Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Barry Lyndon (1975) is a film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray. It recounts the exploits of an unscrupulous 18th century adventurer, particularly his rise and fall within English society. Ryan O'Neal stars as the title character.
After 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick began planning a film he hoped to make about Napoleon. When he learned, however, that a competing film was being developed (Sergei Bondarchuk's Waterloo), he lost interest in the project and made A Clockwork Orange instead. Barry Lyndon was then made, in part to take advantage of the copious research Kubrick had done for the aborted Napoleon. Kubrick was also interested in Thackeray's Vanity Fair but dropped the project when a serialised version for television was produced. He told an interviewer, "At one time, Vanity Fair interested me as a possible film but, in the end, I decided the story could not be successfully compressed into the relatively short time-span of a feature film... as soon as I read Barry Lyndon I became very excited about it."
The film did not do well at the box office and its commercial failure is considered as a factor that led Kubrick to Stephen King's The Shining - a project that would not only please him artistically but succeed financially.
Barry Lyndon departs from its source novel in several ways. In Thackeray’s original, events are related in the first person by Barry himself. A comic tone pervades the work, as Barry proves both a raconteur and an unreliable narrator. Kubrick’s film, by contrast, presents the story objectively. More is involved here than a simple translation from one medium to another, however. The change in perspective is deliberate: although the film contains voice-over (by actor Michael Hordern), the comments expressed are not Barry's but those of an omniscient narrator. This change in perspective also alters the tone of the story. Thackeray tells a jaunty, humorous tale, but Kubrick's telling is essentially tragic.
Kubrick also changed the plot. The novel does not include a final duel, and by adding this episode Kubrick establishes dueling as the film’s central motif (The movie begins with a duel, the one that killed Barry’s father, and duels recur throughout the film).
The movie’s period setting allowed Kubrick to indulge his penchant for classical music and the film score uses pieces by Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, and Schubert. The score also includes Irish folk music performed by The Chieftains. The piece most associated with the film is the main title music, Handel’s stately Sarabande in D Minor . It is used at various points in the film to indicate the implacable working of impersonal fate. The film won a 1975 Academy Award for Best Musical Score.
The film is famous for its cinematography and the innovations that made some of its most spectacular images possible. Kubrick used lenses developed by Zeiss for NASA which allowed him to shoot many of the scenes using natural light, including scenes by candlelight. Shooting this way produced a flatter image, allowing Kubrick to present his 18th century settings in a way that nearly replicates paintings of the period.
Barry Lyndon has been hailed by Kubrick fans as the definitive example of a period feature film. Quotations from the film appear in such disparate works as Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence and Wes Anderson's Rushmore.
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