on August 7, 2004
I am an unabashed Kubrick fan. I was initiated into his work with "A Clockwork Orange" when I was 16 and went from there. Why is it that "Barry Lyndon" has in my mind surpassed other more revered works. You can cite the magnificent technical attributes of the film(cinematography,art direction, costume design,music), however, a technically proficient movie is not necessarily a moving experience. I would have to say that what elevates this movie is the screenplay and the acting. Kubrick does a great job moving the story from Redmond Barry's youth to his downfall among the English aristocracy. Kubrick has also gathered a great cast of actors here in supporting roles(Parick Magee, Leonard Rossiter, Marie Kean, Godfrey Quigley, Steven Berkof, etc.). What cannot be overlooked is the performance of Ryan O'Neal. If some find him wooden or off-putting should consider that he is essentially playing an unsympathetic rogue. It is a daring performance and O'Neal is utterly convincing whether playing a headstrong teenager or a cold manipulator. One gripe about the DVDs in the Kubrick Collection: with the exception of "The Shining", the only extras on these discs are trailers.
Jack Warner is said to have once told an underling not to bring him any movies about people who write with feather pens. The mogul believed that costume epics were dull and plodding, guaranteed to test the patience of most audiences.
When Stanley Kubrick delivered his film "Barry Lyndon" to Warner Bros. in 1975, the studio's namesake was long gone, and that was probably for the best since he may have chosen not to release what is the ultimate feather pen movie and also Kubrick's greatest masterpiece. If asked to do the impossible and name the best film ever made, I wouldn't hesitate to give my vote to "Barry Lyndon."
Plodding? Yes. Dull? To those who demand rapid fire editing, it may be the dullest movie ever. For those who appreciate fine literature and fine art, "Barry Lyndon" is an absolute feast, visually, aurally, and dramatically. Based on an obscure novel by William Thackeray, it's the story of an Irish lad climbing the ranks of English society, alienating everyone in his path.
As Redmond Barry, Ryan O' Neal's Irish brogue comes and goes, but despite that inconsistency, he acquits himself well. Also worth noting is Michael Hordern's narrator, often seeming to express disapproval for the main character as he perceptively surveys his exploits.
The real star of the film is Kubrick and his production team who recreate the 17th century in a way that makes the viewer truly appreciate what life must have been like at the time. Watching the women, most notably the beautiful Marisa Berenson, sashaying about in glamourous dresses, one wonders how they could endure the apparent discomfort of such cumbersome clothing. It's no wonder they took so many baths. And watching Barry rise in society, one is aware that the society is ultimately every bit as superficial and uncouth as the rogue "hero" himself.
The movie is slow, very slow, but so was life in the era depicted, and the achievement of "Barry Lyndon" is that it transports the viewer to an earlier but far from simpler time in a way that no other film has done. The cinematography and art direction are peerless, as is Leonard Rosenman's score which adapts the work of some of the greatest classical composers.
Most movies, even the good ones, are as light as popcorn, easily forgotten when the lights come back on. The patient viewer who gives "Barry Lyndon" a chance to work its magic will be rewarded with a true cinematic experience.
Brian W. Fairbanks
on October 25, 2007
In 1975, one European reviewer wrote: "One collapses in one's seat and is propelled in a state of drunken euphoria." That's just how I felt about it, going back to experience "Barry Lyndon" over and over again at the Los Angeles Cinerama Dome theater in 1975-76. So I give the movie 5 stars. But for the standard 3x4 DVD (1:1.33 aspect ratio), only 3.
Having recently watched the 16x9 Hi-Def Blu-Ray discs of "Eyes Wide Shut" and "A Clockwork Orange" (after having watched the old standard DVDs a number of times), I can say that Hi-Def makes an important difference with Kubrick's movies -- not just because they are gorgeously photographed, but because the richness of the images conveys so much essential, visceral meaning that even a slightly degraded picture (i.e., standard DVD) actually impairs the work's emotional fullness, clarity and expressiveness. So much of "Barry Lyndon" consists of pure image and music, and so many of the images are meant to intoxicate, that the film needs to be seen in the best possible technical presentation.
