Kubrick’s Grandest Gamble

 

That’s what the headline read on the cover of Time Magazine, and they were right. It was December 1975. The nation was ready and waiting to celebrate the Bicentennial. As usual with one of his films, there wasn’t much advance information about Barry Lyndon. All we knew was, it was about a gambler; it was set in the late 1700s. In time, it would be regarded as an elegant, one-of-a-kind glimpse into a distant era that gave birth to the modern world.

The Christmastime weather was especially beautiful that year. I was 23, a movie fan and a fan of Stanley Kubrick in particular. I climbed aboard my motorcycle and headed for the Ziegfeld Theater. The movie got good reviews, some very positive, and it made money for its studio, Warner Bros. But not a whole lot compared to his previous two, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange, and there hangs a tale.  It acquired the not-entirely-deserved reputation of being “Stanley’s flop” and that’s what people remember, if they’ve heard of it at all.

Since it was first revealed that Stanley Kubrick’s next film would be based on a book by William Makepeace Thackeray, it’s generally believed that Kubrick first did the obvious thing—that is, thought about adapting the far better known Vanity Fair. But he saw potential in Thackeray’s all but forgotten 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon. It’s told in the first person, and that narrator is unreliable, a braggart and a con man.

But the movie, though it had its moments of dry humor, would have a totally different tone than the Thackeray novel. In some ways it was surprisingly conventional. It was the first Kubrick film since Spartacus to be publicized and marketed as what was then called a “star vehicle”, featuring Ryan O’Neal, then the heart-throb of Love Story, at the time a huge and recent hit, and Marisa Berenson, the female co-star of Cabaret, (it was Liza who got the Oscar), a socialite and model.

The truth of Barry Lyndon is: it’s a getting and spending world. The getting was even harder in the past, and the spending meaner, in the British sense: Harder, stingier.

If death and taxes are, as cynics suggest, the only certainties in life, then Barry Lyndon must be one of the most realistic movies ever made, because it is unflinchingly all about money and mortality. As much as Kubrick changed it, it’s still Thackeray’s world.

This is how it came about: Stanley Kubrick’s most cherished unrealized project was Napoleon, an epic so vast that MGM pulled out of the deal. As usual, he’d already bought and read hundreds of books about the subject and the times he lived in, so on the rebound Kubrick found a very different story set in roughly the same era.

From the time Barry Lyndon was announced, the project attracted a lot of speculation and curiosity. The rise and fall of an 18th century Irish social climber seemed an unlikely choice of subject matter and time period for a director whose fame and aura of hipness were based on his three recent hits, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange.

For all their differences, Stanley Kubrick’s best-known hits are all, to some degree, set in a technologically oriented near-future, deriving iconic power with their cold, striking images, and their reserved attitudes towards humanity.

By contrast, Barry Lyndon is an uncharacteristically sympathetic portrait of mortality and loss. It has a warm background of children and babies, dogs and geese and doves, cattle and horses, tranquil ponds and fountains. I’ve read that cultural Irishness, like being a Southerner in the US, tends to include an unflinching acceptance of life’s tragic aspects. There’s some truth to that, I’ll personally attest, and it extends to the understanding that Kubrick might have silently had with a fellow outsider brashly pushing his way upwards through society, to levels where “he didn’t belong.”

I don’t know of a major Kubrick film before this one that had no screenwriting collaborators, and for all its virtues, and they are many, Lyndon’s limits are somewhat defined by Kubrick’s writing, not to the risky, slightly reckless casting of his leads. Ryan O’Neal does some remarkable things in the film and deserves more credit for them than he’s gotten over the decades, but the character as written of Barry Lyndon, the man, is not as compelling as needed.

Kubrick did prove to be a surprisingly good, sparing user of narration and he was at least decent at writing dialog, but a superlative dramatist supplying dialog to a superb actor would have made more of the opportunity.

Ryan O’Neal is a good looking, hard-working, not terribly deep actor earnestly doing his best. Robert Redford often played similar roles: handsome, catnip to the ladies, brave, physically gifted men, who are also somehow less than what they seem. One critic, generously trying to be fair, referred to O’Neal as the human figure that architects add to models of proposed buildings to give them a sense of human scale.

