Movie Project #44: Barry Lyndon [1975]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Barry Lyndon [1975]
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick (written for the screen by), William Makepeace Thackeray (novel)
Country: UK
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Romance
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Krüger, Leon Vitali
Running Time: 184 minutes

Barry Lyndon has always seemed like an outlier in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography. When most discuss his work, they bring up The Shining, A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey (among others), but his 1975 epic period piece is often neglected. Despite my deep love for the director’s work, both the length of the film and its 19th century setting have pushed me away from watching it. Yet I should have never doubted Kubrick — this is a masterful piece of filmmaking.

The film tells the story of Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), a fictional 18th century Irish peasant who somehow weasels his way into British aristocracy. His tale is fairly inconsequential and he’s not much of a likable fellow, but it is told in such a way that it’s hard not to remain engrossed.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Barry’s childhood is shaped by the death of his father, who was killed in a duel. As a teenager, he falls in love with his older cousin, Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton). Barry becomes enraged when she ditches him for the wealthy English captain, John Quin (Leonard Rossiter). The two men decide to settle their dispute in — what else? — a duel. Barry wins this battle, but is forced to flee as a result.

While on the run, Barry’s life begins to shift rapidly. He is robbed by the notorious highwayman, Captain Feeney (Arthur O’Sullivan), sending him deeper into poverty. This prompts Barry to join the British army, who are in the midst of the Seven Years’ War. It is here where his less-than-moral traits begin to surface. He deserts the army, gets caught by the Germans, enlists in the Prussian army, begins cheating at card games, and once again flees from his military position.

And that’s merely the first act.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

The film’s second act follows Barry’s life as he manages to marry a well-off widow, the Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berensen). He takes her last name (now Barry Lyndon) and settles into an aristocratic role that he hardly deserves. There is no passion in their marriage, and they seem to only stay together for their young son (and Barry’s love of money). Lady Lyndon’s son from her past marriage, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), hates his stepfather, prompting many confrontations between the two. In his later years, Barry’s life begins crumbling with multiple tragedies and a rapidly increasing debt, and we watch his eventual demise.

There is a lot to digest in this film, but its slow pacing makes it easy to take all of this in. Some may consider its deliberateness to be dull or boring, but there was never a time I wasn’t engaged. This is an extraordinarily beautiful piece of filmmaking, with immaculate design and elaborate setpieces. Three of the film’s four Oscar awards were even due to its visual prowess (Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design). Its soundtrack, a blend of Irish folk and classical music, is absolutely perfect for the film’s setting, and it nabbed a fourth Oscar for Best Musical Score.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Ryan O’Neal is an interesting selection for the male lead, but his narcissistic portrayal of Barry is spot on. As I mentioned before, this is not a very likable character, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to his story, even if I also happened to be incredibly detached. To be fair, Lyndon is hardly the only selfish character in the film — nearly everyone has their negative traits on display for all to see. The supporting cast, mostly made up of character actors, is fantastic, with Leon Vitali’s emotional performance as Lord Bullington being a major highlight.

Yet with all of this praise, Barry Lyndon remains a tricky film to recommend. On one hand, it is a technical marvel that is absolutely gorgeous. On the other, it is a very slow period piece about a number of detestable people. For me, the sheer beauty of the film made the three hour runtime decidely worth it, but it’s not one I will go to as often as some of Kubrick’s other work.

8/10

Movie Project #21: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Writers: Pier Paolo Pasolini & Sergio Citti
Country: Italy/France
Genre: Drama
Starring: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti
Running Time: 116 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I like to push the boundaries of my film viewing, and Salo is widely considered one of the most disturbing films of all time.

Accolades: part of the Criterion Collection, 500 Essential Cult Movies, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

I had been told to expect the worst with Salo. Widely considered as one of the most disturbing films of all time, Salo‘s reputation is second to none. I had heard stories over the years from friends and fellow bloggers, nearly all of whom recommended steering clear of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film. Yet my curiosity persisted, eventually culminating in its inclusion in this year’s project.

Imagine my surprise when I found Salo to not be as painful as I expected.

Yes, this is a disturbing film and an unpleasant watch, but as someone who has unfortunately become desensitized to “shock” content thanks to the internet — one can only be so surprised after experiencing 2 Girls 1 Cup, Tubgirl and the like — this wasn’t as offensive as I imagined.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

Now, on the other hand, the film itself is an exercise in tedium and agonizing to watch in that regard. The plot is basically nonexistent — simply put, four wealthy fascists kidnap a group of 18 teenagers (9 boys, 9 girls) and subject them to grotesque forms of torture. That’s it. This happens for TWO HOURS.

These teens, whom are nude throughout most of the film, are raped, whipped and forced to commit extreme acts of sexual depravation (a number of which involve human excrement). None of this is worth showing even once, yet this happens over and over again with no real thought given to a narrative.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

This is meant to be a serious film, one that acts as some kind of ridiculous commentary on fascism, but it’s hard to take something like this sincerely. The actors that play the wealthy fascists often go completely over-the-top with their performances, with one in particular, “The President” (Aldo Valletti), being absolutely goofy. I even saw some of the kids struggling to maintain character during a few scenes by laughing inappropriately. Some of the more controversial scenes — such as the feces feast — are actually more darkly comedic than anything. The “special effects” (a mix of orange slices and chocolate) are not convincing in the slightest (not that I really want them to be), and the character reactions are absurdly exaggerated. For my money, Pink Flamingos was far more disturbing — that one goes to extremes that this one doesn’t dare.

