On December 30 at 7:00 and January 1 at 6:00 the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, will present a restored 35mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film “Barry Lyndon.” The presentation is part of “See it Big,” the museum’s screening series of movies meant to be seen on a big screen.
I am often asked to name my favorite movie, a formidable question considering how many movies I have seen. I always come up with the same answer, “Barry Lyndon.” I first saw “Barry Lyndon” at the age of 13 when my parents took me to see it during its opening week at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan. The Ziegfeld, along with the Paris, is now the last of the city’s great single screen movie theatres. I had never seen a movie like “Barry Lyndon” before and I certainly had never seen a movie theatre like the Ziegfeld. If you have not seen a movie there, go.
I have always maintained that “Barry Lyndon” is the period piece that ruined period pieces for me. Kubrick’s attention to detail (he was know for his incredible perfectionism) make “Barry Lyndon” look as if cast and crew got into a time machine and traveled back to 18th century Europe. The film is based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray and concerns the life and adventures of an Irish rogue. The story was filmed on location in Germany, Ireland, England and Scotland. In comparison to “Barry Lyndon” all other period pieces, to me, simply look like modern actors in costume.
Since that 1975 Ziegfeld showing I have seen “Barry Lyndon” many times, in movie theatres, on television and home video. I own it on both VHS and DVD but, for the past several years, the only time I have seen “Barry Lyndon” is on the rare occasions when it plays in movie theatres, as I do with most of the great films that I have on DVD. I still get lost in the story and hang on its every detail. I am still struck by the film’s use of music, which, over time has a stronger and stronger emotional grip on me.
“Barry Lyndon” was impeccably photographed by John Alcott. Kubrick’s idea was to capture the look of 18th century paintings, which were lit either by sunlight or candlelight. To this end he designed a lens fast enough to shoot by candlelight. By today’s standards, with faster lenses and film stocks, this is not as much of an accomplishment as it was then, but the results are still stunning. The movie is a painting come to life.
The stellar cast includes Ryan O’Neal, in the title role, Marisa Berenson and Leon Vitale. I read that Kubrick decided to cast O’Neal based largely on his perfomance in Peter Bogdanovich’s screwball comedy ‘What’s Up Doc?” (1972), another favorite movie of mine. What Kubrick was able to see in an actor in a modern screwball comedy that would work for the stately “Barry Lyndon” is a testament to his genius.
“Barry Lyndon” was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture. It won three, for cinematography, art direction and costume design. I can still remember watching the 1975 Oscars in utter disbelief when “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” won for Best Picture. It was a choice that, to this day, still defies logic and reason.
Each time I see “Barry Lyndon” I am swept up in its look, performances, music and story. What I am looking for most though is how the movie looked when I first saw it, which may be impossible. I think it was the combinati0n of a great movie and movie theatre plus the type of perception one can only have at the age of 13. I keep trying to recapture that first screening experience and, in so doing, “Barry Lyndon” keeps me coming back, revealing more and more each time.
Museum of the Moving Image is located at 35 Avnue at 37th Street in Astoria. For more information visit http://www.movingimage.us.
Barry Lyndon, Director Stanely Kubrick, 1975, Warner Brothers, 184 minutes, PG