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Kubrick's admirers were enchanted that, after three highly unusual science-fiction films, the director decided to land a time machine on Planet Europe. (More than one compared Barry Lyndon's settings to the 18th-century room the astronaut inhabits in the last third of 2001.) Appropriately, Kubrick availed himself of sci-fi technology to evoke the past. He made extensive and graceful use of the then largely abused zoom, while thanks to a customized lens developed for NASA satellite photography, cinematographer John Alcott shot much of the movie under impossibly low levels of illumination—many scenes were lit entirely by candles. Others found Barry Lyndontoo detached and overdetermined—a movie to respect more than enjoy. In this, however, it was truer to its source than its detractors knew. Anne Thackeray introduced the republication of her father's novel with the observation that it was "scarcely a book to like, but one to admire and to wonder at for its consummate power and mastery."

So too this deeply forlorn movie. Barry Lyndonwas born anomalous. In 1976, Harold Rosenberg damned it with faint praise, suggesting that the movies might make their "maximum contribution to culture" by following Kubrick's lead in "recycling unread literature." Of course, after a decade of adaptations from Jane Austen, Henry James, and Thomas Hardy, Kubrick's oddest project seems 20 years ahead of its time. Barry Lyndon is the movie Miramax would most want to release, albeit polished by Tom Stoppard and cut by 90 minutes.


Imitation of inner life: O'Neal and Berenson in Barry Lyndon
photo: courtesy of Film Forum
Imitation of inner life: O'Neal and Berenson in Barry Lyndon

Details

Barry Lyndon
Written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, from the novel by William Thackeray
A Warner Bros. rerelease
Film Forum April 21 through 27

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Elsewhere on the maestro front, the Museum of Television and Radio is showing three tele-artifacts arising from Orson Welles's 1955 return to the United States after nine years in Europe. The first is an awkward interview with chain-smoking Edward R. Murrow; the second is a mediocre guest-shot on I Love Lucy; the third, The Fountain of Youth, is the fascinating 22-minute pilot episode Welles wrote, directed, designed, and narrated for a projected series he hoped that Lucy's corporate parent, Desilu, would produce.

Adapting a short story by John Collier that several years later might have served as fodder for Alfred Hitchcock Presentsor even The Twilight Zone, Welles gave a droll, dazzling demonstration of alternative TV. The production is extremely economical, with cleverly deployed slides and rear-screen projection. It's also an obvious extension of Welles's radio techniques, making adroit use of music that includes the instrument of his own voice. Shelved by Desilu, the show finally aired in 1958 on Colgate Theatre(and won an award); showing at the museum through May 7, it's another piquant example of Welles's wasted promise.

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