(6 of 9)
It is a big risk, an act of the highest artistic confidence. Reassurance comes in the strong melodrama of the film's second half. From the moment Marisa Berenson, playing Lady Lyndon, appears and Barry's suit for her hand succeeds, the film, without seeming to change its style or gently enfolding pace, gathers tremendous dramatic force of a quite conventional sort. Barry's loveless use of her to further his ambitions has a raw, shocking edge. His conflict with her son by her first marriage, culminating in what is surely the most gripping duel ever filmed, is full of angry uncontrolled passion. Barry's innocent infatuation with his own child, "the hope of his family, the pride of his manhood," has a touching, redeeming warmth to it. His downfall, much more dramatically rendered by Kubrick than by Thackeray, has a tragic starkness and a moral correctness. In short, Kubrick has accomplished what amounts to a minor miraclean uncompromised artistic vision that also puts all of Warner Bros, money "on the screen," as Kubrick says, borrowing an old trade term. He feels he has done right by himself and "done right by the people who gave me the money," presenting them with the best possible chance to make it back with a profit on their investment.
Kubrick turned to Barry Lyndon after a projected biography of Napoleon proved too complex and expensive even for him. He reread the novel several times, "looking for traps, making sure it was do-able." With typically elaborate caution, he got Warners' backing on the basis of an outline in which names, places and dates were changed so no one could filch from him a story in the public domain. He then settled down to work on script and research. The latter may be, for him, the more important undertaking. "Stanley is voracious for information. He wants glorious choice," says his associate producer, Bernard Williams. Adds Costume Designer Milena Ca-nonero: "He wants to see everything. He wants at his fingertips the knowledge, the feeling of the period."
Kubrick is a self-taught man with an autodidact's passion for facts and the process of gathering them. Son of a Bronx physician, he was an indifferent high school student. He experimented endlessly with cameras and at 17 was hired by Look as a staff photographer. He learned something about people and a lot about photography, traveling the country shooting pictures for 4% years. At 21, he made his first short subject, three years later his first fictional featurevery low budget. He also audited Columbia University courses conducted by the likes of Lionel Trilling and Mark Van Doren, and became a tireless reader with catholic tastes. "I can become interested in anything," he says. "Delving into a subject, discovering facts and detailsI find that easy and pleasurable."