"BARRY LYNDON," etc.
Last night, after a special screening of "BARRY LYNDON," there was a Q & A with star RYAN O'NEAL, producer BERNARD WILLIAMS (who also produced "A CLOCKWORK ORANGE"), and LEON VITALI (who played Barry's vengeful stepson, Lord Bullingdon, and curiously, served as Stanley Kubrick's assistant for the rest of his life--as well as acting as casting director for "FULL METAL JACKET" and "EYES WIDE SHUT").
Everyone confirmed that Stanley Kubrick could be both an incredibly funny man (with "beautiful eyes," according to O'Neal), a wonderful husband and father, a genius in the specificity of his vision, and yet a complete monster to work with.
O'Neal said that 40-50 takes per shot was standard, and Kubrick would offer no direction or adjustments, save for one instance, where he said, "Ryan, you're acting like you're giving an Oscar acceptance speech. Make it more like Glenn Ford."
O'Neal also told a story where, while on set, he asked Kubrick if he'd ever thought about making a horror film. Kubrick said, "Yes. I've got an idea where this average, middle-aged guy wakes up, gets out of bed, takes a shower, makes breakfast, then goes to his mailbox and finds an anonymous letter. He opens it and inside he finds a photo of himself sleeping."
O'Neal, engrossed, asked Kubrick what happens next, and Kubrick replied, "I have no idea. That's all I got."
Bernard Williams attested to Kubrick's legendary cheapness and paranoia--he drove a massive, tough Mercedes with a crash helmet, insisted that his car be white (so drunks could see him at night), and never went over 25 miles an hour.
Kubrick was fickle, secretive, and unpredictable--he fired actors on a whim, and nobody knew what would be shot the next day. Because "Barry Lyndon" was supposed to look like 18th century paintings, Kubrick kept a reference book of paintings and would decide what scenes to shoot based on what paintings appealed to him at that particular moment (and would stage the scene to exactly replicate the paintings, even forcing O'Neal--who was left handed--to hold things with his right hand).
Williams thought that Kubrick did "Barry Lyndon" as something of an afterthought when it became clear that to do his epic passion-project--"Napoleon--would require the assistance of an entire nation.
I think my favorite comment of the night came when O'Neal was asked about the wigs, and he replied, "They were done by Leonard of London, who made wigs by using hair cut from Italian girls entering life in the convent. They don't do that anymore. Now, I think, they use Koreans."
It's worth noting that, seeing "Barry Lyndon" on the big-screen, in a crowded theater, you're reminded of not only how stunningly beautiful it looks (the candle-lit scenes required lenses that were furnished by NASA!), but also how hilarious it is. Michael Hordern's fantastically sly, and occasionally self-serious narration certainly laid the groundwork for a certain type of distanced, literary tragicomedy (that I think includes films ranging from "Dogville" to, obviously, "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"...the latter of which manages to turn the genre in on itself).
This event was sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who only last week had a special screening of "CHINATOWN," with screenwriter Robert Towne in attendance (as well as the entire supporting cast--and the casting director who put them in the film!). Towne discussed the entire evolution of the script, as well as how he and Polanski developed it into the final product. My favorite comment came from Burt Young, who played Curly. Young said to Towne, "I gotta admit. I read that script three times and I still didn't know what the fuck it was about!"
And while one might think the stodgy Academy just does screenings of "classics," it's worth noting that in the past few months, I've also attended events sponsored by them that included the 25th 1/2 anniversary cast & crew screening of "AIRPLANE!" as well as the first personal appearance in the United States of the BROTHERS QUAY (!).