Six and a half years ago I explained how Barry Lyndon is saddled with an unfortunate dead zone problem in its second half. A dispiriting chilliness. I happened to watch this portion of the 2011 Warner Home Video Bluray last night, and I was reminded how spot-on my 4.22.10 essay was. I’ve re-posted a portion of it:
“I’ve seen Barry Lyndon at least fifteen times. Possibly a bit more than that — I’ve lost count and who cares? It’s brilliant, mesmerizing, exquisite — a dry, note-perfect immersion into the climate and mores of William Makepeace Thackeray‘s novel, and, by its own terms, one of the most perfectly realized films ever made. But the problem — and this needs to be said (or re-said) with all the passionate but vaguely snobby Lyndon gushing going on these days — is that it turns sour at a very particular point.
“In my eyes, Barry Lyndon is just a notch below great because of this dead zone section in the second half.
“It begins at the moment when Barry (Ryan O’Neal) blows pipe smoke into the face of his wife, Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). Something happens at that instant, and from then on it’s ‘oh, odd…the energy is dropping, and I’m starting to enjoy this less.’ For another 30 to 40 minutes (or what feels like that amount of time), Barry Lyndon gets slower and slower, draggier and draggier, more and more morose — stately compositions, dispassionate observation, grim-faced tableaus.
“Then, finally, comes the duel with Lord Bullington (Leon Vitali) and Barry gets his groove back. Then comes that perfect, dialogue-free scene with Lady Lyndon signing checks with Bullington, Reverent Runt (Murray Melvin) and Graham (Philip Stone) at her side, and she signs the annual payment to her ex-husband. And then that perfect epilogue.
“There’s one other draggy component that diminishes Barry Lyndon, and in fact makes the dead-zone portion even deadlier than it needs to be, and that’s Berenson’s performance. Even now, the mere thought of her dead glacial expression — there’s only one — makes me tighten with irritation.”
Incidentally: WHV needs to remaster Lyndon with a 4K or 6K scan and then re-issue it at the correct aspect ratio (1.66:1 instead of the current 1.78:1, the accuracy of which was proven with Glenn Kenny’s disclosure of a 12.8.75 letter written by Kubrick and sent to exhibitors, stating among other conditions and specifications that the film was shot in 1.66 and should therefore be projected that way.)