While the film was in production, it was widely anticipated to be a “swashbuckler”, in retrospect similar to Tom Jones crossed with the 1973 The Three Musketeers. It wouldn’t turn out that way, but the look of the ad campaign makes me wonder if Warner Bros understood what kind of movie Kubrick was going to deliver.

Even the way that the film’s main titles are drawn reflects that. Unlike the cold objectivity of the titles of 2001 and A Clockwork Orange, the typeface on the main title, as well as Kubrick’s credit, Ryan O’Neal’s, and Marisa Berenson’s, is a Seventies swirl, with custom lettering that looks only a little like the late 18th century, but vaguely suggests a Tom Jones-like romantic style. (The end credits are in a plain white-on-black style that suggests funerals and finality, appropriately enough.)

Stanley Kubrick, like Alfred Hitchcock, liked to set new challenges with each film. 2001 was an elaborate re-invention of special visual effects that was shot nearly entirely on studio sound stages. A Clockwork Orange was also a futuristic film, but it was shot almost entirely on then-present day London locations, carefully chosen to be the most exotic (by 1970 standards) but credible ones that Kubrick’s staff could find. Barry Lyndon, set 200 years ago, would also be filmed entirely on location, well before this became the norm with films and shows like Downton Abbey and Brideshead Revisited. Kubrick raised the standards. He also set himself the challenge of cinematography in candlelight, giving night interior scenes a unique and authentic look.

YouTube stories about Barry Lyndon include production designer Ken Adam talking about the rambling, almost improvised way the crew drove around Ireland, filming a few pages at a time. Murray Melvin recounted the “delights” of doing 57 takes of a scene. Ryan O’Neal and Leon Vitali also talked about what Stanley was like on the set.

Jan Schlubach was art director of the scenes in Germany, even across the border in communist East Germany, which also had some 18th century locations. I knew Jan well. He told me a few Kubrick stories. Everyone seemed to tell the same basic tale of a very kindly, soft-voiced man of infinite patience who could drive you stark raving mad with his ruthless, pitiless quest for utter perfection.

So what went wrong? From one point of view, nothing; Barry Lyndon’s reputation has only risen over the years, especially in contrast to the shoddiness of many modern films. Contrary to the “flop” legend, the film didn’t lose money. It actually made a small profit. Today, when big films routinely lose a horrifying $100 to $300 million, it seems ludicrous to remember Barry Lyndon as a failure.

But let’s be real: this was Kubrick we’re talking about, and Hollywood expectations were sky-high. 1975 was the year of Jaws, the first picture to gross $100 million, and if an unknown kid like Spielberg could do it, why couldn’t Stanley?

Some people blame Ryan O’Neal, but he didn’t write his own part and generally did okay. The movie took big narrative risks with the audience, beginning scenes with deliberate spoilers, like one of Barry teaching fencing to his adored young son Brian while the narrator intones, “It is impossible to adequately convey Barry’s hopes for the boy. But Barry was destined to finish his life childless, poor, and alone.”  This was in keeping with the melodramatic standards of Victorian storytelling, (it’s an 1844 novel, after all) but it looks strange, even disconcerting to modern audiences.

The picture is undeniably slow-paced. No one would say, wow, that three hours just flies by. However, for those of us with a streak of appreciation for classical beauty, those familiar scenes, many of them visually stunning, are welcome reminders of just how beautiful big-scale films could look, long before CGI came along.

2023: a personal postscript.

The skinny, intense kid in the leather jacket who saw the movie in 1975 was long gone. Or was I? Sure, some things had changed. I was 71 now, let’s say in the early winter of my years. I now resembled those stout, grasping members of the 18th century bourgeoisie who’d managed to reach old age.

My daughter and her husband-to-be picked me up and we all went to see Barry Lyndon at the NuArt in west Los Angeles. In 1975, I could hardly have imagined seeing this film 48 years in the future, now as a retired Los Angeles film curator, riding home with our grown daughter (a teacher!) and her boyfriend (An engineer! From Texas!)

I haven’t been back to this repertory theater since its big renovation. Everything technical has been upgraded. Once upon a time, I knew the NuArt really well. I used to rent the place for festivals at Filmex, AFI, and the ACF. Now, my days of doing shows there is a long time back, 25-40 years. It’s still a place for dating couples of a certain intellectual and/or artistic type, as it’s been since the 1950s. They now sell wine. We bought a bottle for the three of us. It’s overpriced, of course—some things about movie theaters won’t change—but it was fun, especially for a sumptuous, champagne-and-caviar picture like Barry Lyndon. The young folks really liked seeing it, especially on the big screen. So did I.

