When you hear Stanley Kubrick, you think of images. One of the many reasons Kubrick was such a remarkable filmmaker was that he came to the film industry after years working as a professional photographer for publications like Look magazine. There he learned about composition, light and of course lenses.
Not many film directors worry about the latest camera tech–cinematographers usually take that job up–but Kubrick was no ordinary director. Even though he wasn’t the first filmmaker to use the Steadicam, on The Shining, he was the first to have the rig modified so it could hover close to the ground in those legendary shots of Danny on the big wheel.
In the video below, Joe Dunton, owner of one of the biggest camera rental facilities in the United Kingdom and worked extremely closely with Stanley, takes us on a guided tour of Kubrick’s lens collection. For those who went to the traveling Stanley Kubrick exhibit (see the videos below) two to three years ago, you might have seen this video playing in the exhibit.
Kubrick rarely rented film gear or lenses and preferred to own his own. Stanley lit mostly with natural light when he could–because of his photojournalism career. Sometimes the flicker of a candle is all the light he would have, which led to the use of the legendary Zeiss lens designed for NASA as a way shooting the deep darkness of space–Kubrick used it for the evening dining room scenes in Barry Lyndon in order to capture candlelight on the slower film stocks of the day.
One of the unsung heroes in all this, it’s a man named George Hill, who was Stanley Kubrick’s go-to-guy when he wanted to create a custom lens for a project. George was also the only guy he trusted to clean his lenses collection. Enjoy!
Stanley Kubrick’s Favorite Cameras & Lenses
I’ve always been fascinated with how some of the filmmaking masters got their start. How did they break into the business? What gear did they use on their first films? What events shaped them in the early days? As many of you know I have a love for Stanley Kubrick and his films. I always knew he got his start as a photographer for LOOK Magazine but I never could find out what cameras he shot on.
I did go into a pretty lengthy post on Kubrick Lenses but now, thanks to CinemaTyler’s ongoing “Kubrick Files” series on Youtube, we can now see what cameras and photo lenses help shape this master. If you are interested in Stanley Kubrick’s early days as a photographer I recommend two amazing books on the subject:
Stanley Kubrick: Drama and Shadows
Stanley Kubrick at Look Magazine: Authorship and Genre in Photojournalism and Film
The video discusses 20 cameras and lenses including the famous Zeiss Planar 50mm F0.7, thelens Kubrick used to shoot the candlelight scenes in Barry Lyndon. We also discover Kubrick’s most beloved camera was the Arriflex 35 II, which he shot A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.
Here are a list of the cameras and lenses discussed (via IndieWire)
1. Garflex Pacemaker Speed Graphic Camera 2. Kodak Monitor 620 3. Rolleiflex Automat 6×6 Model RF 111A 4. Rolleiflex K2 5. Rolleiflex Automat 6×6 Model K4 6. Rollei 35 7. Polaroid Pathfinder 110A 8. Leica IIIc 9. Pentax K 10. Hasselblad 11. Nikon F 12. Subminiature Minox 13. 35mm Widelux 14. Polaroid OneStep SX-70 15. Arriflex 35 IIC 16. Kinoptik Tegea 9.8mm 17. Novoflex 400mm f5.6 lens 18. Cooke Varotal 20-100mm T3 19. Cinepro 24-480mm in Arri Standard Mount 20. Zeiss Planar 50mm F0.7
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Eyes Wide Shut is one of Stanley Kubrick’s last great masterpiece, and personally one of my favorite Kubrick films. Many critics and Kubrick fans considered it one of his lesser works when it was released. But as the years have gone by Eyes Wide Shut has aged extremely well. Even legendary director Martin Scorsese considers the film not only one of Kubrick’s best but on of the best films of the 90’s.
The film is an erotic drama film released in 1999 deriving its roots from a 1926 novella – Traumnovelle (Dream Story) written by Arthur Schnitzler. It was the last film to be directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick as the famous producer died four days after he showed his final cut of the movie to Warner Bros Pictures and four months before the eventual release of the film.
Kubrick’s record-breaking production schedule for Eyes Wide Shut (400 production days) garnered the Guinness World Records award for the longest continuous film shoot in history. It earned over $30 million during its first week of release, and that made it take the box office’s number one spot. Eyes Wide Shut won the Best DVD Collection for Warner Bros at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, Saturn Award in 2012.
A monumentally important screenplay. Read Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael’s screenplay for Eyes Wide Shut [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).
