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

Poll Results: Favorite Stanley Kubrick Film

Despite a wide variety of votes, the winner was never really in question:

The Shining

THE RESULTS:
– The Shining: 10 votes
– Dr. Strangelove: 8 votes
– 2001: A Space Odyssey: 5 votes
– A Clockwork Orange: 5 votes
– Full Metal Jacket: 4 votes
– Fear and Desire: 2 votes
– Barry Lyndon: 1 vote
– Killer’s Kiss: 1 vote
– Paths of Glory: 1 vote
– Spartacus: 1 vote
– Eyes Wide Shut: 0 votes
– Lolita: 0 votes
– The Killing: 0 votes

No real surprise on the winner, but I did find it interesting that the lesser-known Fear and Desire managed to snag two votes. I take it that it’s worth tracking down? How about that great showing by Dr. Strangelove? Nice to see that finish second. No love for Eyes Wide Shut or The Killing though?

This Week’s Poll: With Oz the Great and Powerful opening over the weekend, now seems as good of time as any to have a poll based on its director, Sam Raimi. What two films do you rank as Raimi’s best work? Are you an Evil Dead fan? Love the Spider-Man series? How about Drag Me to Hell? Let’s hear what you think!

Have a great week everyone!

Poll Results: What grade would you give Seth MacFarlane’s performance as Oscar host this year?

The final tally is in on this guy’s grade as Oscar host:

seth-macfarlane-oscars

THE RESULTS:
– B: 13 votes
– A: 5 votes
– C: 5 votes
– F: 2 votes
– D: 1 vote

So, the general consensus seems to be that MacFarlane was pretty good, but not great. I can get behind that. Even though the Oscars felt more like a roast with him at the helm, I think he did a better job than the hosts of the last couple years. I’m glad he won’t be doing it again next year — it’s good to have variety — but I don’t have any major complaints with his performance.

This Week’s Poll: Last week, I wrote about my experience of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen in 70mm. This made me think about Stanley Kubrick and his impressive directorial career. My question for you this week is: what is your favorite Stanley Kubrick film? I’m allowing for two votes since it’s damn near impossible to pick just one. Really curious to see how this one plays out.

Have a great week everyone!

Movie Project #19: Paths of Glory [1957]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Paths of Glory [1957]

Paths of Glory [1957]
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Drama/History/War
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou and George Macready
Runtime: 88 minutes

War is hell. I don’t know if there is a director that has illustrated this better than Stanley Kubrick. His 1964 classic, Dr. Strangelove, was a pitch black comedy that satirized the Cold War, and 1987’s Full Metal Jacket disturbingly portrayed the dehumanization of soldiers during the Vietnam War. With Paths of Glory, Kubrick shows us how those doing the actual fighting are just pawns in the grand scheme of combat.

Set during World War I, Kirk Douglas stars as Colonel Dax, a commanding officer in the French Army who is ordered by his superiors to embark on a “suicide mission” to take over the German position known as the Anthill. His superiors, General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) and General Mireau (George Macready), know the attack is ill-fated, but Mireau convinces himself it will succeed once he learns he may get a promotion afterward. Natually, Dax objects to the assault, but there is little he can do about it.

Dax and his soldiers commence the attack, and the results are as expected. Numerous casualties fall to the ground as the first wave makes absolutely no progress. Another group of soldiers bluntly refuse to even leave their trench because death is inevitable. Dax retreats and tries to rally the next group of men, but ultimately he realizes the onslaught is futile and he aborts the mission.

Furious that his soldiers are “cowards”, General Mireau demands punishment for their actions. After initially requesting court martials for 100 soldiers, the General is talked down to reducing the number to three — one from each company. While knowing the trial is going to be a total farce, Colonel Dax decides to defend the men anyway. He makes a strong and valiant case for each man, but it doesn’t matter. The three soldiers are sentenced to death, just as expected.

There is no happy ending in Paths of Glory. While the vast majority of directors during this time period would have opted for some sort of positive resolution, Kubrick prefers to show the sheer brutality of atrocities committed during war. While the commanders and generals make political powerplays, the private soldiers are sent to do their work for them while getting little recognition in return. It’s disgusting, but that is war in a nutshell.

Paths of Glory [1957]

It’s amazing how well Paths of Glory holds up today, some 50+ years later. The anti-war message is loud and clear, and it resonates just as much today as it did back then. It certainly helps that Kubrick was behind the camera for this one, as his work in this film is legendary. Some of the long tracking shots are unforgettable, especially when we follow Dax through the trenches as he makes his way past frightened soldiers with gunfire and explosions going off nearby. The battle scene as the men push toward Anthill is remarkable.

Even though it was strange to see American actors posing as French officers, I could not imagine anyone other than Kirk Douglas in the lead role. He is phenomenal here, delivering a performance for the ages. The supporting cast is also terrific, led by Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou and George Macready.

Paths of Glory runs at a crisp and concise 88 minutes, and I almost wish it went a little longer. While I wouldn’t consider this one of Kubrick’s best (a testament to his outstanding career), this is still a powerful movie with a strong message.

8.5/10

Movie Project #13: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

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.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]
Directors: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Language: English/Russian
Country: UK

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!”

I would like to think of myself as a fairly big Stanley Kubrick fan. Everything I have seen by him has captivated me in some way — whether it is the hallucinatory brilliance of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the insane adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, to name a couple. Because I have enjoyed his work so greatly, it pains me to admit that it has taken me this long to finally see Dr. Strangelove. In terms of his filmography, this one ranks near the top on so many lists. It was due time that I saw this.

Set during the Cold War, Dr. Strangelove offers a satirical look at the omnipresent threat of nuclear war. After psychopathic US Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) decides on his own to initiate a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, all hell breaks loose. He orders his B-52s to fly into Russian airspace, leaving the United States President (Peter Sellers) to frantically find a way to cease the attack. He calls a meeting in the War Room with his military commanders, which includes General Turgidson (a hilarious George C. Scott). The Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) is also invited to the discussion, which Turgidson and others immediately object to. This situation leads to the absolutely classic line referenced at the beginning of this post. Desperate to solve this dilemma, the President calls upon a weapons expert, Dr. Strangelove (Sellers, once again), who is also a former Nazi.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

Meanwhile, back at the army base, General Ripper and his unwilling Group Captain, Lionel Mandrake (Sellers, again) are holed up against oncoming US Army troops who are sent to arrest the General. There is a slight problem, however: Ripper has warned his men that the enemy would attack disguised as American soldiers, so they open fire on their fellow countrymen.

Needless to say, this is all pretty fucking wild. There’s so much going on, and everything is done such in a cartoonish way that the satire bleeds through the performances. Folks, this is black comedy at its finest, and there are loads of hilarious moments.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

It all starts with the cast, who were clearly having a great time on set. Hayden, who I mentioned I was becoming a big fan of, is hilarious as the deliriously paranoid Ripper. George C. Scott is just plain awesome as the Commie-hating Turgidson, and I also rather enjoyed Slim Pickens’ delightfully over-the-top role as a cowboy piloting one of the B-52s. But, of course, it is Peter Sellers who dominates this picture with his trifecta of performances. Dr. Strangelove, the eponymous character, is full of great lines, and has a hilarious bit at the end that I can’t help but laugh just thinking about.

I was a little worried about the movie during its early stages. The slow beginning turned me off a little bit, but by the time we were taken to the War Room, I got hooked. I am happy to have finally seen Dr. Strangelove and its brilliant, sarcastic tone, and writing this post has just made me eager to watch it again. Fantastic.

9/10