Riding home later, we chatted about the movie. A discussion about it and history has two focuses (foci?), the period depicted on film, roughly 1755 to 1789, and the period of our lives when it was new and still in theaters (a much longer period in those days before cassettes and cable), roughly December 1975 through late 1976.

That year I took 3D pictures outdoors with the Stereo Realist camera. Even when those pictures were new, I used to run them on the 3D slide projector in rough sync with the film’s soundtrack of The Chieftains playing “Women of Ireland”.

When I see those pictures now, they represent an admittedly glorified Lyndon-ian version of a half century ago, the springtime of our youth. A time in life that I’d guess most people idealize. In our case, it was the beauties of the old village we grew up in, and the excitement of the city we moved to. It could have been anywhere in an industrializing world, but it was America, early in the golden spring of its Bicentennial year.

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  1. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Thanks, Gary. One of my favorite movies. The candlelit scenes are stunning.

    Thanks, Basil. Glad you agree. And good to see you around; I haven’t seen a post from you in a while.

    That “candlelight lens” was a Zeiss f/0.95 hat was legendarily a NASA leftover “for the Moon project”. I suspect it was ordered by Goddard or JPL for unmanned, not for Apollo, but in those days everything got attributed to Project Apollo. The lens had an odd, telescopic shape that wouldn’t have worked with the German Arriflex cameras Kubrick loved. (The Arri’s spinning mirrored shutter, the very thing that made reflex viewing possible, would have clipped the back of the lens.) So Kubrick had an American standard 35mm camera, a Mitchell, converted to work specifically with that one lens.

    Wow, how do you know these amazing details?

    (Gary makes pretentious regal gesture) In my day, a film festival director had to know every aspect of his craft.

    And I bet a film festival director was able to speak to the people who made the films and heard directly from the creators themselves.

    • #31
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Thanks, Gary. One of my favorite movies. The candlelit scenes are stunning.

    Thanks, Basil. Glad you agree. And good to see you around; I haven’t seen a post from you in a while.

    That “candlelight lens” was a Zeiss f/0.95 hat was legendarily a NASA leftover “for the Moon project”. I suspect it was ordered by Goddard or JPL for unmanned, not for Apollo, but in those days everything got attributed to Project Apollo. The lens had an odd, telescopic shape that wouldn’t have worked with the German Arriflex cameras Kubrick loved. (The Arri’s spinning mirrored shutter, the very thing that made reflex viewing possible, would have clipped the back of the lens.) So Kubrick had an American standard 35mm camera, a Mitchell, converted to work specifically with that one lens.

    Wow, how do you know these amazing details?

    (Gary makes pretentious regal gesture) In my day, a film festival director had to know every aspect of his craft.

    And I bet a film festival director was able to speak to the people who made the films and heard directly from the creators themselves.

    Two years ago, I had a post about location shooting (so to speak) for The Godfather in 1971, and mentioned conversations between Godfather‘s director of photography, Gordon Willis, and his fellow DP and Oscar winner, compact lights inventor Ross Lowell. It was a privilege to be in on the conservation. The movie hadn’t even come out yet and nobody knew if it would be successful, very much including Gordy.

    The  very next day, Lowell’s son (not a Ricochet member) sent me an email thanking me for some kind words about his late father. He gave me some other useful information. That’s the outreach of Ricochet; it seems to show up readily in search engines, even in these polarized times. That’s made a bunch of these conversations possible.

    • #32
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    And BTW, Clavius, you are too modest. You know darn well how I know this stuff, because you know this stuff. Like @bartholomewxerxesogilviejr, you could have entered the film biz as a DP if you’d really wanted to, and maybe I could have as well. Probably @misthiocracy too. All of us have threaded up some precious raw stock and hoped, “(Gosh darn it), I sure hope that stray light didn’t penetrate to the core”. 

    • #33
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    And BTW, Clavius, you are too modest. You know darn well how I know this stuff, because you know this stuff. Like @ bartholomewxerxesogilviejr, you could have entered the film biz as a DP if you’d really wanted to, and maybe I could have as well. Probably @ misthiocracy too. All of us have threaded up some precious raw stock and hoped, “(Gosh darn it), I sure hope that stray light didn’t penetrate to the core”.

