Thursday, November 28, 2013

November Blind Spot: Barry Lyndon

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
Once again because of the person behind the camera, calling Action! Mr. Stanley Kubrick, widely regarded as one of the best directors film industry has ever produced. After Bergman and Tarkovskiy earlier this year and Ozu to follow next month, director being the principle reason of inclusion in this line-up has been a standing theme of this year's blind spots. I like some of Kubrick's films, even love a couple but in general I am not the biggest fan of his work. So I always need an extra push to check some of his films that I haven't yet and I think this series can be just that. 

So, what is the story about?
Barry Lyndon(1975) is a story of Redmond Barry, son of a lawyer, who leaves with his mother under the patronage of his uncle after death of his father in duel. After receiving quite an encouragement from his uncle's daughter, Nora, he duly falls in love with her. She plays with him for a while and after finding someone wealthier, someone with better prospects leaves him for that guy. Blinded by her love, he challenges her new lover, kills him in duel and has to run away from police. After running away, he enlists himself in army, fights a seven-year war for England, gets bored after a while, runs away, gets caught by a Prussian captain, enlists back into Prussian army, saves life of captain who caught him and starts working for police after war is over. His first assignment is to spy on an Irish person but he becomes a double agent and runs away with this guy. Two of them form an unusual bond and wander around, swindling people of heir money in gambling. One of the days, he sets his eyes on Lady Lyndon, beautiful, wealthy wife of old, sickly Sir Charles Lyndon. Lord Lyndon dies soon after and obviously Barry assumes his position as soon as he can and starts spending 'perfectly good family fortune' on his ambition and spendthrift attitude. Did I bore you already? Imagine watching it for 3 hours...

This is unlike any other film Kubrick has done. He is often praised for venturing into different genres, which this movie can be another example of, but even then you will always see some sort of social commentary in them. He is usually extremely critical of the society and showcases it in most acerbic way possible. There is nothing of that sort here. Considering almost unbearably over critical aspect of his films is my principal problem with him(I lose all my shit over soldiers singing Mickey Mouse Club title song in Full Metal Jacket(1987) at the end), you would think I will be much more receptive of this film. What we get here is the worst kind of labourious, uninteresting bore for over three hours. If there was some sort of social commentary somewhere in there, it was lost completely on me in my boredom.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
It is rather unfortunate that I have to begin here with negativity but the only thing more unfortunate than that is I don't have anything particularly positive to say about Barry Lyndon. My biggest problem with this film is I can't even say I hated it. Not because I found some redeeming qualities in otherwise dull movie but because even to hate a movie, you have to have felt something. I don't think there are many things I was so apathetic about. Even in the most dramatic, most climatic moments of the film like the final duel between Lord Bullingdon and Barry Lyndon or Bryan falling off the horse, my only thought was 'Get Over With It!'. It is long, it is tedious, it is monotonous and altogether boring. In all the 185 minutes of this film, there must be 100 odd characters that come and go on the screen and there was none, none I had any interest whatsoever in.

Like many other of his films, Kubrick seems to have spend a lot of time on creating a certain look and feel of the movie. Even here, cinematography is one aspect I can sort of get behind. Kubrick's camera seems to reveal in every second of this film, even in the most unnecessary, over drawn moments. However what it does basically is slows down the pace of the movie to trickle. It is so slow that it drowns even the most surprising moments of the film. Kubrick must have been meticulous about the make-up, costume and hair designing of this film as well and it certainly shows. However I thought them, especially make-up, to be overdone. So much so that I found most of the side characters to be almost caricature of real characters. Unnecessarily over-the-top portrayal by those involved has to bear equal blame in this. Unless you find a way to make it particularly interesting, like in Goodfellas(1990), voice-over narration usually dampens the film for me and here it does so quite efficiently.

As I have said before, for one reason or the other, I have always had problems with Kubrick. This guy never seems to catch a break with me. To put it bluntly, I think a lot of people like him because you are supposed to like him. If you don't, there is something wrong with you. Maybe there is, maybe I am such a novice, which I accept anyways, that I don't understand the greatness of whatever it is front of my eyes but I don't think of Stanley Kubrick when I think of my favourite directors. And not because there are other more worthy choices, which in my opinion there certainly are, but because I genuinely have problem with some of his most revered works. However how can I form an informed opinion about anything without being informed? So I take it as my duty to watch all his films and I swear I enter every one of them with hope that this will be the one to make me his devoted follower like most other informed folks. Well, this certainly wasn't to be the one!

After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
If at all Barry Lyndon is anything, it is homework. Nothing more than that. There is absolutely nothing in this movie to make it stand out from the rest and somehow make it an 'essential' watch. Unless you are a perfectionist and want to watch every film of someone involved in this film or enjoy boring yourself with an absolute lackluster of a film, there is nothing in this film for anyone here. Considering the status of Kubrick in the industry, most film lovers are bound to stumble to it eventually and I don't want to be the one to keep others away from this. It's just that I don't think anyone needs to be in any hurry to watch this. You can always find better ways to waste 3 hours of your life on something else. Anything would do!

