Barry Lyndon (1975) Reprise
We’ve been here before, way back when I was barely in my terrible two’s, so you’ll have to excuse the poor page design and amateurish writing from way back in the distant mists of 2008. This is the fourth time I’ve seen Barry Lyndon on the big screen, the first time I’d seen the film at all was when I was one of two dedicated punters at my universities Film Society back in 1993. It might seem strange that it took me so long to get around to Lyndon given my adoration of Kubrick but you have to remember that I don’t think it had ever had a sell-though VHS release in the UK, and it certainly had never been screened on terrestrial television to my knowledge. I spent many of the preceding years working in the Video Rental business and like Eraserhead at the time it was gold dust to source, and I’m still not entirely why Warner Brothers, and presumably Kubrick, suppressed it so much. It’s initial critical indifference marked it as one of Kubrick’s curio’s and the picture quickly faded from view, but like my involvement and appreciation of the film this position has evolved over the intervening two decades and now Lyndon is fully embraced by the critical fraternity, in that oft repeated maxim of Kubrick’s films being decades ahead of their time. This BFI screening of their newly curated digital restoration was introduced by Lady Lyndon herself, Marisa Berenson, who is in town performing in Romeo & Juliet at the Garrick. My previous review was crafted was back when the world was still reverberating with the shockwaves of the financial collapse, eight years later and we still live in uncertain times, when the European project itself faces a tough and possibly terminal crossroads, and conflict and discord surround a generation of self-absorbed privileged birth politicians who will do and say almost anything to achieve power – C’est plus la change mon ami…..
Where do I start? Lavish, ravishing, a magnificent masterpiece which continues to yield new treasures. It’s a film on transactions and our species pathetic attempts to achieve such transient notions as prestige and influence at the venal cost of all else, through the mediation of wealth and social status inherit in our social systems, from the courtly protocols of decorum and behaviour down to the rituals of warfare and honour duels. Visually it is the strongest contender for the most beautifully photographed film ever made, and as usual the three hours danced away as I was once more sucked into the rituals and formalism of 18th century life. Two random thoughts – if the original ending of The Shining had been retained, of Wendy being visited by the Hotel Manager then this would have been the picture in a row that Kubrick ended with one of his main characters in hospital, recovering from their ordeal. Significance? Oh I don’t know, of course it also links through to the elderly Dave beckoning to the Starchild at the end of 2001, just thought I’d mention it. I’d also never quite squared the circle of the film starting with an immature, lovelorn Barry challenging his elders and superiors to a duel which begins his odyssey, while its his nemesis, the younger, blue-blood superior Lord Bullingdon who destroys him at the end of the picture, via a duel.
Normally I wouldn’t choose to see a fine masterpiece like this in a digital format but the sheen and contours on that trailer irked my interest, I’ll quite happily see anything new in that format but somehow going to see something shot on film just feels slightly sacrilegious, particularly when it comes to the absolute apotheosis of the craft – never forgot that was lensed on one of only two lenses with the required f-stop that NASA used in its satellite photography. This transfer however was superb, retaining that ethereal contours of the candlelights, and from my perfect seat on the second row you could see where the focus had been deliberately whisker blurred for the early romance scenes, suggesting Barry’s cupid . I guess this means we’ll also have a new BFI Blu-Ray in a couple of months, to add to the three versions of this film I already own.
Solid reassessment in S&S here. Marisa Berenson’s all too short Q&A covered the usual ground, how Stanley was a private and demanding dude on set but was also a warm and generous man, he never gave direct, erm, direction as that was what he paid his actors for – to arrive on time, to hit their marks, to know their lines and contribute accordingly. She advised of the whole production shifting back to the UK from Ireland overnight due to some distressing phone calls, as in 1975 certain elements of Irish nationalism wouldn’t have taken kindly to some British actors in full 18th century occupation costume dress cantering through the countryside. I’d also forgotten how funny the film could be in that dark and acidic way, you really need to see the film with an audience to appreciate . Finally, a gripe – why did you have to lose the original 1970’s Warner Brothers Logo (No. 10 here) and replace it with the sixth version of logo 11 on that same list? I hate it when they fuck around with restorations like that. Speaking of beautiful artefacts this might be the collectors purchase of the year, including the full 172 minute cut in 4K restoration directly supervised by Lubbeski and Malick, the other domestic and international cuts of the film but even those modern alchemists have some way to go to equal this;