Twelve years before that, in 2000, one of the key stars in Eyes Wide Shut, Nicole Kidman had won the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actress (Drama/Romance) for her role in the movie. In that same year, the movie bagged the Csapnivalo Awards for Best Art Movie and the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Award for Best Foreign Film. It occupied the 9th place amongst the top ten films of the Year 2000, an award from the Online Film Critics Society Awards.
In the very year, Eyes Wide Shut was released, it made headlines when Stanley Kubrick was awarded the Filmcritica ‘Bastone Blanco’ Award at the Venice Film Festival. That year also saw the movie winning the Most Intrusive Musical Score Award at the Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.
The Plot: Dream or Reality?
The two main characters Dr. Bill Harford and his wife, Alice typifies the journey of a young couple living in New York. When the couple attends a lavish Christmas party hosted by a wealthy patient, Victor Ziegler, Bill hooks up with an old friend who he met at medical school, Nick Nightingale. Nick was a professional player of the Piano and was at his best at entertaining guests.
At the party, Sandor Szavost, a Hungarian man tries to pick up Alice; two young models go for Bill. While at it, Bill is interrupted by his host Victor who had been having sexual intercourse with a lady, Mandy, overdosed on a speedball. The call takes Bill upstairs where he aids Mandy to recover.
While at home with Alice the next evening, Bill entertains a strange question from his wife. Alice asks Bill if he had sex with the two girls at the party. Bill who was smoking cannabis at that time, does a good job at reassuring his wife but asks her if he has ever been jealous of men who are attracted to her. Bill’s assertion that women are more faithful than men seems not to go down well with his wife who suddenly tells him of her fantasy with a naval officer they had met during a vacation.
Disturbed by the revelation, a troubled Bill responds to the call of the daughter of one of his patients who just died. On getting there, the lady, Marion attempts to kiss him claiming to love him more than her fiancé Carl. Bill does not succumb to the temptation but from there heads to the apartment of a prostitute named Domino, but calls off the awkward encounter with the prostitute after he receives a call from his wife.
He visits a nightclub where his pianist friend Nick was playing, and there he learns about a secret sexual group and decides to attend one of their assemblies. He, however, realizes that it was a risky action to take and this earns him threats both for himself and his family.
The crux of the dark side of the movie shows forth when Bill takes a taxi to a country mansion mentioned by Nick. He can gain access with the password only to discover a quasi-religious sexual ritual held there. Even though he was masked, a woman quickly pulls him aside and intimates him that he does not belong there. She out rightly warns him of the danger he is exposed to by being at that place at that particular time.
But when the woman is whisked away by someone else, Bill has the opportunity of taking a walk around the house and seeing several masked people engaging in all manners of sexual acts.
A porter interrupts Bill and takes him to a ritual room where a disguised master of ceremonies asks him a question about a second password which Bill did not have. Bill is asked to remove his mask and his clothes. At that point, the masked woman who had earlier warned Bill stepped in and offered to redeem Bill. So Bill is ushered out of the building and advised not to speak to anyone about what he saw.
She out rightly warns him of the danger he is exposed to by being at that place at that particular time. But when the woman is whisked away by someone else, Bill has the opportunity of taking a walk around the house and seeing several masked people engaging in all manners of sexual acts.
A porter interrupts Bill and takes him to a ritual room where a disguised master of ceremonies asks him a question about a second password which Bill did not have.
Bill is asked to remove his mask and his clothes. At that point, the masked woman who had earlier warned Bill stepped in and offered to redeem Bill. So Bill is ushered out of the building and advised not to speak to anyone about what he saw.
At that point, the masked woman who had earlier warned Bill stepped in and offered to redeem Bill. So Bill is ushered out of the building and advised not to speak to anyone about what he saw.
Then matters became more complicated when Bill arrives home feeling guilty and confused then notices his wife laughing wildly in her sleep. She tells him amid tears of a troubling dream where she was having sex with the naval officer and many other men and when this was happening she was laughing at the fact that Bill was there to watch them.
By the time Bill got to Nick Nightingale’s hotel the next morning, he was told by the desk clerk that a frightened and confused Nick was taken away from the hotel by two dangerous-looking men. The envelope Nick tried to pass to the desk clerk was intercepted by the men who drove him away.
Bill’s encounter with Marion is to surface again after a series of events. He calls Marion after considering the sexual offers he had the previous night but hangs up when the latter’s fiancé answers the phone. He heads straight again to Domino’s home where he receives the news from her roommate that Domino has just tested positive for HIV.
Bill is later invited to Ziegler’s house and told about his intrusion at the ritual sexual orgy the previous night and day. Bill is told not to divulge information about the ritual orgy for any reason or risk the anger of the secret society. When Bill cannot ascertain if the claims on Mandy’s death and Nick’s disappearance as made by Ziegler were true, he decides to speak no further on the matter and to let it drop.
