Sunday, January 1

Barry Lyndon at MoMI

What’s Showing Today? Sunday, January 1
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Featured Screening: Barry Lyndon at Museum of the Moving Image

There are few greater films with which to start 2012 than Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, which plays Museum of the Moving Image this evening as part of its See It Big! series.

It’s an appropriate entry in the series, as Kubrick, initially a professional photographer and a career-long camera operator—something not only unique, but in fact disallowed by Hollywood union regulations—regarded this as one of his most purely cinematic works to date. One of its many ironies is that Kubrick’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thakeray‘s forgotten-classic 1844 novel, which charts the picaresque rise and fall of a rouge Irish gambler through garrulous first-person narration, shot without a traditional script; Richard Schickel, one of the few journalists given access to Kubrick as his secrecy was at its most guarded wrote for TIME Magazine that “Kubrick is as sparing of [words] as Thackeray is profligate. Barry Lyndon is also the production that seems to have calcified its director’s (in my opinion unfair) hermetic, obsessive reputation. With just proprietary concerns about adapting public domain material, the studio and actors alike were given little information before committing to the project, and the press were left to even greater speculation. Working with recurring collaborators like cinematographer John Alcott (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining), production designer Ken Adam (Dr. Strangelove) and costume designer Milena Canonero (Clockwork, Shining), Kubrick made unprecedented requests for authenticity across the visual schemata. It’s achievements include an apparently still-unduplicated system by which Kubrick and Alcott could light scenes entirely with candlelight; strict adherence to location interiors and carefully researched and rendered props; and literally authentic period clothing. Having begun his career under the spell of Max Ophüls’ intricate tracking shots, Kubrick here much further refined the artistry and technical underpinnings of his singular zooms.

On one hand, the above is maybe just trivia. Production anecdotes and vague technical details aside, it’s an incredibly affecting film. Lyndon might be the most tragically irredeemable cad in cinema, yet one feels for him tremendously as he poisons the fates of nearly everyone he encounters. It’s an amazing movie. But what I find useful about its technical background is considering how Kubrick had managed, and continued, to stir the soul through such consummately cinematic expressions, proceeding with due irreverence to the idea that even at a narrative film’s core should be a traditionally structured, literarily valid, torturously polished and patly professional script—a still-pervasive idea even far outside Hollywood that may in the future make the vast majority of sound-era cinema to present date (an undoubtedly some time beyond) seem fledgling, quaint and naive. This defiance of conventional wisdom and choice to focus efforts elsewhere is no doubt part of what perpetuates the perception of Kubrick as an eccentric obsessive—the frequent criticism that his films lack humanity might even speak to some’s inability to accept emotional cues through works that don’t manipulate them through established, conventional and frequently cynical strategies. Narrative films don’t require Barry Lyndon‘s resources, planning and craft to be successful; but as truly remarkable, cinematic films with those in their arsenal are by far the counter-example (though there are others in the same series, like Play Time and Tree of Life), it deserves to be singled out as a great film. So if you haven’t Seen it Big! yet, there’s really no better opportunity or circumstance. On the negative side, 2012 can pretty much only be downhill from here.

Also Recommended

In the spirit of beginning 2012 by telling Hollywood’s stale narrative structure to fuck off, in the writeup of IFC Center‘s Studio Ghibli series the other day, I alluded to how many of the films reject that by not featuring traditional antagonists, driven less by conflict than rather the spirit of wonder and exploration; La Dolce Vita, on the other hand, is full of conflicts, but they are expressed a nebulous mass of orbiting contradictions ultimately left unresolved—I previously wrote it up here, and today it screens at the MoMA; Screen Slate has also featured the films of George Méliès, which express wonder and awe at the discovery of new cinematic possibilities; drug cartel hitman documentary El Sicario, Room 164, featured here, utilizes the ingenious device of having its subject illustrate his essentially unadorned storytelling through stream-of-conscious illustrations.

Here’s to a 2012 of gloriously heady, freewheeling cinematic liberation.


Family Films at The Film Society of Lincoln Center
Series details

  • Explorers (Joe Dante). Details. Digital. 1985. 109 min. 11:00 am.
  • A Trip to the Moon & Other Shorts (Georges Méliès). Details. 1902-1912. 77 min. 2 pm.

Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata & The Masters of Studio Ghibli at IFC Center
Series Details

  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1989. 102 min. 10:40 am.
  • Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 2009. 101 min. 10:40 am and 5:45 pm.
  • The Cat Returns (Yiroyuki Morita). Details. 35mm. 2002. 75 min. 12:40 and 4:05 pm.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 2005. 114 min. 12:40 and 10:00 pm.
  • My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1988. 86 min. 2:15 pm.
  • Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1986. 124 min. 3:00 pm.
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1984. 116 min. 5:30 pm.
  • Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondo). Details. 35mm. 1995. 111 min. 7:50 pm.
  • Porco Rosso (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1992. 94 min. 7:50 pm.
  • Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 2002. 125 min. 9:45 pm.

Italian Treasures at MoMA
Series Details

  • La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini). Details. 1960. 174 min. 2:00 pm.
  • The Tenth Victim (Elio Petri). Details. 1966. 92 min. 4:45 pm.

Henson Screenings and Programs at Museum of the Moving Image
Series details

  • Jim Henson and Friends: Inside the Sesame Street VaultDetails. 83 min. 1:00 pm.

Magicians on Screen at Museum of the Moving Image
Series details

  • The Prestige (Christopher Nolan). Details. 2006. 130 min. 3:00 pm.

See It Big! at Museum of the Moving Image
Series details

  • Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick). Details. 35mm. 1975. 184 min. 6:00 pm.


Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky) at IFC CenterDetails. 1973. 113 min.
Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg) at IFC CenterDetails. 1993. 127 min.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg) at IFC CenterDetails. 1981. 115 min.


El Sicario, Room 164 (Gianfranco Rosi) at Film ForumDetails. 2010. 84 min. 1:00, 2:45, 4:30, 6:15, 8:00 and 10:00 pm.
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) at Film ForumDetails. 2011. 123 min. 1:15, 4:00, 6:45 and 9:10 pm.
Laura (Otto Preminger) at Film ForumDetails. 35mm. 1949. 88 min. 1:00, 2:50, 4:40, 6:30, 8:20 and 10:10 pm.
Santa Stinks (Jean-Marie Poiré) at MoMADetails. 1982. 105 min. 5:30 pm.



Below listed North-South