    • #34
  5. Cosmik Phred Member
    Cosmik Phred
    @CosmikPhred

    This was my first Kubrick movie and it was seen on the big screen.  My dad took the whole family across the state line from Delaware to see it at the Eric theater in Concordville, PA (big single screen, two aisle theater).  10-year-old me was entranced by it.  Dueling, battles, nekkid women, the music, there was an intermission!  This wasn’t the twin cinema dollar movie fare I was used to seeing.

    I believe it’s better for the first viewing be in a theater so you can absorb the visuals undistracted.  Yes, it’s deliberately paced, but for some reason I didn’t find it slow at the time.

    My appreciation for Barry Lyndon grows upon each viewing and as I learn more about the production.  It’s beautiful, Michael Hordern’s unreliable narrator is fantastic, Leon Vitali turns in a despicable performance for the ages and Ryan O’Neal’s scene with Bryan still packs an emotional punch.  Ryan’s performance works fine.  His character is a shallow striver.  He’s not as clever as he thinks he is, but cruises along on his looks, charm, and luck.  He was a big star and even Stanley needed casting to get butts into seats (see also Eyes Wide Shut and Cruise/Kidman).  He never ignored film making economics.

    Yes, Stanley never made his Napoleon movie.  In retrospect, it seems clear that Barry Lyndon served as a movie production laboratory to problem solve and get a feel for how to produce the Napoleon project.

    In any event, if the movie was a consolation prize for a stillborn Napoleon, I’m happy with the runner up just the same.

    • #35
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):

    This was my first Kubrick movie and it was seen on the big screen. My dad took the whole family across the state line from Delaware to see it at the Eric theater in Concordville, PA (big single screen, two aisle theater). 10-year-old me was entranced by it. Dueling, battles, nekkid women, the music, there was an intermission! This wasn’t the twin cinema dollar movie fare I was used to seeing.

    I believe it’s better for the first viewing be in a theater so you can absorb the visuals undistracted. Yes, it’s deliberately paced, but for some reason I didn’t find it slow at the time.

    My appreciation for Barry Lyndon grows upon each viewing and as I learn more about the production. It’s beautiful, Michael Hordern’s unreliable narrator is fantastic, Leon Vitali turns in a despicable performance for the ages and Ryan O’Neal’s scene with Bryan still packs an emotional punch. Ryan’s performance works fine. His character is a shallow striver. He’s not as clever as he thinks he is, but cruises along on his looks, charm, and luck. He was a big star and even Stanley needed casting to get butts into seats (see also Eyes Wide Shut and Cruise/Kidman). He never ignored film making economics.

    Yes, Stanley never made his Napoleon movie. In retrospect, it seems clear that Barry Lyndon served as a movie production laboratory to problem solve and get a feel for how to produce the Napoleon project.

    In any event, if the movie was a consolation prize for a stillborn Napoleon, I’m happy with the runner up just the same.

    This is a fine and detailed comment, Cosmik Phred! 

    • #36
  7. She Member
    She
    @She

    Just read that Ryan O’Neal has died, age 82. R.I.P.

    • #37
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    She (View Comment):

    Just read that Ryan O’Neal has died, age 82. R.I.P.

    RIP.

    Gary, please don’t write about any movies I am in.

    • #38
  9. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Ryan O’Neal isn’t in the final scene of the film, but as his annual pension is passed over to Lady Lyndon for her signature, she hesitates. Then she signs.  You could read her pause and expression as, “Ah, I once knew him well”.  Life goes on. It’s quiet but moving.

    • #39
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Ryan O’Neal isn’t in the final scene of the film, but as his annual pension is passed over to Lady Lyndon for her signature, she hesitates. Then she signs. You could read her pause and expression as, “Ah, I once knew him well”. Life goes on. It’s quiet but moving.

    I just watched the final duel scene again. I had forgotten what an utter wretch Bullingdon was.

    • #40
  11. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Percival (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Ryan O’Neal isn’t in the final scene of the film, but as his annual pension is passed over to Lady Lyndon for her signature, she hesitates. Then she signs. You could read her pause and expression as, “Ah, I once knew him well”. Life goes on. It’s quiet but moving.

    I just watched the final duel scene again. I had forgotten what an utter wretch Bullingdon was.