He returns home to find a rented mask beside his wife who was fast asleep. He is broken and in tears narrates the events of the past two days to his wife. The next morning they go Christmas shopping with their daughter, and Alice insists that they should be grateful they survived the whole drama of those days. She professed her love for him and called him out for some sex.
Going Down the Rabbit Hole of Eyes Wide Shut
There are many messages embedded in this enigmatic and suspenseful film that requires a second look. Firstly, the story reveals the travails of the modern couple, who instead of being enmeshed in the hot flames of love and romance is profoundly unsatisfied and seem tied together by factors like convenience and appearances rather than pure love. While the couple can be seen as being modern and belonging to the upper strata of society, the tie that binds them together are the result of basic, primal and sometimes animalistic behavior.
Secondly, mingling with the elite may be desirable and even enjoyable, but it may somehow have some negatives attached. So Bill and Alice attend the party of Victor Ziegler (whose last namemeans Freemason in German, read into that as you like all you conspiracy theorists out there), a super-rich patient of Bill’s. While there is much to cherish about at the party concerning glamor or elegance, the events that take place after that made matters worse for Bill and Alice. There is also a veiled connection between the party and the occult dimension that runs through the movie.
Thirdly, Eyes Wide Shut re-echoes the notion that beyond elitist glamor, in most cases there are dark, horrific truths about the wealthy. Even though throughout the film there is the depiction of the rainbow and many colors used as a symbol of elegance and glamor, when Bill is interrupted by Victor who goes to see Mandy overdosed in the bathroom, the dark sides began to be revealed.
Fourthly, the practicability of marriage was also questioned by the movie. Even though Alice rejected Sandor’s advances, she was enticed, nevertheless. Her comments give her out as completing unbelieving that Bill loves and trusts her. This behavior triggers the feelings of jealousy in her husband who ends up in a strange situation that totally contradicts the principle of monogamy. The movie also echoes the dilemma of good versus right.
The Real Message: In making Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick had one primary intention in mind; prompt his audience not to be carried away by the flamboyant exhibition of wealth. Because behind the ‘rainbow world’ exists a dark and troubling reality which Kubrick exhibits subtly and sometimes not so subtly in every aspect of the film.
Kubrick helps the audience rethink the institution of marriage, the strength of real commitment, faith and temptation. It’s a film that has layers and makes you ponder more deeply about life. Eyes Wide Shut is a complex look at our society today and it makes the audience look beyond what’s on the surface.
So firstly, he portrays the lifestyle of the typical New York wealthy elite and shows that on that scale alone, that lifestyle is beautiful and enjoyable. But he quickly reveals that behind the rainbows lie some hidden secrets that most people would not want to be associated with.
Making Eyes Wide Shut
Information available shows that Stanley Kubrick was interested in making a film about sexual relations as far back as 1962. But that desire never saw the light of day until he read Arthur Schnitzler’s ‘Dream Story’ in 1968. He got interested in adapting the story and with the help of a journalist, Jay Cocks, bought the filming rights to the book.
Over a decade, Kubrick considered making the ‘Dream Story’ adaptation a sex comedy, but that did not materialize immediately. He, however, revived the project in 1994 when he hired Frederic Raphael to work on the script. He further invited his friend, Michael Herr to help write a script for revisions, but Herr declined because he would not commit to a lengthy production and thought he might be underpaid.
The film began production in 1996. Kubrick had been planning to make Eyes Wide Shut after completing work on ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ but then got the opportunity to adapt ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ Stanley Kubrick ran into several challenges in the course of making the movie.
For instance, the studio pushed him back to cast major A-list stars. The head of Warner Bros at the time, Terry Semel told Kubrick:
“What I would love you to consider is a movie star in the lead role; you haven’t done that since Jack Nicholson in The Shining.”
Stanley Kubrick had always planned to feature a real-life couple in the movie, and his first option was to go for Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassinger. But he later settled for Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman who were married between 1990 and 2001.
The movie was filmed in London even though it was set in New York. In reviewing the film, Vanity Fair noted that Kubrick sent a particular designer to New York to take real measurements to determine the exact width of the streets and the distance between newspaper vending machines.
Another strange event in the making of Eyes Wide Shut is the fact that the script kept changing. One of the characters Todd Field who played the part of Nick Nightingale, they would rehearse a scene a crazy number of times and the scene would change within an hour.
They would get back to the script supervisor for amendments, and that would lead to a complete change of content. And in the middle of the production, Tom Cruise, the lead actor developed an ulcer. He was able to handle the occasion and work with Kubrick to get the production going successfully.
