On Saturday I went to see a new print of Stanley Kubrick's 1975 picaresque comedy drama, Barry Lyndon. Some wil regard this as sacrilege, but I think Kubrick overrated. OK, he never made a terrible film, apart from Eyes Wide Shut, but his movies are cold, lacking a centre (a fault some of David Lean's later films suffered from), lacking in any kind of levity, and overblown. Too often he emphasises technology and technical virtuosity at the expense of character and story.
It's telling that in his most overrated film, 2001, the most interesting character is a rogue talking computer. Full Metal Jacket has its moments but there are far better pictures about Vietnam; the aforementioned EWS is just rubbish, while A Clockwork Orange is a seemingly deliberately unpleasant reading of Burgess' magisterial satiric novel; The Shining is a bit hammy (as is Spartacus, but at least that movie has a heart).
Kubrick's best pictures were made earlier in his career, before his technocratic tendencies derailed him. Lolita is a brave, if flawed, bash at a very difficult subject, while Dr Strangelove and the brilliant Paths of Glory are superb films.
But Barry Lyndon, adapted by the director from a wonderful 1844 Thackeray novel, might just be his unqualified masterpiece. A three-hour tale of the adventures of a wandering chancer and his eventual fall from grace, it is beautifully shot (with some of the fastest lenses ever made, Zeiss f0.7s) in natural and candlelight. It is slow, but utterly absorbing - and stunningly beautiful to look at, being reminiscent of both the pastoral paintings of Gainsborough and Constable; and of those strange, melancholic pictures of the great French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau.
The cast is brilliant, with a host of great British character actors (Leonard Rossiter, Frank Middlemiss, André Morrell, Patrick Magee, Arthur O'Sullivan with Michael Hordern as the narrator). Ryan O'Neal is a pretty-looking blank, but as the titualar character is someone to whom things happen, as opposed to one who makes them happen, that's OK. And Marisa Berenson is suitably lovely, and sad-looking, as the melancholy Countess who has the misfortune to marry gold-digging Barry.
Ken Adam's art direction is superb, the locations magnificent, and the soundtrack, by Handel, Vivaldi, Schubert and Bach, is utterly splendid. Definitely worth seeing at the cinema. An unqualified 10/10.