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Barry Lyndon is my favorite Stanley Kubrick movie. Certainly the most authentic period piece in cinema history, and possibly the most beautiful-looking film ever made. Adapted from the 19th-century novel by William Thackeray about an 18th-century Irish rogue who, through luck and skill, rises from a modest farmer to a wealthy noble--only to lose it all.
Shooting on location in England, Ireland, and Germany, the meticulous Kubrick made certain every detail was accurate. Extensive use of natural lighting makes each scene the visual equivalent of paintings from that period. Several sequences were shot exclusively by candlelight, creating lighting effects (and continuity headaches in matching different takes) never achieved before or since! This is the only film that demonstates the true, stunning glory of a huge crystal chandelier's illumination of a palatial room.
To accomplish this visual virtuosity, Kubrick overdeveloped the film stock and
employed specially adapted low-light lenses originally developed by NASA. These lenses had such a shallow focus range that, according to Marisa Berenson (above), the actors often couldn't move forward or backward at all during certain closeups, or they would go out of focus.
This cinematic masterpiece may be long and deliberatly paced, but it is never boring. In fact, it contains many lurid elements: a sword fight, three pistol duels, two brawls, two epic combat sequences, armed robbery, stealing, looting, and a couple of nude scenes. It won Oscars for art direction, photography, sets, costumes, and music.
Above: Barry, during his fall from grace, is approached and challenged to a duel. Ryan O'Neal, who can be a little one-dimensional in his performances, is perfectly cast in the title role of a vapid fop whose shallowness becomes a major factor in his undoing.
A bit of a control freak, Kubrick likes to be very "hands-on" during production. Anytime one sees a handheld shot in a Kubrick film, Stanley himself was operating the camera.

Left: Kubrick (second from right) prepares to shoot a fisticuffs sequence between Barry and a fellow infantryman.

Below: the commander and his troops on location in Ireland. Principal photography lasted nearly 300 days.
Kubrick's original plan was to film an epic about Napoleon with Jack Nicholson, but the financing fell though. He then decided to adapt a work by William Thackeray, a favorite author. Stanley's first choice was Vanity Fair, but he decided it was too long to be done justice as a three-hour film. He instead chose Thackeray's first novel, The Luck of Barry Lyndon. The matierial fit Kubrick's recurring theme of the transformation of man through a physical or mental journey.
MORE INFO: A review of the film.
An extensive analysis of the film and comparison to the novel.
Stanley Kubrick himself talks about Barry Lyndon in a very rare interview .
The Warner Bros. press kit for the film.





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