Classical Kubrick

This article was written by Andy Duffield.


Hello everyone, it’s Andy again with my second article for Matt’s blog. Don’t worry, this time it’s not about Bond.

We all know that Kubrick had a way with classical music. His use of Strauss’s Blue Danube in ‘2001’ is beautiful and his use of a synthesised version of Henry Purcell’s ‘Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary is iconic. As great as these soundtracks are, there is one that stands out amongst them. ‘Barry Lyndon’ is Kubrick’s forgotten masterpiece and in my mind his best film. Based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel ‘The Luck of Barry Lyndon’ and starring Ryan O’Neill in the lead role, it follows the highs and lows of young Irishman Redmond Barry as he makes his way through the English Aristocracy, meeting many different people along the way as he experiences war, fatherhood and wealth.  It is a story on an epic scale and contains some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve ever seen. His use of natural light in interior scenes makes the whole film look like an 18th century painting. Most importantly, it is a period piece that gave Kubrick the perfect chance to show off his love of classical music.

The film stands up fantastically on it’s own but it is the music that makes it a masterpiece. Not only does Kubrick set the period perfectly but he also uses certain pieces at the right time to create rich emotion in the story. Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ accompanies the opening titles; a piece of music that is grand and powerful but also contains an element of danger. It immerses you in the film straightaway as we see Barry’s father killed in a duel.

The film starts off in Barry’s home country of Ireland. Sean O’Riada’s ‘Women of Ireland’ is perfectly used as it immediately establishes Barry as a naïve, young man in love. There is also plenty of military music which sets up the battle scenes effectively. He goes on to use more pieces by Mozart, Paisello, Bach and Vivaldi’s devastatingly sad Cello Concerto in E-Minor (Third Movement).

All the music used is fantastic however there is one scene which stands out and which I regard as one of, if not the greatest scene in the history of cinema. Barry is playing cards and notices a beautiful lady, Lady Lyndon, sitting opposite, who he ends up marrying. Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-Flat, Op. 100 (second movement) begins playing. A gracefully romantic piece flowing with love. What makes this scene so fantastic is that, in theory, nothing happens. However the music that Kubrick uses and the natural lighting give it so much atmosphere and raw emotion. He throws us straight into the minds of these two people as they fall in love without saying a single word. Just perfect.

This is why I think Barry Lyndon is Stanley Kubrick’s greatest film and I feel angry that it is so overlooked. If you have not seen it, please watch it and agree with me! (Or you can disagree, I really don’t mind).



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