Kubrick and friends – 1975

Now here’s something a bit out of step with the times. We all know Stanley Kubrick correct? Notorious perfectionist and quite intelligent artist whose muse seems to wander to and fro. In 1975, he treated film goers expecting some bit of shocking thrills to a bit of shocking melodrama. Barry Lyndon a film based on the satirical novel “The Luck of Barry Lyndon” amounted to a genuine rebellion to what he was known for. A pastoral, languid bittersweet movie set in 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment, and released at a time when the world was in a bit of turmoil due to the Fall of Saigon, the Rise of the Khmer Rouge, all sorts of oil and resource worries, and Gerald Ford nearly getting assassinated twice(!), this release had to be something of a shock. Where was the firebrand who just presented young English “punks”, as older people feared this generation was becoming, in A Clockwork Orange?

Apparently, he was waxing poetic. Presenting old England at its most beautiful and romantic, he thoroughly undercut all its artifice with a tome on how even the grandest of plans fall prey to human stupidity. To film the movie Stanley insisted on capturing all the light as it existed back in that period. Filmed in Ireland by candlelight or natural light, with “actors” like Ryan O’Neal dressed in period appropriate garb and others hired like lead actress/model Marisa Berenson due to her pale countenance (period appropriate…) the work of reproducing in vision, that resembled vistas painted by Thomas Gainsborough and interiors by William Hogarth was a task that could lead a lesser director into folly.

Barry Lyndon soundtrack cover.

Well, it did in a way. The languid prose and direction of the novel forced Kubrick to have longer stable and tracking shots, in environments where “normal” film cameras would struggle mightily to capture the shot appropriately. By forcing himself to work with period appropriate lighting he had to device ingenious tricks to shoot inside historical sites (another forced obstacle to overcome!) and get that era’s vibration across. Using lenses created by NASA to capture the far side of the moon(!) with their huge aperture, they were able to capture scenes of placid leisure lighted by a few candles and foolhardy chivalrous battle scenes of historically accurate ridiculous battles in such a stately, new manner, that the audience slowly starts to realize the undercurrent of subversion running through his direction. Here’s Old erudite England as you all wanted, but can you realize the ridiculousness of the proposition you look up to? A lof of the audience in England ran with it, but some failed to see the message in hindsight. Somehow, though, its music adds something worthy of reflection.

Led by the orchestration of Leonard Rosenman, a Brooklynite, he goes through period appropriate Romantic compositions by Vivaldi, Bach, Schubert, that have a tine of melancholia undercutting all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the scenes they’re used in. One frequent piece used is Handel’s Sarabande a German-born composer whose best work for England’s aristocracy borrowed tons from others work to create a new kind of English classical music. Here’s more artifice, albeit brilliant in nature, to take a dig at all this class-based society.

Some of the most pensive things though are the Irish songs that the Chieftains contribute to the soundtrack. Interspersed here and there are their own takes on more modern Irish compositions like Sean O’Riada‘s “Women of Ireland”, jigs like “Piper’s Maggot“, and more. Showing how even the bluest of blood, desperately sought the “realness” of the lower class, and struggled mightily to refuse the worth of those considered lower than they. Its such an interesting soundtrack, that belongs in the neo-folk pantheon just for those reasons alone…demonstrating the need for some “realness” couched in modernity to show some of the seams of tradition. Anyway, thank Stanley Kubrick for the Englishness of Quills, The Remains of the Day, Downtown Abbey and more if that’s how you roll, but don’t forget that bands like Camel in 1975’s Snow Goose combined string orchestra, A Story of Dunkirk, and some needed electricity do something similar with some kind of artifice…

Listen to some of the songs from the Barry Lyndon Soundtrack at Grooveshark or at Spotify.

Listen to Snow Goose at Spotify.