In a nutshell, Salo is a poorly executed shock film that is meant to be justified as a political commentary. I’m not buying that, and quite frankly, this is an utter waste of time.

3/10

Movie Project #1: Nashville [1975]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I see those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Nashville [1975]

Nashville [1975]
Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Joan Tewkesbury
Genre: Drama/Music
Starring: Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Shelley Duvall, Ned Beatty, and many, many more
Running Time: 159 minutes

Reason for inclusion: Robert Altman is considered one of the greatest American directors, and I have never seen any of his work.

Accolades: Five Oscar nominations (one win for Best Original Song), nine Golden Globe nominations (one win for Best Original Song), inclusion on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

I had a chance to go to Nashville once during college. An annual music industry event was held there, and a small group of students from my program took the trip. I couldn’t afford it at the time — go figure, a broke college student — but in hindsight I wish I had found a way to go. After watching Robert Altman’s Nashville, I am even more curious about the Tennessee capital, the country & western music headquarters of the world.

Nashville, the film, is a massive ensemble piece that follows the lives of 24 characters during a five day period. It is in the heat of the Presidential race, and a new upstart party candidate, Hal Phillip Walker (who we never see on screen), is in town for an early political rally. We are there to witness the five days leading up to this event.

Nashville [1975]

There isn’t really a central story arc to Nashville; instead we are introduced to a variety of characters who are just living their own lives. They are a diverse group: there are musicians (both professional and wannabes), eccentrics (including a 3-wheel biker played by Jeff Goldblum), loners, businessmen, politicians. At first, since so many are introduced at once, it’s difficult to keep track of who’s who. However, many of them grow to be unforgettable.

There’s Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin), a gospel singer and wife of two deaf children. She also happens to be a target of lust by singer Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), he of folk group “Bill, Mary & Tom” fame. Bill (Allan Nicholls) is having marital problems with his wife, Mary (Cristina Raines), who herself is deeply in unreciprocated love with Tom.

Nashville [1975] -- Keith Carradine

Also on the music front, there is Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley), a wildly popular country singer who is recovering from a burn accident. Despite the best wishes of her husband, Barnett (Allen Garfield), she wants to return to performing immediately, perhaps exerting herself too hard in the process. Her top rival, Connie White (Karen Black), is also making the rounds in Nashville. On the other side of the spectrum, the bottom rungs of the town’s music scene, there is Sueleen Gay (Gwen Welles) a buxom red-haired woman who is sharp as a box of rocks and can’t sing worth a lick — but that doesn’t stop her from trying.

Set in a popular music city, it’s no surprise that the film relies heavily on music. Nearly an hour of the running time is devoted to musical performances, and most of the songs were written and performed by the actors themselves. Some songs are better than others (Keith Carradine’s Oscar-winning “I’m Easy” is a true standout), but all are true to the country & western vibe. I generally loathe country music, but I rather enjoyed many of these on-screen performances, especially from the veteran singer Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson).

Nashville [1975] -- Haven Hamilton

Now considered by many to be one of the great American films, the influence of Nashville is still felt today. I imagine that director Paul Thomas Anderson is a big Altman fan — without Nashville, we likely would have never received Boogie Nights or Magnolia. By all accounts, this is a film that likely warrants at least a second viewing, simply because there are so many characters that it’s impossible to catch every little reference the first time around. As it stands, I quite enjoyed this film, and I am excited to see more of Altman’s work.

8.5/10

Movie Project #31 and #32: Jaws [1975] and Dark City [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss.

I had seen parts of Jaws over the years, but had never sat down to watch the entire movie. I am kind of amazed that it has taken me so long to do so, as this is a top-of-the-line summer blockbuster flick. It’s impressive that a movie of this caliber can wait until the hour-past mark to actually show the great white shark. In fact, I found the first half of the movie to be the most fascinating, as we are watching an unseen creature terrorize a small island town. This is when the horror elements kick into full gear; we know a huge shark is out there, but since we don’t see it we feel somewhat invincible to a potential attack. But then, of course, the shark kills a couple people, including a child, and all hell breaks loose.

The second half of the movie focuses on three men — the town sheriff (Scheider), a ‘professional’ shark hunter (Shaw), and an oceanographer (Dreyfuss) — as they head out on a boat to kill the shark. I wasn’t as enthralled with this part of the film, although it did have some great moments (such as the hunter’s lengthy story about his time on the Indianapolis). Still, I enjoyed the cast, especially Dreyfuss, and John Williams’ epic score makes things even better. I can agree that this is one of Spielberg’s best. 8/10

Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly.

I added Dark City to my project because I have some friends that absolutely love it, and because it was listed as Roger Ebert’s best movie from 1998. While watching the film, I was intrigued by its neo-noir style. It has obvious similarities to The Matrix, which was released one year later, and I can see why it has a bit of a cult following now. The dark atmosphere, dystopian city and intriguing sci-fi plot were all things I enjoyed from the movie. Unfortunately, the acting hampered things a bit for me.

Rufus Sewell seemed aloof and disinterested in the lead role, and I still don’t know whether I liked or despised Kiefer Sutherland’s overacting while playing the stuck-between-good-and-evil Dr. Schreber. The visual style is impeccable, but at the same time, the movie almost feels amateur-ish. I enjoyed Dark City, but I can’t help but feel that a better movie could have been made, considering the interesting sci-fi story and (normally) strong cast. 7/10