Stanley Kubrick’s epic masterpiece from 1975, Barry Lyndon, is now available from the Criterion Collection on a 2 disc Blu-ray release that is packed full of special features.
The film is based on the novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Thackeray. Like most epics this story deals with the rise and fall of the central character. Kubrick took the book and intertwined his own storytelling devices and ideas from the failed Napoleon project to bring the epic tale to life.
The novel is presented in first person, with Barry being an unreliable narrator and the story is more comedic in nature. Kubrick presents it in a more objective manner with a third person narration style that gives more of an overview of Barry’s life and situations around him. Much as in his other films, Kubrick changed several parts of the plot as well.
Redmond Barry who eventually becomes Barry Lyndon is played by Ryan O’Neal. The only way Kubrick could get funding for the film was on the condition that he cast a Top 10 box office star as the lead. The year the film was cast there were two age appropriate males in the top 10 that just happened to have Irish ancestry, Ryan O’Neal and Robert Redford. Redford turned the part down but O’Neal agreed. It was the only year O’Neal was in the top 10.
Barry Lyndon took 300 days to film over a two year span on an $11 million budget. Because of an apparent threat of the IRA against Kubrick, instead of filming entirely in Ireland, the movie was also shot around the English and German countryside.
It was a modest money maker but it was not the commercial domestic success Warner Brothers was hoping with it’s actor stipulation. Critical reaction was mostly disappointment with the majority of the negativity coming towards a perceived “coldness” from the director and the run time. It was one of the reasons why Kubrick selected a more mainstream idea in his next picture The Shining.
The film was recognized on a technical level right away, winning Oscars for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design and Musical Score. Kubrick was nominated for Best Director, Picture and Adapted Screenplay but once again he didn’t win any.
Today, Barry Lyndon is rightfully considered not only one of the best films from 1975 but one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s considered one of the finest period pieces ever filmed and a masterpiece worthy of the status of classical art. Many modern directors have cited Barry Lyndon as an influence in their own works such as Martin Scorsese, Lars von Trier, Ridley Scott and Wes Anderson.
I think one of the reasons Barry Lyndon is so memorable is the attention to detail. The music is period specific as well as the costuming which was either made from antique material or created the same way it was in that time. Kubrick used modified 50mm NASA lenses from Carl Zeiss to capture scenes lit strictly by candle light. Years were spent painstakingly sifting through art of the time period recreating an atmosphere and appearance for the film and the characters within it.
At a little over 3 hours long the film certainly has it’s own pace. I think it’s length is necessary because not only does it put us in a mental state conducive for that time period, but it makes us slow down and take in the scenery. Just like stopping and looking at a painting or a sculpture the film allows us time to examine the details before moving on to the next part.
I will not reveal the beats of the story but the gist is this. Barry Lyndon is set in the 18th Century and focuses on a young farm boy that grows up on his roguish ability to get what he wants. One day his luck starts to change and he is caught in the Seven Years War. Will circumstances finally change Redmond Barry or will he be able to charm his way into the life he wants and live out his days in happiness? You’ll just have to watch to find out.
Criterion included a booklet on this release which states:
“Barry Lyndon is presented in the film’s photographed aspect ratio of 1.66:1, as specified in a December 8, 1975, letter from director Stanley Kubrick to projectionists. This new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. The high-definition transfer created in 2000 and supervised by Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant, served as a color reference for this new master.
Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm magnetic DME (dialogue, music, and effects) track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX. The alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack was created in 2000 from original soundtrack stems by Vitali and audio engineer Chris Jenkins.
Transfer supervisor: Lee Kline.
Colorist: Janet Wilson/Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, Burbank, CA.”
Making Barry Lyndon – 38 minute featurette from 2017 with archival clips with those closest to Kubrick during the making of the film.
Achieving Perfection – 16 minute interview from 2017 with Douglas Milsome and Lou Bogue on working with Kubrick, also includes archival interview with cinematographer John Alcott.
Timing and Tension – 14 minute interview from 2017 with editor Tony Lawson.
Drama in Detail – 14 minute interview from 2017 with Historian Christopher Frayling.
Balancing Every Sound – 11 minute interview from 2017 with Kubrick assistant Leon Vitali.
On the Costumes – 5 minute French Archival interview from 1976 about the costumes of the production.
Passion and Reason – Fascinating 18 minute interview from 2017 with my favorite Kubrick author Michel Ciment as he gives an overview of the themes and place of the film in Kubrick’s oeuvre.
A Cinematic Canvas – Another highly interesting 15 minute featurette from 2017 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Adam Eaker on comparisons between art of that period and scenes from the film.
40 page booklet featuring a new essay and 2 articles with photos.
Barry Lyndon Final Thoughts:
If you already are a fan of Barry Lyndon then I can give you the highest recommendation possible for this release as Criterion lives up to their lofty standards. The color grading, original aspect ratio and special features sets it as the definitive home media release that needs to be owned in every serious film collection.
As anyone who knows me is aware I am unabashedly a Kubrick fan. Barry Lyndon is one of my favorite movies of all time and I would love to guarantee that everyone who watches this would get the same things out of it that I do. But that is simply not the case as art speaks so differently to people. I highly recommend a watch for those who are interested. If you’ve seen it before but were not impressed might I suggest a re-watch in the future. Typically Kubrick films seem to be ones that grow on you as you see them at different points in your life. Hopefully this Criterion release can become one of your favorites as well.
Barry Lyndon on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection is available at Amazon and other fine retailers.