Photo Courtesy of Warner Brothers
Tom Cruise also reported that Cruise wanted to re-enact his personal story as part of the movie, and thus he recreated his New York apartment for the film. He used the same furniture in his house and ensured that his wife, Christianne’s paintings were used on the walls. According to Cruise ‘it was as personal a story as he’s ever done.’
To reiterate Kubrick’s attention to detail and accuracy, he banned Cruise from the set on the days Kidman would shoot the scene with a male model. Six days were spent filming the scene which lasted for just one minute, and Kidman was forbidden from telling Cruise about the scene. This was to make the movie depict real-life jealousy among couples in as clear cut away as possible.
Kubrick’s penchant for accuracy was also revealed when he got Cruise to do a simple walking through the door scene 95 times.
On trying to re-enact reality as clearly as possible, Kubrick got Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman to live like real characters when the cameras were not focused on them. They slept in their characters’ bedroom together, were made to choose their curtains and left their clothes on the floor just as they would do in normal life.
Kubrick even discussed the couple’s anxieties in private conversations so that the actors could tap into some emotional intrigues while acting.
A sad part of the whole production is that Stanley Kubrick passed away just a few days after showing Warner Bros studio his cut. It is therefore not known how much he would have kept editing the film. After his death, the promoters of the movie decided to digitally alter the bodies in the orgy scene so the movie could be released with an R rating rather than an NC-17.
Some analysts have claimed that Stanley Kubrick would have done the same if he was alive. Nicole Kidman even suggests that he would have kept tinkering with the movie for the next 20 years.
By the time Eyes Wide Shut was released, twelve years had passed when he had released his last film, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ which came out in 1987. But Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley Kubrick’s only film to top the box office’s earnings chat, amassing over $30 million in its first week of release.
This movie made tons of headlines before and after its release. Even its main character; Tom Cruise did not like the role of Dr. Bill Harford. Cruise revealed a year after the movie was released that he ‘didn’t like playing Dr. Bill…It was unpleasant. But I would have kicked myself if I hadn’t done this.’
Eyes Wide Shut’s Impact on the Film Industry
Kubrick’s brother-in-law, Jan Harlan posits that Stanley Kubrick was undoubtedly happy with the film and even considered it his greatest contribution to cinema. Even though one of Kubrick’s actors in ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ R. Lee Ermey disputed the claim by saying that Kubrick called him two weeks before his death to express his despondency about the movie claiming that critics would ‘have him for lunch.’
However, Stanley Kubrick has been praised for his distinct style, attention to detail, a knack for accuracy and ability to bring out real-life meanings from symbolisms.
The movie, just as its producer was very controversial from the very beginning. Firstly, the Warner Bros, citing contractual obligations to deliver an R rating, had to digitally alter the orgy scene for the American release-blocking out the graphic sexual activity by including some figures to obscure the view. This onset direction was done to avoid the dreaded “adults only rating” of NC-17 which would have led to its limited distribution.
This alteration did not go down well with analysts and critics who thought that Stanley Kubrick would never have shied away from ratings for his movies as long as they passed his intended messages.
However, the versions released in South America, Europe, and Australia featured the orgy scene in its original form with ratings suitable for people 18 and above. There have been some controversies in New Zealand and some parts of Europe where people considered the explicit sexual content of the movie unacceptable.
Analysts like Roger Ebert have put up strong objections against the blurring of the orgy scenes claiming that it only buttressed the hypocrisy associated with movie ratings.
Other critics have described the film as being better at mood than at substance. They think that the film is empty of ideas and does not inspire any audience to watch the film. Many of these critics have described this act as a ‘minor Kubrick.’
But overall, the reviews for Eyes Wide Shot were positive. It had 7.5 out of 10 from 146 reviews, and the general consensus was that Stanley Kubrick’s intense study of the human psyche was able to yield outstanding cinematic work.
Stanley Kubrick delivered Eyes Wide Shut with a budget estimated to be $65 million. In marketing the movie, Warner Bros followed Kubrick’s secrecy campaign to the point that the film’s press kits contained no production notes. However, Warner Bros promoted the film heavily and used initiatives like putting it on the cover of Time Magazine and show film business programs like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood.
In conclusion, this is a movie worth the time of the audience. Stanley Kubrick did a fantastic job at passing his message even though with knocks from critics.
Many highly-rated movie stars were involved in the making of Eyes Wide Shut. The main cast of the movie includes:
The Shining is the legendary 1980 film starring Jack Nicholson as the protagonist of a psychological horror story. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, it’s touted to be one of the top 10 all-time scariest horror shows. The original story was written by Steven King who published a novel with the same title in 1997.