Short of a new 35mm print, a 16x9 Blu-Ray disc displayed on a big 1080 set in the dark, uninterrupted, is the way to watch all of Kubrick, perhaps especially "Barry Lyndon." Now, finally, Warners Brothers Home Entertainment will release "Barry Lyndon" in Hi-Def on Blu-Ray disc on May 31, 2011. Yes, that means you have to buy it again, but if Warners' Hi-Def releases of their other Kubrick films are any indication, it will be worth it. With any luck, this Hi-Def release should accelerate the recent critical rehabilitation of this tragically under-appreciated masterpiece.
on December 3, 2011
First off; I have not purchased THIS PARTICULAR version of this all-time great film, however, I do want to purchase it for a friend who has bluray. The problem with this particular release is that the bluray version seems to be a terrible transfer. My real issue here aside from the fact that Warner Brothers continues to foist garbage transfers on an unsuspecting public is that ONCE AGAIN, Amazon.com refuses to separate it's product reviews, so it is simply IMPOSSIBLE for me to ascertain the quality of the DVD RELEASE vs. the BLURAY RELEASE.
AMAZON.COM, if you are going to continue to provide customer reviews, PLEASE STOP mixing reviews for separate products together; The QUALITY OF INDIVIDUAL RELEASES IS DIFFERENT AND AFFECTS THE CUSTOMER'S DECISION TO BUY!
on March 19, 2005
I am another who considers this film to be perhaps the finest cinematic feature ever produced. I have a few other contenders in my mind, but "Barry Lyndon" continues to grow more and more in my affection and incredulity. I have watched it, I don't know how many times. The DVD brings out it's sharpness, and I love going straight to my favorite scenes when I need an aesthetic pick-me-up. This is Kubrick at his prime, filmed after the scorching he received from the controversy over "Clockwork," and after the disappointment he suffered from realizing that his dream of "Napoleon" would not come to fruition [and oh, what a great loss to all of us it was that he never had the chance to make that movie! One can only imagine how Kubrick would have filled out the character of the Great Provocateur and how that movie would have informed history!]. In "Barry Lyndon," the chastened Kubrick comes roaring back from those two disappointments in all his strength and artistic genius--Kubrick the perfectionist doing the butterfly and backstroke in luscious irony. Yes it's long, yes it's slow--of course it is, it's as slow as the universe, and equally amazing. Every moment is fraught with the crispness of life moving forward and the irony of human ambition. I admit, when I first saw it in 1976 in 70mm at the theater, I was dismayed with it's seeming tediousness, but I was 18 then and I am nearing 50 now, and I think I've learned that the eye and the senses have to look and look and look again--and that's what the eye does with this movie, it looks with Kubrick, and listens with Kubrick, and delights with the master in the presence of his masterpiece. You stare at this movie, and you wait, and in that time spent waiting you find such incredible pleasure in every detail, watching every stroke of genius, every arranged perfection. This movie is simply abundant deliciousness with the accompaniment of Handel and Schubert and Bach and Irish traditional. O'Neil is as banal and absurd as his character and his adventures are exquisitely outrageous on the most sublime level. The cinematography and period reconstruction is pure eye candy. And the musical score is pure eloquence, enrapturing as it is instructive. Buy the soundtrack (see my other reviews, and get the CD now while you can), press the headphones against your ear, and relive over and over again that eternity in a moment when Redmond first walks out, oh so slowly and deliberately with the languorous texture of violin and piano and cello, to come close to, and then to accost, and to kiss Lady Lyndon. The whole movie is the finest minuet moving forward and you only need grasp it's hand and pull it to you and move with it in it's rythm. It is some of the most richly rewarding cinema you will ever experience if you allow it to be what it is--Kubrick the master, at the pinnacle of his craft.
