateful duel. To conform as a gentleman he should have killed him to save his honour, but he is run by the same emotions for which there can be no place.
The film still divides opinion to this day. But I am one of the converted and like Martin Scorsese, who opined as such in his Century of Cinema documentary, I find it one of the most emotional films in movie history. Kubrick wasn’t just satisfied with bringing the period movie into the 20th century like Tom Jones, he sent us back in time to the rhymes and rhythms of the period (no wonder audiences soon to slobber over Star Wars didn’t get it). Love it or loathe it, the film also has one of the funniest scenes in film history, as Leonard Rossiter marches at the head of his company and makes faces to make stone smirk. Fans of TV drama will note that the Lyndon estate was filmed at Castle Howard, later immortalised as the Marchmain mansion in Brideshead Revisited.