Director Stanley Kubrick was searching for a new movie after mediocre audience responses to his latest film before that, Barry Lyndon, which in fact received a number of critical acclaims. The Shining storyline focuses on Jack Torrance as he descends into madness, brought on partly by exposure to supernatural elements. It takes place in the hotel that he, his wife, and his son are caretakers for while it is closed for winter. Isolated from people and intending to write a novel with his time, Jack and his son Danny reveal an apparently shared trait of being able to “shine” or see ghosts from the past and potential future.
It’s revealed through backstory with Jack’s wife Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall, that Jack once abused their son due to a drinking problem. Viewers discover the hotel was built on a Native American burial ground and later the hotel manager advises that a previous caretaker killed his family due to cabin fever. Jack’s son has a premonition about the hotel, seeing a cascade of blood. Scatman Crothers playing the hotel chef, Dick Hallorann shares a psychic moment with Danny and we hear the term “The Shining” for the first time, describing psychic ability.
After this setup, the family maintains the status quo for a month as Jack attempts to write, without much success. During a heavy snowfall, the phone lines go out and Danny has more frightening visions. Jack has his own premonition telling his wife, when she wakes him from a nightmare, that he had seen images of killing her and their son. Danny visits an off-limits room numbered 237 and turns up later with a bruise, causing Wendy to presume Jack hurt him again.
At this point, Jack begins to see and communicate with ghosts from the hotel past, sharing drinks in the ballroom. When Wendy discusses Danny’s bruise she tells Jack that Danny says a woman in 237 did it. Jack visits the room and can see the ghost but doesn’t share this with his family. Danny has more visions and slips into a trance crying out the word, famous to movie buffs, “REDRUM.”
As the climax draws near, Wendy finds Jack’s typewritten manuscript with nothing on it but a repeating phrase, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Now in a panic, she begs Jack for them all to leave but he threatens her. She knocks him out with a bat and locks him in a cupboard to search for a way out for herself and Danny. But Jack has disabled the radio and snowcat tractor, the only way to drive out in the snow.
As she searches through the main house, Wendy discovers that Danny has written redrum on the door. Closing it, she turns to see it reflected properly in the mirror and reads, “murder.” Jack escapes with the help of one of the ghosts and pursues Wendy who is able to save Danny by shoving him through a window to the outside but has to face Jack as he hacks through another locked door with an ax. She gets the upper hand for the moment and runs through the hotel, finding the ghosts and visions that Danny had seen.
Meanwhile, Halloran who has psychic gifts of his own has returned from his vacation, worried about what is happening at the hotel and heads there. When he arrives, he meets a similar fate and dies at Jack’s hands. Jack pursues Danny into a garden maze but the son lays down false tracks and hides successfully. Danny meets up with Wendy and they flee in Halloran’s vehicle while Jack freezes to death in a snow mound. The final scene shows Jack as a new member of the ghostly group at the hotel, as seen in a hotel photo of party goers from 1921, where he now stands smiling.
Although the story as told throughout the film is sometimes considered a masterpiece inspiring generations of horror filmmakers, it’s purported to have been a difficult shoot and production. Kubrick was fanatical about his method and pushing the actors to their limits. Shelley Duvall became sick from the stress she was under as Kubrick apparently pushed her in scenes far too often. Jack Nicholson purportedly gave up memorizing script revisions because they changed so frequently. You can see first hand what I’m talking about in the behind the scenes video below.
A number of writers agree, though, that Kubrick created something new in film for the genre due to it’s planned ambiguity. It’s never clearly stated that the hotel is haunted but only that Jack and Danny both can potentially see ghosts. Or is it that they share the same delusions? Additionally, there are long periods of silence where the audience watches Jack brood which serves to heighten the tension for watchers, where normally those periods can create irritation to an audience. But in The Shining, it sends a message to the audience that an evil is brewing in Jack’s mind as he sits and thinks.
These long moments of quiet menace serve as a perfect set up for the startling moment when Danny goes in search of his toy at night and come across Jack sitting up in bed. Again there is silence until Danny asks him what has been hinted as being on his mind already, “You’d never do anything to hurt Mom and me, would ya, Dad?” It’s a perfect foreshadowing but also serves the ambiguity. Did Danny see the future, have a hint of his father’s madness, or did he give Jack the very idea?
With the fact that Jack turned on his wife and son so readily and had a history of abuse, although we don’t know in what context he hurt his son, except that he was drunk, the movie can also be a reflection on domestic violence. It’s a biopic of a small nuclear family and being isolated for such a length of time, pressures actually do not serve to bring them close.