Stanley Kubrick's beautifully opulent production takes many liberties with William Makepeace Thackeray's picaresque romance, The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq (1843), narrated in the first person depicting events from the eighteenth century. In particular, Redmond Barry who becomes Barry Lyndon, is something of an admirable rake, whereas in Thackeray's novel he is a braggart, a bully and a scoundrel. No matter. Kubrick, in keeping with a long-standing filmland tradition, certainly has license, and Thackeray won't mind.
Ryan O'Neal is the unlikely star, and he does a good job, rising from humble Irish origins to the decadence of titled wealth, employing a two-fisted competence in the manly arts, including some soldiering, some thievery at cards and a presumed consummate skill in the bedroom. Marisa Berenson plays Lady Lyndon, whom Barry has managed to seduce; and when her elderly husband dies, she marries Barry thus elevating his social and economic station in life. But Barry is rather clumsy at playing at peerage, and bit by bit manages to squander most of the Lyndon fortune until his stepson, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali) grows old enough to do something about it.
This really is a gorgeous movie thanks to the exquisite sets and costumes and especially to John Alcott's dreamy cinematography and a fine score by Leonard Rosenman. The 184 minutes go by almost without notice as we are engrossed in the rise and fall of Barry's fortunes. There is fine acting support from Patrick Magee as the Chevalier de Balibari and Leonard Rossiter as Captain Quinn, and a number of lesser players, who through Kubrick's direction bring to life Europe around the time of the Seven Years War (1754-1763) when decadence and aristocratic privilege were still in full flower.
The script features two dueling scenes, the first showing the combatants firing at one another simultaneously at the drop of a white kerchief, the second has Barry and his stepson face each other ten paces apart, but due to the flip of a coin, the stepson fires first. Both scenes are engrossing as we see the loading of the pistols with powder, ball and ramrod, and we are able to note how heavy the pistols are and how difficult it must be to hit a silhouette at even a short distance. It is this kind of careful attention to directional detail that absorbs us in the action and makes veracious the story. Notice too the way the British soldiers march directly en mass toward the French guns. They actually used to fight battles that way! Also note the incredible pile of hair atop Lady Lyndon's head. Surely this is some kind of cinematic record.
Bottom line: one of Kubrick's best, certainly his most beautiful film.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "[...]"
on August 31, 2014
Not much point in rehashing the story, which has been amply covered by others here. I just want to add that Kubrick's greatest movie gains by regarding it in context with his oeuvre, "A Clockwork Orange" in particular. It seems to me that "Barry Lyndon" can be regarded as a thematic sequel to that film, which was made prior to this one. (By 4 years. Stanley worked slow.) In "Clockwork", we watch a young man, a product of his time and place, set on one course. A crisis changes him, then a final crisis changes him back to the way he was. We sense the grinding gears of an unvarying destiny oblivious to temporary changes in fortune. The despair inherent in the story drifts by us because of the surface glee in the movie's final moments.
Kubrick must have been deeply affected by the themes in Burgess' story, because he returned to them in "Barry Lyndon". Though set in an idyllically photographed past rather than a drear slummy future, the story remains the same: a young man, a product of his time and place, sets himself on a course, but finds that his fate was written for him in the beginning of his life. The opening scene shows Barry's father killed in a duel "over the purchase of some horses". Duels and horses will play outsized roles in Barry's life, over and over again. The first moment we seen Ryan O'Neal as Barry, he's playing cards, and cards -- with their connotations of gambling and luck -- almost literally constitute his life: he makes his living with them, and even desultorily plays cards when there's nothing else better to do. The irony is that his life is the antithesis of the "luck of the draw". For a gambling man, his destiny is iron-solid, free of chance. Elements and events, both mundane and tragic, occur over and over again in an endless, wearying loop. He ends much as he begins: with his mother, playing cards.
