There are so many events in our lives, so many people, so many places that it's sometimes quite amazing when something prompts us to remember where we were and who we were with when it occurred. Naturally, we all have no trouble remembering large, catastrophic things like 9/11, or a more pleasant happening like attending a friend's wedding or the birth of a baby. Memory can play tricks on us but we're usually accurate and it can be fun to reminisce now and then. I have quite a few films that can whisk me back in time to another place instantly. I first saw Gone with the Wind as a young boy on summer vacation with my family. I saw On the Waterfront for the first time in 1954 with my big sister in New Jersey. Trying to get in to see a showing of Jaws in 1975 and not being able to get a ticket. Going to the Mayfair Theatre to see Rocky with my wife, Chris, not long after the birth of our first child – and needing a babysitter. I remember both of us traveling to Bethesda, MD., in late December, 1975, to visit Chris' cousins (from England) and going to the movies; going to a new concept in movie houses: the "multiplex." In this case, a theatre that had been one, then split right down the middle into two. Half the size it had been but now with two separate screens and rather narrow rows of seats. The four of us couldn't stop talking about it, but once the film started we watched a new movie by the famous director, Stanley Kubrick, with a list of famous film credits known around the world. The film was Barry Lyndon and I can watch this film again and again.
Barry Lyndon starred Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, and Hardy Krüger. It was based on the William Makepeace Thackeray novel of 1844 titled The Luck of Barry Lyndon. An off-screen narrator gives us titles from the book to introduce us to the main character, Redmond Barry, and his adventures in mid-18th Century from Ireland into the world. The film, like the book it's based on, gives us an authentic look at an era in which there were only two types of people: rich and poor. If the two types ever mingled it was usually as lords and servants, officers and soldiers, ladies and maids. Most everyone else was pretty much relegated to a status even lower than servants. Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal) has to get out of his own personal situation: he loves his cousin, Nora, but she has her sights set on an English army captain. Barry won't allow it and a duel ensues in which Barry kills the captain and must flee for his life.
As he flees he joins the army and gets sent to Germany where the Seven Years' War is raging. His closest friend is killed and Barry flees the scene, stealing an officer's courier uniform, horse and identification. He almost gets as far as Holland where he encounters a German officer, Captain Potzdorf (Hardy Krueger), who immediately tells him he's an imposter and offers him a chance to live by becoming part of the Prussian Army. Barry eventually saves Potzdorf's life and receives a commendation from Frederick the Great.
He is then offered a chance to keep working for the Prussians by becoming a spy and finding out if the notorious gambler, the Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee), is actually a spy. But the Chevalier turns out to be a fellow Irishman and the two become friends; they connive to leave the grip of Potzdorf and the emperor. The two become quite adept at their skills and travel throughout the spas and chateaus of Europe, making lots of money and having a good time. But Barry becomes bored and finally succumbs to the charms of a beautiful wealthy woman, the Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). She becomes the widow of Sir Charles Lyndon, who dies leaving her his vast fortune. By 1763, Barry marries her and takes the family name, Lyndon. Lady Lyndon already has a son, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), who doesn't like his new father and sees through his motives. The couple has their own first child, a boy named Bryan and Barry dotes on his new son, avoiding any contact with his stepson. There will be a public display of their mutual dislike at a birthday party as Barry assaults Lord Bullingdon in front of many of Lady Lyndon's rich and influential friends. This does not bode well for Barry as his life takes another bad turn. He gives in to every wish Bryan has and lets the boy have a horse of his own. He warns him not to ride it alone, but, the child disobeys, rides the horse and is thrown to his death. Barry is inconsolable. Bullingdon has already left England.
Gambling debts pile up as Barry uses up his wife's fortune and eventually the family tutor, Reverend Samuel Runt (Murray Melvin), sends for Lord Bullingdon to return to England. He comes back and challenges Barry to a duel as the situation on the Lyndon estate has become unbearable. Barry agrees as Bullingdon, nervous about the duel, misfires his weapon. Barry does shoots his gun into the ground as Bullingdon says they must shoot again. This time Barry is wounded in the leg and eventually loses it to amputation. His mother has come to help him and he hobbles away, a broken man with no fortune or good name. Everything he's tried, all his adventures and misadventures, had come to nothing as the film ends.
Much has been written about Stanley Kubrick and several of his films have become mainstay cinema classics, studied and discussed for decades. 2001, A Space Odyssey broke all the rules and literally remade the movies. The ability to see into the future has been around for a long time. But when put on film, it becomes almost a reality. 2001 was made in 1968 and foresaw many things we take for granted today. Kubrick would take classical 19th Century music and create a "ballet" for space travel. Dr. Strangelove (1964) took serious cold war themes (like Fail Safe) and turned them into a black comedy with the ultimate scary ending: nuclear annihilation. A Clockwork Orange (1971) foretold a futuristic society of gangs who roam the landscape doing whatever they please as they listen to classical music. The violent nature of the film offended people but the realism couldn't be ignored. These three films got Kubrick Oscar nominations. As far back as 1960, Kubrick gained international recognition for his Hollywood blockbuster, Spartacus. After that he moved his productions to England.
But Kubrick's genius was in his uncanny vision of how a film should look and his special relationship with his actors. As you watch Barry Lyndon you'll see (and hear) the 18th Century. Scenes that look like classical paintings from the era come alive with dialogue and actions. The bulk of the movie's shooting took place in Ireland because many of the classical English estates mentioned in the novel, no longer existed. Ireland still had well-preserved manor houses and estates that were perfect for the film. Kubrick was no less a cinematographer as well as a director. He used newly developed lenses from NASA to be able to film scenes by real candlelight, adding an even more authentic look. The effects are simply amazing. And let's not forget the music, famous classical themes from the great masters, that make the film complete.
Barry Lyndon was not a commercial success compared to other Kubrick ventures but that doesn't take away any of the film's magnificent scenes and fascinating stories, rivaling other movies of a similar genre. Put it on your list of revisits or first-times; you won't be disappointed.
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My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).|
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