Kubrick is considered a genius director as far as versatility and vision. He is able to express feelings of isolation, enormity, and claustrophobia all in one in this film. The imagery is disturbing and perfectly timed for audience psychological stress set off by a score that creates further tension.
The fact that much of the ghost story is implied without ever being confirmed actually fuels the audience’s anxiety to know the truth and follow the tension to the climax. The scenes of actual horror and shock are so overdone with rivers of blood and dead bodies that it could be trite in anyone else’s hands. Here it serves to heighten the fear, dropping flashes of the gore and decay of physical fear along with Jack’s psychological menace.Although it did well enough at the box office, like many films that look to create or influence genres, it wasn’t until years later that people began to consider it a critical hit. When it came out, reviews were not glowing and it’s understandable since they pinpoint the very things that were questionable about the horror theme. There were multiple quiet moments, the gore was overdone and the characters didn’t have as much development as most people thought. But in retrospect, it’s the totality of those elements against the theme of psychological and psychic stress combined that give the movie its punch. Picking apart scenes may reveal the same criticisms that critics had at the time but the overall work has helped to define a genre.
Since the movie was filmed in 1980 and moviegoers and filmmakers alike have matured with the greater abilities of film to relay stories, it’s natural to look again at something and change your mind about its value. As time has passed, The Shining continues to be a model of horror film-making, becoming a specimen of new genre work and a pop culture icon.
In the history of dramatic films, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon gets a beautiful ranking. It won a total of four Oscars under the production category. It is a film that is based on a novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray: ‘The Luck of Barry Lyndon,’ in 1844. The film itself was made in 1975. Stanley Kubrick was also the writer and producer of the film.
The characters who starred in it include Patrick Magee, Ryan O’Neal, Hardy Krüger and Marisa Berenson, among others. It revolves around the escapades of a fictional adventurer of the 18th century.
After its release, although the film received a lot of criticism, it is considered as one of the best films by Stanley Kubrick. In fact, polls conducted by BBC, Village Voice in 1999, Sight & Sound in 2002 and 2012, and Time in 2005, ‘Barry Lydon’ is one of the best films ever produced.
Why is this so? Anyone who has seen the film or read the plot would know better. Below is the plot of one of the finest drama movies to hit the TV screens.
The film opens with a narrator describing events, both present, and the past, taking place as the motion picture unfolds. This narrator tells the audience that in Ireland around for 50’s, the character playing Barry Redmond’s father gets into a fight over horse purchase, and is killed in the process, leaving behind a widow and a son.
Barry Lyndon grows up a depressed young man who was often in low spirits. He begins to have a crush on his cousin, Nora Brady, despite the fact that she is older than he is. She notices and goes as far as flirting with him during a card game, but it ends there.
This is probably because she sets her sights on a captain of the British Army, John Quin, who is affluent as well. This saddens Barry Lyndon greatly.
Meanwhile, with her family, Nora makes plans of using marriage to John as leverage to secure wealth. Barry, on the other hand, feeling spurned, sees John as an enemy.
This bad blood between the both of them, comes to a head one day, as the both men engage in a fight by the riverside, and Barry takes a shot at John before fleeing, thinking that he has killed him.
The police search for Barry Lyndon, but he outruns them, going towards Dublin, via the countryside. On his way, however, a notorious highway robber; Captain Feeney, dispossesses him of his horse, gun, and purse. Unable to do anything to defend himself, a sad Barry trudges ahead.
Getting to the next town, an opportunity presents himself. There is a promo going on for interested people to join the army, in return for an easy life and pension until death.
Barry Lyndon finds this interesting and enlists to join. While in the army, Barry has an encounter with a captain: Grogan, who turns out to be nice and easy going. It was Grogan who informed Barry that John, whom he thinks he killed, is alive. He also tells Barry that his bullets were replaced with something else and that the reason the fight took place, was that Nora’s family wanted Barry out of the way.
This was because Barry was proving to be an obstacle to Nora getting financially secure through marriage to John; therefore, they planned to have him killed but gave him a gun without real bullets. Barry Lyndon, of course, is greatly disappointed with this news, but he takes it in stride.
Soon after the war; the Seven Years’ War breaks out, and Barry’s regiment is posted to Germany to go and fight. On the battlefield, precisely during the Battle of Minden with a small part of the French Army, Captain Grogan is hit by the enemy, and it is obvious that he would not survive his injuries.
Barry decides that he has had enough and left the rest of his comrades, and as he leaves, he steals a uniform belonging to a courier officer, including his identification papers and his horse.