    The scene where he interrupts the recital to embarrass his stepfather is the turning point in Barry’s quest to be accepted by the establishment. Frankly, Bullingdon deserved a good rap in the mouth. The one sympathetic scene he had was when he gets caned for a tussle that is actually little Brian’s fault. 

    Soon afterwards, Barry has an awkward encounter with a distinguished lord at a restaurant, when it becomes obvious that he’s no longer welcome in high society. As formal as it all is, it feels very true to life. 

    That restaurant is a sign of the beginning of modern times. The country inn that appears near the beginning of the movie probably sold one meal, take it leave it, whatever was in the kettle. “Restaurants” got that name because they were supposed to be restorative; you selected what you’d be served, like a patient at a health spa in Karlsbad or Marienbad having mineral waters prescribed for them. . 

    • #41
  12. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    How a movie hits you can depend a lot on your life at the time. I saw it in my 20’s and was mystified by it. It seemed like a movie in which nothing happened, in slow motion. I remember exactly one scene from it: Lyndon sitting at a desk trying to figure out how to pay his bills. This is in a movie?? I suppose other stuff happened, too, but that’s literally all I remember.

    My tastes have changed. I watch a lot of TCM so maybe it would make more of an impression on me now. And these days you can watch a movie speeded up a little so it wouldn’t take so damn long. Sorry, Mr. Kubrick.

     

    • #42
  13. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Movies in general used to be a lot slower. I’ve always liked the 1960 Ocean’s Eleven, a great heist/caper film, usually a fast-moving type of plot. But when you see it now, one of the first things you notice is it takes something like a half hour before you even find out that it’s about a Las Vegas robbery. Bullitt‘s a famous action movie, right? It spends about two minutes showing how the San Francisco PD uses a facsimile machine to send fingerprints to the FBI. Patton‘s another favorite of mine. See how much time it spends on ol’ George hanging out in chateaus. 

    It’s tough for us to fully “inhabit” a world without phones, cars, or electric lights. In the world of Barry Lyndon, transportation and communications were no faster than they’d been in Caesar’s time. The pace of life was different. 

    • #43
  14. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I’ll do a post sometime about anachronisms in film. There are obvious cases, some of them trivial, where a song on the radio didn’t in fact come out until five years later, or a 1961 car is in the background of a 1958 scene. A careless Starbucks cup on the set of Game of Thrones is a simple screwup. Plastic water bottles on the set of Good Night and Good Luck are similar, but a more subtle mistake. At least the production assistants on the Thrones set should have immediately recognized the problem. The 25-year-old PA’s on Clooney’s set probably wouldn’t have known that people didn’t routinely carry around hydration material in 1953.

    The mistakes I really find interesting are ones of thought and language. When Spielberg’s Lincoln has talks about racial equality, that’s an anachronism that’s worse than the water bottle that Edward R. Murrow supposedly has in the CBS newsroom. In Abraham Lincoln’s day, they would have said something like “lightening the burdens on the dusky sons of Ham”, or “freeing the bondsman”, or at most modern, “assist the poor Negroes”.  

    The difference isn’t trivial if the whole movie is full of authentically clothed actors in original surroundings who all seem to talk and think like a 2013 graduate seminar on race, cosplaying the 19th century. 

    • #44
  15. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Bullitt‘s a famous action movie, right? It spends about two minutes showing how the San Francisco PD uses a facsimile machine to send fingerprints to the FBI.

    State of the art in ’68. It only took six minutes to transmit a page-sized photograph. In black-and-white, of course.

    • #45
  16. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    I’ve never seen it. Will add it to the list.

    I think you’ll like it. Ryan O’Neal’s Irish accent isn’t flawless, but he certainly looks the part.

    I don’t ever remember it being shown on TV here.

    Much of the film was made in Ireland, and much more of it would have been, but this was 1973-’74. Not a happy time. Anonymous callers claiming affiliation with the IRA threatened Kubrick and his family, so he brought the production back to England.

    Yes I’d heard about it because of that. Unlike Ryan’s Daughter which is often shown, I don’t think it got the same airtime from RTE

    • #46
  17. Cosmik Phred Member
    Cosmik Phred
    @CosmikPhred

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Movies in general used to be a lot slower. I’ve always liked the 1960 Ocean’s Eleven, a great heist/caper film, usually a fast-moving type of plot. But when you see it now, one of the first things you notice is it takes something like a half hour before you even find out that it’s about a Las Vegas robbery. Bullitt‘s a famous action movie, right? It spends about two minutes showing how the San Francisco PD uses a facsimile machine to send fingerprints to the FBI. Patton‘s another favorite of mine. See how much time it spends on ol’ George hanging out in chateaus.

