(5 of 9)
And it is a great world, especially to the modern eye, accustomed as it is to cluttered industrialized landscapes, and architecture and decor that stress the purely functional. The recurring visual motif of the filmespecially obvious in the first portionis a stately pullback. Typically, it starts on some detail, like a closeup of an actor, then moves slowly back to reveal the simple beauty of the countryside that is as indifferent to the player's petty pursuits as he is impervious to its innocent charm. The lighting in all the outdoor sequences appears to be completely natural and patientlyexpensivelywaited for. Frequently, most of the emotional information for a scene may be found in the light, before anyone says a word. A superb example of this occurs when Barry discovers his first love flirting in a garden with a man who is everything he is notmature, wealthy, well born, English and an army officer to boot. The late afternoon sun, soft as the lyric of a love ballad, literally dies along with Barry's hopes of romance.
Indoors, there are similar revelations, thanks in part to space-age technology. Kubrick found a way to fit an incredibly fast (F 0.7) 50mm. still-camera lens, developed by Zeiss, onto a motion-picture camera. It permitted him to film night interiors using only the light available to inhabitants of the 18th century. Some scenes are illuminated by just a single candle; in others, hundreds gutter in the candelabra and chandeliers of great halls, bathing the screen in a gentle, wonderfully moody orange glow that almost no one now alive has ever experienced.
In the hands of another director, all this embellishment might seem an idle exercise, perhaps even proof of the old movie adage that when a director dies he becomes a cameraman. The first half of Barry Lyndon deliberately violates every rule of sound dramatic composition. Only a few of the scenes end in powerful emotion or conflict, and there is no strong arc to the overall design of the piece. And yet our attention never wanders: such is Kubrick's gift for lighting and composing a scene, such is the strength of his desire to prove that movies "haven't scratched the surface of how to tell stories in their own terms."
The thought is not new. Everyone who has worked in or thought seriously about the cinema knows that the angle of a shot or the rhythm of a scene's editing can impart information more economically than a long stretch of dialogue. What is novel is that Kubrick has acted so firmly on the basis of that nearly conventional wisdom in the film's first halfthe half that must catch and hold the attention of a mass audience (The Towering
Inferno crowd) if his picture is to succeed commercially.