Production was moved from Ireland to England after writer, producer, and director Stanley Kubrick received word that his name was on an I.R.A. hit list for directing a movie featuring English soldiers in Ireland. Consequently, several scenes were dropped.
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Many of the shots were composed and filmed in order to evoke certain eighteenth-century paintings, especially those by Thomas Gainsborough.
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Stanley Kubrick used to play the soundtrack's classical music during takes to get the actors and actresses in a better mood. He was reportedly influenced by Sergio Leone's method in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
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Contrary to legend, this movie did use artificial lighting in some scenes (for example, when Bryan (David Morley) learns he's getting a horse). However, it is true that no electronic lighting was used for the candle-lit scenes. A lens built by the Carl Zeiss Company for N.A.S.A., a 50mm Zeiss lens modified with the Kollmorgen adaptor used in still cameras, was used to shoot scenes lit only by candle. This lens had the largest aperture of any ever built for movie use (f/0.7).
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Writer, producer, and director Stanley Kubrick would often shoot a great many retakes of a scene, just to get "that extra something" in a shot; twenty to fifty takes per scene was not uncommon. It has been claimed that Kubrick shot over one hundred takes of the scene in which Barry (Ryan O'Neal) first meets Lady Honoria Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). Ultimately, O'Neal became so exasperated with said practice that he faced Kubrick at one point and said, "All right, I'll tell you what we'll do. You act out my part in this scene, and then I'll imitate you." Characteristically, Kubrick reckoned that O'Neal was merely being insolent.
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Filming took 300 days over a two-year span, beginning around May or June of 1973. The production suffered two major shutdowns, resulting in what was then considered a bloated $11 million budget. It was finally released in December of 1975.
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It took 42 days to edit the final duel between Barry (Ryan O'Neal) and Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali).
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Writer, producer, and director Stanley Kubrick called director Ken Russell in the early 1970s to ask him where he had found the locations for his period movies. Russell told him, and Kubrick used the locations in this movie. Several years later, Russell said, "I felt quite chuffed."
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Despite having second billing in this movie, Marisa Berenson (Lady Honoria Lyndon) speaks only thirteen lines of dialogue.
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A myth grew that the Academy Award winning costumes used in this movie were genuine antique clothes, but this is only partly correct. Some of the costumes were genuine antiques bought at auction by costume designer Milena Canonero, while others were custom-made specifically for this movie and were based on clothing of the period and costumes seen in period paintings.
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In order to provide as much light as possible in the candle-lit scenes, Stanley Kubrick used custom-made candles. Each candle had three wicks instead of one, and used a highly volatile wax. This resulted in the candles burning down very quickly, which is why many of the candles seen are so short.
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The last movie Stanley Kubrick made to not be rated "R" by the MPAA.
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Warner Brothers would only finance this movie on the condition that Stanley Kubrick cast a Top 10 box-office star (from the annual Quigley Poll of Top Money-Making Stars) in the lead. Ryan O'Neal was the number two box-office star of 1973, topped only by Clint Eastwood. Ironically, this was his only time in the top 10, as exhibitors, who voted the list, attributed the success of Love Story (1970) (one of the top grossers at the time) to O'Neal's co-star Ali MacGraw, and named her to the list in 1971. The other top 10 stars were 3. Steve McQueen, 4. Burt Reynolds, 5. Robert Redford, 6. Barbra Streisand, 7. Paul Newman, 8. Charles Bronson, 9. John Wayne, and 10. Marlon Brando. Thus, the only actors Kubrick could cast in the role and receive Warner Brothers' financial backing for his decidedly non-commercial project were O'Neal and Redford. The other Top 10 stars were too old or inappropriate for the role (particularly in the case of Streisand, who would not assay a "male" role until Yentl (1983) in 1983). Both O'Neal and Redford were Irish, both had box-office appeal and both were young enough to play the role, though Redford was five years older than the thirty-two-year old O'Neal in 1973. At the time O'Neal was the bigger star, having also garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination for "Love Story". However, Kubrick apparently offered the part to Redford first, who turned it down, and thus O'Neal was cast. Redford's star would soon eclipse O'Neal's, as he would zoom to the top of the box-office charts the next year after the successes of The Sting (1973) and The Way We Were (1973), clocking in at number one in 1974, a position he also would anchor in 1975 and 1976. O'Neal dropped off the Top 10 list after 1973. His 1973 appearance to this day represents his sole appearance on that list.