    It’s tough for us to fully “inhabit” a world without phones, cars, or electric lights. In the world of Barry Lyndon, transportation and communications were no faster than they’d been in Caesar’s time. The pace of life was different.

    Bullitt REALLY takes its time.  The chase on the runways at SFO isn’t exactly slap bang action by today’s standards.  Suspenseful – sure – but not exactly Die Hard.  I’ve watched Where Eagles Dare a couple of times recently and while there’s plenty of action, Alistair MacLean knew how to craft an adventure yarn with suspense, twists and letting it build at the right pace.  Maybe suspense is the biggest thing missing these days.

    That being said, comedy was slower too.  Watch classic Carol Burnett sketches.  They take their time on the setups.  I loved watching them as a kid and never noticed the pacing because that’s simply how they worked.  Frankly, even if there were no jokes, Carol, Tim and Harvey were just funny to watch.  We were more patient back then, I guess.

    • #47
  18. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    @cosmikphred, your comments are post material. Why aren’t you doing posts?? C’mon, man. Ricochet needs its strongest arms out on the mound.

    • #48
  19. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):
    We were more patient back then, I guess.

    This has been sliding for hundreds of years.  I’m always struck reading Frankenstein, when individual paragraphs of dialog go on for two or three pages.  Imagine someone talking that long without being interrupted with some sarcastic remark.  Never happen nowadays.

    • #49
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):
    We were more patient back then, I guess.

    This has been sliding for hundreds of years. I’m always struck reading Frankenstein, when individual paragraphs of dialog go on for two or three pages. Imagine someone talking that long without being interrupted with some sarcastic remark. Never happen nowadays.

    Very very true. And when reading things from that long ago, you’ve got not one, but two levels of gauzy “reality” to accept: that a lot of things about human nature were seen very differently back then, plus a second factor: even when they weren’t all that different than today’s, they were described in novels and plays in an elevated form that made compelling sense to them then, but no longer speaks to us now.  

     

    • #50
  21. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    There’s a much-remembered moment in John McTiernan’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. The sailors are speaking Russian (the Captain is too, though IIRC he’s Lithuanian). The camera zooms in on their lips moving and when it zooms back out, they’re speaking English. It’s a slightly clumsy but sincere way to deal with an everyday language problem for media like films or TV. 

    Something like that should metaphorically happen with movies set in other times, not just in other languages. There should somehow be a sense of “okay, from this moment on, we’re doing it their way.” 

     

    • #51
  22. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    There’s a much-remembered moment in John McTiernan’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. The sailors are speaking Russian (the Captain is too, though IIRC he’s Lithuanian). The camera zooms in on their lips moving and when it zooms back out, they’re speaking English. It’s a slightly clumsy but sincere way to deal with an everyday language problem for media like films or TV.

    Something like that should metaphorically happen with movies set in other times, not just in other languages. There should somehow be a sense of “okay, from this moment on, we’re doing it their way.”

     

    They need to maintain the distinction in time, though.  One of the many things that made the recent Willow TV sequel so awful was the people in the medieval setting frequently using modern language and phrasing, but not consistently.  Their other problems were already making immersion in the story difficult enough, but every time they would do that, it would jar you right out of the show.

    • #52
  23. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    There’s a much-remembered moment in John McTiernan’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. The sailors are speaking Russian (the Captain is too, though IIRC he’s Lithuanian). The camera zooms in on their lips moving and when it zooms back out, they’re speaking English. It’s a slightly clumsy but sincere way to deal with an everyday language problem for media like films or TV.

    Something like that should metaphorically happen with movies set in other times, not just in other languages. There should somehow be a sense of “okay, from this moment on, we’re doing it their way.”

     

    They need to maintain the distinction in time, though. One of the many things that made the recent Willow TV sequel so awful was the people in the medieval setting frequently using modern language and phrasing, but not consistently. Their other problems were already making immersion in the story difficult enough, but every time they would do that, it would jar you right out of the show.

    Agreed, it’s a real judgement issue (no pun intended!) A modern audience can handle old time thought and expression to a certain degree. They get the idea that slavery or heresy or speaking Serbian or being a lesbian were different in the old days. You can “put that over”, in pro wrestling terms. 

