Barry Lyndon is a 1975 period drama film written, directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick, based on the 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray. Starring Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Leonard Rossiter and Hardy Krüger, the film recounts the early exploits and later unraveling of a fictional 18th-century Irish rogue and opportunist who marries a rich widow to climb the social ladder and assume her late husband’s aristocratic position.

The film’s cinematography has been described as ground-breaking. Especially notable are the long double shots, usually ended with a slow backwards zoom, the scenes shot entirely in candlelight, and the settings based on William Hogarth paintings. The exteriors were filmed on location in Ireland, England and West Germany, with the interiors shot mainly in London.

Barry Lyndon won four Oscars at the 48th Academy AwardsBest Original ScoreBest Costume DesignBest Art Direction and Best Cinematography. Although some critics took issue with the film’s slow pace and restrained emotion, its reputation, like that of many of Kubrick’s works, has strengthened over time, with many now regarding it as one of his greatest achievements.

Douglas Milsome, ASC, BSC discusses his work on Barry Lyndon as a “focus puller,” or camera assistant. Also working as an AC for Kubrick and Alcott on A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), Milsome would later collaborate with the director again as the lighting cameraman on Full Metal Jacket (1987).

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon candlelit photography tests.

Emilio D’Alessandro remembers: “The label on the folder containing these test shots says, ‘Farmhouse candle test 21.09.1973.’ John Alcott and Stanley tested several combinations of lenses and filters to achieve the best result on film when an actor was lit only by candlelight.”

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon is often lauded as one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinematography. And in a decade or even a year with some of the toughest competition you can think of, Barry Lyndon always seems to stick out just a little bit more. But what sets the cinematography of Barry Lyndon apart from other movies? And how was it done? Another excellent video essay by CinemaTyler.

Vivian Kubrick reveals Stanley’s legendary Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 lens used for Barry Lyndon.

March 1976 edition of American Cinematographer magazine with two Kubrick-related articles, each covering the photographing of the film Barry Lyndon. One article, Photographing Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, focuses generally on the cinematography by John Alcott, while the other, Two Special Lenses for Barry Lyndon, focuses more closely on the specialized lenses utilized for the film. 

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