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Stanley Kubrick initially wanted to film William Makepeace Thackeray's most famous novel "Vanity Fair", but then decided that he couldn't do justice to its expansive plot within the limits of a three-hour movie. He then decided to film "The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq." instead. The announcement of a television mini-series production contributed to his decision.
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A lovemaking scene between Barry and Lady Lyndon was filmed, but cut out.
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Stanley Kubrick instructed Marisa Berenson to keep out of the sun in the months before production in order to achieve the period-specific pallor he required.
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According to Marisa Berenson, actors and actresses involved in the candlelight sequences were not allowed to move freely because the focus range of the custom-built lens was too shallow. This justifies cinematographer John Alcott's claim that camera movement during those sequences was minimal and thus required constant supervision on the lens' focus range.
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Marisa Berenson described Stanley Kubrick as being uncharacteristically shy around her, and that he would often prefer to communicate his direction with numerous handwritten notes.
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With a running time of three hours and five minutes, this is Stanley Kubrick's second longest movie. His Spartacus (1960) has a running time of three hours and seventeen minutes.
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In a scene where Patrick Magee (Chevalier de Balibari) was supposed to deal cards, he began to sweat, and the sweat on his palms made it nearly impossible to deal cards smoothly. Writer, producer, and director Stanley Kubrick brought in a professional card dealer, and then realized that the card dealer's hands were smooth, while Magee's were hairy. To prevent continuity problems, Magee's hands were shaved so the cuts would both look like him.
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Stanley Kubrick based his original screenplay on "The Luck of Barry Lyndon" (republished as the novel "Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq."), a picaresque tale written in serial form in 1844 by William Makepeace Thackeray. The serial, which is told in the first person and "edited" by the fictional George Savage FitzBoodle, concerns a member of the Irish gentry trying to become a member of the English aristocracy. Thackeray based the novel on the life and exploits of the Irish rakehell and fortunehunter Andrew Robinson Stoney, who married (and subsequently was divorced by) Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, who became known as "The Unhappy Countess" due to the tempestuous liaison. The Countess of Strathmore is one of the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II. The revised version, which is the novel that the world generally knows as "Barry Lyndon", was shorter and tighter than the original serialization, and dropped the FitzBoodle, Ed. device. It generally is considered the first "novel without a hero" or novel with an antihero in the English language. Upon its publication in 1856, it was entitled by Thackeray's publisher "The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq. Of The Kingdom Of Ireland Containing An Account of His Extraordinary Adventures; Misfortunes; His Sufferings In The Service Of His Late Prussian Majesty; His Visits To Many Courts of Europe; His Marriage and Splendid Establishments in England And Ireland; And The Many Cruel Persecutions, Conspiracies And Slanders Of Which He Has Been A Victim."
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Even though Marisa Berenson played Leon Vitali's mother in this movie, she was only a year older than he was.
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Despite the stunning visual effects and technical achievement, this movie was not the financial success for which Stanley Kubrick and Warner Brothers had been hoping. The lack of financial success at the time factored into Stanley Kubrick's decision to make The Shining (1980).
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One of Lars von Trier's favorite movies. It is clear how the chapters and narration inspired the structure for the likes of Dogville (2003), Antichrist (2009), and Nymphomaniac: Vol. I (2013).
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Stanley Kubrick had initially been planning to make a movie about Napoléon Bonaparte. As per his usual method, he and his team did several years of meticulous research into the subject and the era (Kubrick had reportedly read a few hundred books on Napoleon), so much that during the lengthy pre-production period, the similarly-themed Waterloo (1970) had also started development. Kubrick was forced to abandon his Napoleon movie when the studio chose to back out of the project, allegedly due to budget issues (contrary to popular belief, the commercial failure of Waterloo (1970) had nothing to do with this decision, as Kubrick and the studio had already parted ways even before Waterloo (1970) went into production). Kubrick decided to make A Clockwork Orange (1971) instead, but continued his search for a story set in the eighteenth century afterwards, as it would allow him to use the copious period research done for his canceled Napoleon project. After considering and rejecting several of them, his eye finally fell on the story of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray.