Passing through neutral Holland, he is stopped by Captain Potzdorf of the Prussian Army. Upon close inspection, the captain discovers that he is a runaway soldier traveling incognito and gives Barry Lyndon two options; either accept to be turned back to the British Army and killed for being a deserter or become a Prussian soldier.
Barry goes for the latter. Sometime later, he saves Captain Potzdorf’s life in battle and is given a special commendation by Frederick the Great.
The war finally ends two years later, in 1763 and Captain Potzdorf’s cousin, who is a police officer, employs Barry to serve an Irishman; Chevalier de Balibari, who is an expatriate and a professional gambler. This is no ordinary employment; the government thinks that Chevalier is a spy, so Barry’s true mission is to find out undercover.
But Barry has no plans to work undercover. He tells Chevalier everything, and they become fast friends, gambling together, especially as Barry has good eyesight, which is an advantage at home, tables. One day, during a game, the two partners cheat the Prince of Tübingen, who throws accusations at them, though without evidence.
The prince refuses to pay and begins to make trouble. Barry tells his employees what is going on and they, wanting to avoid the trouble that could stem from the aggrieved parties meeting, arrange for Chevalier’s expulsion from the country. Barry Lyndon tells Chevalier about their plan, and he runs away at nightfall.
Morning comes and Barry, who takes the disguise of Chevalier, is removed from the country by Potzdorf and his men; to freedom.
The previously separated partners meet again, and these two men traverse Europe, visiting gambling parlors and spas, and making money from gambling. Anyone who refuses to pay is forced to a sword duel with Barry Lyndon and ends up paying their debts. As time goes on, Barry sees how empty his life is, and decides to find a wealthy wife, to make something out of it.
His search pays at a gambling Spa, in Belgium, where he meets the Countess of Lyndon, who is not just wealthy, but beautiful as well. He goes after her and fortune smiles on him, with the death of the Countess’s husband, Sir Charles Lyndon. Barry makes the Countess his wife.
The second act opens to 1773, where a newly married Barry adopts his wife’s last name and makes England his home, living off her, with no money to his name.
The countess’s ten-year-old son, Lord Bullingdon, sees through Barry’s scheme and calls him a ‘common opportunist.’ Barry does not find this funny and resorts to physically abusing the child as often as he can.
Soon, the Countess gets pregnant and bears Barry’s son. However, the marriage becomes a sham, as a result of Barry Lyndon being an unfaithful husband and spending his wife’s money on luxurious frivolities and turning his wife to a loner.
A while later, Barry invites his mother to come and live with his family in the estate. The old woman after a period of her stay observes that Barry has everything to lose if Lady Lyndon dies because she has a first son who is not Barry’s.
She advises him to take a noble title to prevent this from happening. Barry Lyndon heeds his mother’s advice and befriends a well known Lord named Wendover, also spending a lot of his wife’s money to be accepted by members of high society.
Unfortunately, his efforts are in vain. During a birthday party in honor of Lady Lyndon, Lord Bullingdon, who is now almost an adult, takes to the stage and lets everyone know how much he dislikes his stepfather.
He goes on to add that he has decided to forgo his father’s estate as long as Barry is on its grounds and still his mother’s husband. The boy’s actions and words infuriate Barry, who rushes and begins to attack him until people around drag him off Bullingdon.
His new wealthy friends are appalled by Barry’s behavior and call it quits with being his friends. Their actions do not stop Bullingdon from leaving his estate and country for an unknown destination.
Ironically, Barry Lyndon loves and adores his own son, Bryan, whom he gives everything. For this reason, he sees nothing wrong in granting the young child’s request for an adult horse, as Bryan’s birthday gift as he turns nine. Barry tells the child never to ride the horse in his absence, but being over pampered, one day, Bryan disobeys his father. The horse throws him off, paralyzing him, and a few days later, the gravely injured Bryan dies.
In grief, his mother and father turn to religion and alcohol, respectively. Reverend Samuel Runt, employed to tutor Bullingdon and later, Bryan, becomes Lady Lyndon’s spiritual mentor.
After a while, Barry’s mother relives the reverend of his services, as the estate does not need a tutor anymore, and because his presence makes the Countess’s situation worse. This aggravates her state as Lady Lyndon tries to kill herself, but the poison she ingests is just enough to sicken her. The reverend, along with the family accountant, Graham, set out to find Bullingdon and persuade him to return home.
Bullingdon returns, on hearing of all that had happened. He meets Barry Lyndon drinking in a bar, and feeling offended that his stepfather should be comforting his mother instead, challenges him to a duel.
In a tithe barn, the duel, in which pistols are used, takes place. A coin is tossed, giving Bullingdon the right to shoot first, but the nervous young man misfires.