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
If there was an unnecessary question ever, it is this one. No, it does not and even if it did, I certainly don't want to open them. I still haven't seen 3 of Kubrick's films, Spartacus(1960), Lolita(1962) and Killer's Kiss(1955), 4 if you count Fear and Desire(1953) and I know I will get to them at some point but they do not owe anything to this film. I would have watched them anyways. If at all it had any effect, it would be to detract me further.


  1. Shantanu, I have always admired you greatly as a fellow cineaste as well as a film aficionado. And I have always respected your refined taste for cinema. But (please pardon my saying this) you have not only disappointed me greatly but have also hurt me deeply by dismissing a master work (not only of cinema but also of literature) like Barry Lyndon with such disdain. You call it a long, boring and dull film... but what it is truly is a sprawling, sumptuous cinematic epic - a haunting work of cinematic art that has no equal. Based on a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon is a film that belongs to the highest echelons of cinema. Kubrick had an eye for spotting literary works which had the potential to be made into formidable films. There are only a few other names that come to mind (some that I can think of are Hitchcock, Ford, Truffaut) who could match Kubrick in this regard.

    I can also see that you don't regard Kubrick's works very highly (even though he was the most original of American filmmakers... only Welles and Malick come close) ... but I am sure that you will be having your own valid reasons, some of which you have mentioned above. Like and disliking a movie or a director is a very personal thing and no one has the right to question anyone else's taste. But, the manner in which you have written off Barry Lyndon has annoyed me the most. You must understand that Kubrick deliberately keeps his characters at a distance from the viewers (the cold and calculated detachment)... it's something that has seldom been done in cinema. More often than not, it's the other way around. Kubrick doesn't want the viewers to feel empathy for his characters... it's all being done in a very well planned manner. And the narration serves as a conduit, like a wand in the hands of the wizard who uses it to unleash his immaculate design. None of the characters are likable... and this only adds to the above effect. Trust me, only Kubrick could have achieved it with such aplomb.

    If you would have followed Terrence Malick films closely you would have noticed that he is trying to change the grammar of cinema by playing with the voice overs... while his Days of Heaven is the most subtle in its use of voice overs, his To the Wonder is the most abrupt till date. I have a strong feeling that Barry Lyndon must have had a strong influence on Malick... most of Kubrick's works, over the decades, are known to have inspired filmmakers all across the globe. The long runtime of Barry Lyndon can pose an impediment to an uninitiated viewer but trust me, not a second of it is wasted... not a moment goes by wherein Kubrick loses his control over things... the execution is just perfect. I, for one, was drawn into the film from the word go... there can be others who may not be as receptive to it as I, but calling Barry Lyndon boring and dull would be blasphemous.

    In the words of the great Roger Ebert, "The film has the arrogance of genius. Never mind its budget or the perfectionism in its 300-day shooting schedule. How many directors would have had Kubrick's confidence in taking this ultimately inconsequential story of a man's rise and fall, and realizing it in a style that dictates our attitude toward it? We don't simply see Kubrick's movie, we see it in the frame of mind he insists on -- unless we're so closed to the notion of directorial styles that the whole thing just seems like a beautiful extravagance (which it is). There is no other way to see Barry than the way Kubrick sees him."

    I have been most candid and honest (like you were in your above analysis of the film)... hope you wouldn't be offended by my views. Lastly, I implore you to watch the movie again... this time with considerable love and affection that every work of cinema deserves. But, before you do that please do read the following review of Barry Lyndon by Roger Ebert:

    1. First of all, Sorry for such a late response.

      Secondly, I am not going to come out and say You are wrong and explain why I am right. Just as I have mine, you have yours and they can differ. You think there is not a second in this film wasted. I think I can put the whole film in that category but that's just my opinion. There is no point in trying to get everyone line behind me. Actually, this diversity of opinion is what I believe makes blogging interesting.

      I find it curious that you would bring up Malick trying to defend Kubrick because I actually agree that he is probably the one closest contemporary to Kubrick. Interesting because, like Kubrick, I don't appreciate him either. I find his films are beautiful to look at but miss everything else in them.

      And yes, I WILL watch it again sometime but I will be in no hurry At All to do that.

  2. I finally caught up with Barry Lyndon over the weekend, and surprisingly enough I really enjoyed it. I was a bit hesitant partly due to its running time and also my general lack of enthusiasm for period pieces, but I found it to be very engaging. It's not my favorite Kubrick at all, but it fits in nicely in his filmography.

    1. If I am not wrong, you like Kubrick's films in general right? Maybe that's why it worked for you and I am glad it did. I wouldn't want anyone to feel like - That's three hours of my life I am never getting back. :)

  3. Sorry you were bored with this one. If anything, I'd recommend watching it again, but Kubrick might just be one of those directors whose work you don't like. After all, it comes down to personal preference in the end. :/

    1. I think you posted your 1975 ballot just a couple of days after I posted this and I was like "Wow! That's the polar opposite of me". But it's all good. Some things just work for some and some things absolutely don't.

      I will muster up some courage(and time) to watch it again though! We'll see then. :)


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