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The title role, in the early pre-production stages, was originally intended for Richard Harris.
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This was the last Stanley Kubrick movie to have an intermission.
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The Chevalier is introduced as "di Balibari", which is an Italianization of "Ballybarry" (i.e., Barrytown), which is where he is from in Ireland.
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Barry (Ryan O'Neal) received two "Friedrich d'or" coins as a reward for his bravery when rescuing Captain Potzdorf (Hardy Krüger). A "Friedrich d'or" was a Prussian gold coin, made of 21-carat gold.
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According to Marisa Berenson, Stanley Kubrick's only request of her was that she stay out of the sun in order to preserve her ivory-like skin.
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The few bits of German and French dialogue in this movie are translated into English if you turn on English subtitles on the DVD, although no subtitles were used in the standard print of the movie.
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Stanley Kubrick's first movie to feature an auteur opening credit of "A film by Stanley Kubrick". It also contains his longest on-screen credit in the end titles: "Written for the screen, produced, and directed by Stanley Kubrick."
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Ryan O'Neal later said of this movie, "Oh it's all right, but he (Kubrick) completely changed the picture during the year he spent editing it."
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It has been alleged that Stanley Kubrick re-cast at least fifty U.K. actors and actresses while working on this movie.
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Marisa Berenson recalled that she was cast without a screentest and that she knew little of the project beyond the era, but she agreed immediately.
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When Barry inquires about a painting, he is told it was painted by a man named "Ludovico Corde". This is a misspelling in the DVD subtitles, probably due to the pronunciation. The artist's name was Ludovico Cardi (a.k.a. "il Cigoli") and he actually was a disciple of Alessandro Allori, as is stated in the movie. Interestingly, Kubrick's previous movie, A Clockwork Orange (1971), prominently features a Ludovico process.
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Two villains from Raiders of the Lost Ark are in the movie: Wolf Kahler, the Prince who thinks he's been cheated at cards would play a Nazi; and Pat Roach, who fist-fights Barry when he first joins the army, would have a fist-fight with Indiana Jones.
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Lady Honoria Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) has no dialogue for the first twelve and a half minutes after she's seen for the first time.
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DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (Stanley Kubrick): (wheelchairs): Sir Charles Lyndon (Frank Middlemass) in a wheelchair depicts his impotency or, in this movie's case, the inability to protect one's wife.
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Features the use of many actors who had previously appeared in Stanley Kubrick's movies, with Steven Berkoff, Norman Gay, Patrick Magee, Godfrey Quigley, Leonard Rossiter, Anthony Sharp, and Philip Stone all having previously appeared in at least one Kubrick movie. In addition, Leon Vitali would later be Kubrick's assistant on all of his subsequent projects, as well as playing "Red Cloak" in Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
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Several of the interior scenes were filmed in Powerscourt House, a famous eighteenth-century mansion in County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland. The house was destroyed in an accidental fire several months after filming (November 1974), so this movie serves as a record of the lost interiors, particularly the "saloon", which was used for more than one scene. The Wicklow Mountains are visible, for example, through the window of the saloon during a scene set in Berlin.
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Stanley Kubrick hoped to shoot the entire movie in England, preferably within driving distance of his London house, but he didn't like the look of most period pieces, which were largely re-created on soundstages, and insisted upon shooting it entirely on-location, exteriors and interiors alike. That was a challenge for production designer Ken Adam, and his crew had to expand their search and scout locations throughout England and Ireland.
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In the bathroom scene, the companion reads to Lady Lyndon "La Jouissance", sixth chant of the poem "Les Sens, poème en six chants" (1766) written by Barnabé Farmian Durosoy (1745-92), a journalist and a man of letters. During the French Revolution, he was the editor of the royalist newspaper "La Gazette de Paris" and he was guillotined on August 25, 1792, feast day of Saint Louis IX, King of France.
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Although an important character in the first act, Chevalier's (Patrick Magee's) only appearance in the second act is at the beginning of it during Redmond (Ryan O'Neal) and Lady Honoria Lyndon's (Marisa Berenson's) wedding.