    It’s harder to put over cultural practices that seem funny or weird. Men sometimes used to write to each other in language that is flowery and strange today. I’m sure it gets a giggling audience with high school classes who run into it for the first time. There are academics who are quick to jump in and say, “That’s because they were gay and they couldn’t express it.” In a few cases, that might have been true, but it’s not as if there’s some kind of scoreboard where this counts as one for the gay side. 

    I’m radical enough to say, guess what? They weren’t homosexuals; they just lived in an age when public figures would write to near or total strangers who’d taken ill and say things like “My dearest M—, your current sorrows distress me and burden me with prayer to be faithfully taken in yr. behalf, with God’s love, yr impassioned supporter.” 

    • #53
  24. She Member
    She
    @She

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):
    We were more patient back then, I guess.

    This has been sliding for hundreds of years. I’m always struck reading Frankenstein, when individual paragraphs of dialog go on for two or three pages. Imagine someone talking that long without being interrupted with some sarcastic remark. Never happen nowadays.

    Very very true. And when reading things from that long ago, you’ve got not one, but two levels of gauzy “reality” to accept: that a lot of things about human nature were seen very differently back then, plus a second factor: even when they weren’t all that different than today’s, they were described in novels and plays in an elevated form that made compelling sense to them then, but no longer speaks to us now.

    I spent a week in D.C. in the mid-1990s at an advanced IBM Token-Ring networking class (the mind boggles).  There were only two other women, and we ended up as dinner pals.  One of them, who had small children, mentioned her disappointment when she sat down with them to view Disney’s Snow White (the real one), a much loved memory of her own childhood.  The kids were bored sick because “nothing ever happens.”

    • #54
  25. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    @ cosmikphred, your comments are post material. Why aren’t you doing posts?? C’mon, man. Ricochet needs its strongest arms out on the mound.

    I heartily agree. 

    • #55
  26. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):
    We were more patient back then, I guess.

    This has been sliding for hundreds of years. I’m always struck reading Frankenstein, when individual paragraphs of dialog go on for two or three pages. Imagine someone talking that long without being interrupted with some sarcastic remark. Never happen nowadays.

    Well I have talked to @hankrhody. If you don’t cut that guy off with some sarcasm once in a while he’ll never stop.

    • #56
  27. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    One of Stanley Kubrick’s rare bits of regrettable behavior was an ungracious attitude towards Marisa Berenson. He didn’t talk much about it, he didn’t bring it up, but when asked about it he complained that she didn’t sound the part. Well, duh, Stanley, who cast her? There were only about, oh, two hundred actresses in 1973 Ireland or Britain who could have played Lady Lyndon. You picked an American socialite and then whined about it. 

    Berenson’s not a great actress, no, but she was given very little to work with. In her one big tear-jerker scene, she does fine. One critic said that Lady Lyndon was a blank spot in Kubrick’s imagination.  Even the narrator says that she occupied a place in Barry’s life not unlike the paintings and decor. 

    • #57
  28. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Even the narrator says that she occupied a place in Barry’s life not unlike the paintings and decor.

    Lots of luck bringing that to life.

    • #58
  29. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):
    We were more patient back then, I guess.

    This has been sliding for hundreds of years. I’m always struck reading Frankenstein, when individual paragraphs of dialog go on for two or three pages. Imagine someone talking that long without being interrupted with some sarcastic remark. Never happen nowadays.

    Well I have talked to @ hankrhody. If you don’t cut that guy off with some sarcasm once in a while he’ll never stop.

    I can see why that reference made you think of Hank–the lightning bolts, the jars of chemicals, a general Teutonic spirit, the will to defy nature…

    • #59
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):
    We were more patient back then, I guess.

    This has been sliding for hundreds of years. I’m always struck reading Frankenstein, when individual paragraphs of dialog go on for two or three pages. Imagine someone talking that long without being interrupted with some sarcastic remark. Never happen nowadays.

    Well I have talked to @ hankrhody. If you don’t cut that guy off with some sarcasm once in a while he’ll never stop.

    I can see why that reference made you think of Hank–the lightning bolts, the jars of chemicals, a general Teutonic spirit, the will to defy nature…

    … the utter disregard for OSHA regulations and the fire code …

    • #60
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