One has to wonder if Kubrick was also deeply imprinted by his removal to Europe from America. America's supposed to be the land of endless opportunity for a free people who can carve out their own destinies. The fact that Kubrick made two films back-to-back about men trapped forever in amber, wholly enslaved to their circumstances and environment, indicates that he absorbed from England's very soil the notion of caste and "knowing one's place". This is one of the reasons why we sometimes forget that Kubrick was in fact American. Americans don't tell stories like these. Americans are too young to know about things like inescapable destiny; I think that recognition requires millennia of tradition.
I keep seeing the word "cynical" used to describe this movie, but that strikes me as a shallow interpretation. The truer word is despair. Despair does not succeed at the box office; this movie famously bellyflopped and more or less ended Kubrick's reputation as an exciting director to watch for. In fact, he was forced to follow up this masterpiece with an adaptation of a Stephen King haunted-house story. From Thackeray to King is a depressing declension. In truth, his reputation -- and talent, in my opinion -- never recovered from the fallout of "Barry Lyndon". In better news, Martin Scorsese, among others, started the process of rehabilitating this movie's reputation and it's now recognized as probably the pinnacle of Kubrick's art.
But make no mistake: if you require movies with uplift and feel-good endings, then do not commit yourself to this. The theme here is clear: up or down, rich or poor, life is basically a cycle of wearying tedium until the cycle ends with our deaths -- after which event, we're all equal. Worthless dust.
And yet, the movie's gorgeousness, the little intellectual puzzles Kubrick sets before us to figure out, and Michael Hordern's bemused narration of it all somehow redeem the despair. Cheer up, Stanley, you mope! Involving, challenging, beautiful, like a great novel, "Barry Lyndon" is Kubrick's greatest work. 5 out of 5.
on June 16, 1999
A deeply fascinating, though not very comforting period drama, Barry Lyndon is an immensely detailed masterpiece that requires profound attention for all three hours it takes the story to unfold, but also proves very rewarding and memorable at the end. There are many things in the movie that look downright unpleasant and even disgusting. The aristocratic hypocrisy under the mask of good manners, the weakness of character of many key figures (including the protagonist himself) - all this hardly makes for a movie which would be entertaining in a conventional sense. On the other hand, the honesty with which Kubrick transforms this particular adventure into a period piece of utmost importance is breathtaking, and the visual style of the film earn it the merit of being one of the most gorgeous movies ever made. Certainly not a movie to see as a substitute for the latest romantic comedy that's out of stock, Barry Lyndon is, despite (and maybe because of) this, one of the most wonderful cinematic experiences one can imagine. A work like this one gives a good name to cinematography itself.
on June 13, 2001
Let us dispense with the phrase "period piece" that inevitably pops up in most reviews of Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon". If there is any common thread that runs through all Kubrick films, it is the essential timelessness of the human comedy, whether the protaganists are fighting sabretooth tigers, Romans, Napoleon, in WW 1, in the Cold War, in Vietnam, evil computers in outer space, or thier own sexual urges. "Barry Lyndon" just happens to peek in on the silly earthlings while they are struggling through the 18th century. Kubrick coaxes a career-best performance from Ryan O'Neal, who is perfectly appointed as the handsome, "rougeish" opportunist of the movie title. The film is peppered with memorable supporting performances and lorded over by a wonderfully droll voiceover "narrator" (a Kubrick trademark!). The jaw-dropping, "oil painting coming to life" visuals alone are worth the price of admission. History buffs will probably observe that Kubrick's trademark use of classical music is "era appropriate" for once! Like any true work of art, "Barry Lyndon" is something to be treasured.
on October 24, 2007
I just received this exact DVD from Amazon. Although the package art now carries a 2007 date, the disc inside is the same as the 2001 release. It is NOT anamorphically enhanced. In fact, the files on the DVD are dated 2001, so it literally is the exact DVD release in 2001 - the menu is the same as well. The only difference is this comes in a keep case rather than a snapper case. Such a shame that WB won't do better by this overlooked masterpiece.