Stanley Kubrick, style and behind the scenes of Barry Lyndon

By Michael Karpienski | Last Updated: December 16, 2023
Following “A Clockwork Orange in 1971,” in Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon-esque film “Barry Lyndon,” (1975) he adapted a historical novel by William Makepeace Thackeray called “The Luck of Barry Lyndon” — a fascinating drama about society and karma.
In the film, Kubrick depicted the adventures of Barry Lyndon — a trickster and charlatan who, coming from his humble farm in Ireland, climbs into the battlefields of the Seven Years’ War. He schemes through the high-brow parlors of high society. And he makes it through practically unscathed.
Working together with cinematographer John Alcott, Kubrick held a firm rule when making the film: to use zero electricity in the shooting of the film! Due to this enormous limitation, Kubrick was forced to experiment with natural light and rendering in the pre-electric world for which he depicted. This produced incredible elements of depth in each shot. With effects not so different than paintings achieved in the 18th century by Thomas Gainsborough.
Another element that sets “Barry Lyndon” apart from other films is Kubrick’s use of Baroque glamor — a sense of romanticism diffusing the highlights of the image. The choice of using primarily red and blues for Russian and British military uniforms, against the golden backdrop of hay pastures, produced incredible background tones in many of the scenes that leave you gazing into some of the most picturesque scenes in the history of cinema today.
For nocturnal shots, Stanley Kubrick developed his own lenses in order to capture exposed scenes using only a few candles. By doing this, Kubrick influenced contemporary filmmakers and photographers in the use of low light technology.
In terms of shots and technique, Kubrick used a mix of tracking shots, handheld documentary style and the frequent use of zoom lenses to zero in on particular details within the scene or zoom out for another great effect of setting the scene. For music, Kubrick embraced the use of classical arrangements over any original score. Thus he enlisted Leonard Rosenman to create new arrangements of Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, and Schubert, all of which accompany the heavy weight of history that pervades the film.
Kubrick's films were ahead of his time. Not only by the technological inventions for which he made, but the film critics for which his films were reviewed. This led “Barry Lyndon” to have modest box office success and mixed critical reception. Alcott won an Oscar for his cinematography. Adams won an Oscar for production design, and Kubrick was nominated for best picture but did not win.
As expert advice for this article, I went ahead and tried to find some interconnection between Ryan O’Neal and film director Stanley Kubrick. In an interview, O’Neal said that Kubrick was a “control freak. He and the camera were keen, he surely knew how to light the scene. He was ahead of our times.”
-Fernanda Karpienski
Watch Ryan O’Neal’s Interview On Kubrick !