On Saturday evening, the Bay Area’s Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will play host to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, screeningas part of the series Early Music on Film. (The two-week program is itself part of the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, a biennial celebration of period music featuring concerts, lectures, and other events.) Chronicling the rise and fall of an opportunistic Irish rogue (Ryan O’Neal) around the time of the Seven Years’ War, the sumptuous masterpiece is beloved for its painterly visuals, achieved through an extraordinarily fidelity to period detail—Kubrick famously used lenses that had originally been developed by NASA, so that interior scenes could be filmed by flickering candlelight.
But the movie is as much a feast for the ears as it is for the eyes. The Oscar-winning soundtrack, adapted and conducted by Leonard Rosenman, builds its own full-blooded picture of the eighteenth century, weaving traditional Irish music, military marches, and classical works by the likes of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi into a richly complex tapestry. As critic Geoffrey O’Brien writes in his essay for our packed Barry Lyndon edition, the music also becomes a key component of the film’s arch tone. The “inescapable sonic flow . . . moves with its own sense of purpose, sometimes underscoring, sometimes contradicting what we see,” he writes. For one thing, “the plaintive ‘Women of Ireland’ theme suffuses the film’s first half with a mood of romantic longing that nothing that actually occurs on-screen comes close to fulfilling.”