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Out of the ashes of Napoleon
on 16 February 2016
A roguish lying philanderer travels 18th century Europe in search of fame and fortune, but mostly fortune.
Stanley Kubrick's first and only venture into period costume drama is probably his self awarded consolation prize after the huge disappointment of not getting his epic Napoleon Bonaparte biopic to the silver screen. Made in Ireland, after the international furore created by his previous film A Clockwork Orange, Lyndon is a strikingly beautiful film shot in part using NASA developed camera lens's to capture those absolutely beautiful shot candle scenes. A strangely subdued and possibly over-directed Ryan O'Neil plays Barry Lyndon with conviction and intensity but very little cinematic interest. His character although quite interesting is also one dimensional, and I was never very interested in him or what he was up to. He does have a whole film to carry and unfortunately for one reason or another his dead pan and often rather blank performance doesn't really work for me. It could be argued that the character is a blank slate, being whatever he needed to be at any given time to forward his career, however I feel he wasn't given the opportunity to act and Kubrick squeezed whatever there may have been out of him on that set. Michael Horden's rather comic narration is a pleasing touch.
For me, Lyndon, although very pretty and beautifully shot is also at the same time extremely slow and ponderous. Kubrick's trademark use of a carefully framed static camera isn't quite the success it usually is because long distance wide canvas shots of battles, expansive gardens and marching soldiers, only taking up a fraction of the screen, is rather dull. It certainly has the feel of a filmed play and as a result lacks the cinematic quality of his other films. Winning four Oscars and a reasonable commercial success, it is still probably Kubrick's least known film and is an acquired taste.
The films critical reception at the time was muted to say the least. After the triumph of A Clockwork Orange, audiences and critics alike seem to have not known what to think or how to react. Since then many have changed their minds and looked once again, some even now saying it's Kubrick's best film. I don't thank that, it's a disappointing costume drama, that should have been Napoleon. I think all the work put into his long gesturing biopic was just too much to drop completely. He looked around for a way he could use all that research and Barry Lyndon was born out of the ashes of his dead project.