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Only ten of the Zeiss 50mm f/0.7 lenses were ever made, Stanley Kubrick acquired three of them. One remained optically unmodified, while the other two were fitted with custom wide-angle adapters that converted them to 35mm and 25mm focal lengths. The 25mm was ultimately never used, as Kubrick disliked the amount of distortion it had.
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This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #897.
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Jan Harlan, who is the producer of this movie and the brother-on-law of Stanley Kubrick, is the nephew of Veit Harlan, a famous German director during the Nazi period. In 1942 he wrote and directed the movie Der große König (1942), a biopic about Frederic the Great, which also takes place in the Seven Year War, the same period in which this movie partly takes place.
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This movie is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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Miriam Karlin's scenes were deleted from the final print.
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The main theme, Handel's Sarabande movement of his Keyboard Suite in D Minor, is also used by Brian De Palma in Redacted (2007).
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DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (Stanley Kubrick): (first person shot): Barry (Ryan O'Neal), when he recognizes Captain Grogan (Godfrey Quigley).
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score, and Best Costume Design, and Best Art Direction.
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Kubrick's previous film Lolita starred James Mason, who played Dr. Watson in Murder by Decree. This film features two more Watsons: Andrew Morrell (The Hound of the Baskervilles) and Michael Hordern (Young Sherlock Holmes). Two other cast members have appeared in films about Holmes and Watson: Philip Stone appeared in The Seven Per Cent Solution, while Wolf Kahler appeared in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. In the latter film, Watson was played by Jude Law, who also appeared in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, a project originally developed by Kubrick. That film also featured Ben Kinglsey, who played Watson in Without a Clue. Steven Spielberg met Stanley Kubrick while preparing to film Raiders of the Lost Ark, which featured yet another Watson, John Rhys-Davies.
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The music playing whenever the Prussian forces are shown is the "Hohenfriedberger Marsch" (also called "Der Hohenfriedberger" and "Auf Ansbach Dragoner"), commemorating the Prussian victory at the battle of Hohenfriedberg, June 4, 1745.
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Barry Lyndon and teenage Lord Bullingdon are both left-handed. It is not indicated which is the predominant hand of pre-teen Lord Bullingdon. He is seen playing cello, but with all string instruments, the left hand adjusts the strings, and the right hand works the bow.
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Included amongst the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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David Prowse says in his memoirs he was interviewed for the role of Toole - Soldier in Fistfight.
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DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (Stanley Kubrick): (faces): Captain Quin's (Leonard Rossiter's) face during his duel with Barry (Ryan O'Neal) when he goes to raise his pistol.
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Marie Kean (Barry's Mother) and Arthur O'Sullivan, the thief who steals Barry's money and horse not long after Barry departs from his mother, played an antagonistic couple in Sir David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970).
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Stanley Kubrick: [Bathrooms] Barry Lyndon apologizes to Lady Lyndon while she is in the bath.
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Stanley Kubrick: [Unhappy Marriage] Barry's infidelity during his marriage to Lady Lyndon.
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Stanley Kubrick: [three-way] Barry vs. Bullingdon vs. Lady Lyndon.
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Stanley Kubrick: [zoom] When the Grenadiers march in formation toward the Barryville citizens and fire their weapons into the air.
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Stanley Kubrick: [three-way] Barry vs. Captain Potzdorf vs. The Chevalier du Balibari.
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Stanley Kubrick: [three-way] Barry vs. Bullingdon vs. Bryan.
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Leon Vitali vomited for real during the final duel. He was given a mixed lunch of the heaviest ingredients they could find, in the hope that it would nauseate him enough. When it didn't, he swallowed a raw egg whole, which he instantly regurgitated. Fortunately for him, writer, producer, and director Stanley Kubrick was immediately satisfied, and did not ask him to repeat the process. A genuine rarity for Kubrick, who was notorious for shooting multiple takes.
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For the final scenes when Barry has only one leg, Stanley Kubrick suggested that Ryan O'Neal gets his leg cut off when the double didn't work. O'Neal was not sure how serious Kubrick was about this idea. Nevertheless, O'Neal simply had his lower left leg bent back in a way that gave the illusion of amputation.
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