Next, it is Barry’s turn and not wanting to hurt Bullingdon; he shoots at the ground. However, Bullingdon is not satisfied, so he takes another shot, this time, hitting Barry on the leg.
Barry is taken to a small hospital, where he is informed by the attending surgeon that unless his affected left leg is not amputated below the knee, he will die. And so, Barry undergoes an amputation.
Bullingdon takes over his father’s estate, as Barry Lyndon convalesces. Then, he sends Graham to tell Barry to accept an annuity of five hundred guineas, as long as he is willing to leave England and never return.
The accountant also tells him that the annuity would cease, the moment Barry steps back into England. Having lost everything, including his leg, Barry accepts the proposition and leaves England with his mother.
The narrator then tells the audience that before returning to Europe, they both stop at Ireland and then continue to his country home, where Barry Lyndon continues gambling. However, he is not as successful as he used to be, during his days with Chevalier. He neither went back to England nor saw his wife after he left.
In December 1789, Lady Lyndon, now noticeably older, is seen signing a cheque for Barry’s annuity, and watching his mother, is Lord Bullingdon.
Now, here are some interesting facts about Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.
• Kubrick was so particular about the film that he went to museums and hired 18th-century clothing for his cast, including the extras.
• The film was shot with special lenses attached to the cameras, to capture the candlelight scenes perfectly, as was to be expected in a time before electricity. He had the option of creating the illusion of candlelight scenes but decided instead to use real candlelights.
• Kubrick’s previous film generated a lot of criticism, due to its violent setting, so, he told the press little or nothing about Barry Lyndon, except the names of the cast. He was so tight-lipped about the film that his character for Lady Lyndon, was only told that the film would be based on the 18th-century setting and that she should not go out under the sun, in order to be pale skinned for her role.
• Kubrick’s daughter made an appearance in one of the scenes.
• He sent instructions to the projectionists who were showing the film because he wanted everything about it to be perfect.
• His efforts to every detail paid off; Barry Lyndon is until date, one of most highly awarded films of Kubrick.
Understanding The Cinematographic Magic Behind Barry Lyndon
Stanley Kubrick’s cinematography methods in producing Barry Lyndon were sheer madness… or pure genius! Kubrick had the vision to use only natural light throughout the scenes in Barry Lyndon.
While that may have seemed like a swell idea to him, it soon proved to be much more difficult than he had anticipated. Barry Lyndon was shot entirely on location in England and Ireland. It contained some 179 actors and took over 8 months to complete.
These factors were small feats for Kubrick’s “natural light” requirement. Another factor, the weather, was an entirely different ordeal.
Since Barry Lyndon was shot on location and not in a warehouse somewhere, the weather was a huge factor for the film’s production. In England and Ireland, the actors and production team had to travel from location to location.
The weather was never a “sure” thing for them. With its abrupt changes and uncertainty, the weather made finding the right light challenging to say the least.
Filming in the gulf stream made the Ireland scenes extremely trying. In the Gulf stream, there are two different wind currents: high and low. At any given moment, the currents could be flowing simultaneously and often in opposite directions.
The wind was unrelenting on the clouds. In any given scene, it could be light one moment with the clouds parted and dark the next with brooding clouds blocking the natural light.
Kubrick didn’t plan perfect scenes. He worked with what he was given. When he was given something he couldn’t work with he improvised.
For instance, when he had an indoor scene where the natural light needed a bit of manipulation, he would improvise by adding gels and/or tracing paper to mimic natural light through the windows.
This method allowed him to maintain a similar lighting inside throughout the day.
In other indoor scenes, Kubrick wanted to maintain the 18th-century feel by lighting some of the scenes by candlelight. As aesthetically appealing as that may seem, it proved too difficult to accommodate.
With the flickering lights of the many candles, it was hard to catch the proper lighting in certain scenes. Not willing to give up on that 18th-century theme, Kubrick found a lens that would do the trick.
That new lens was one designed specifically by NASA. Its sole purpose was to take pictures of the dark side of the moon. The new camera lens proved to be the perfect cure to the lighting issue. That coupled with reflectors and heat shields created ideally picturesque candlelit scenes.
In an interview, Kubrick said he did not dwell on the camera… he did not like to think about it at all. He also did not believe in extensive story boarding or overly planning scenes.
He simply had all the actors dressed in full costume and makeup and had them start the scenes. At dawn, they began trying to find the perfect first shot. When finding that perfect shot seemed unattainable, Kubrick would find his influence in 18th-century paintings.
These paintings typically detailed just the right setting lighting for scenes. In the end, it would all tend to flow.