[1975] Barry Lyndon

Three-hour-long movies that feel like half-hour sitcoms are a treasure, and are extremely rare, especially that the style has shifted, almost totally away from this format in recent years. Labor has gotten simultaneously cheaper (software does a lot of the editing grunt work) and more expensive (it takes more specialized experience to run it). Budgets have expanded, and massive returns are expected. The blockbuster has shifted mediums, too, from the physical block, to eventually, the blockchain. Streaming and massive distribution is king and finding an unhappy content churn is the profit-maximizing middle where original thought dies. The three-hour-long movie better damn well have an expanded universe or audiences will continue game out effective bathroom breaks. Three cheers for the return of an intermission.

Attention spans have waned with the increase in media outlets: why would an audience spend minutes – seconds even! – on one platform when the next platform has the next cultural missive ready to go. There will be a time in the early 2020s (check me on this, future readers) when the splintering of services will bundle into packages customers can buy; it will have regressed into neo-cable, with each platform owning exclusive rights to content, removing consumer choice from marketing paradigms. Instead of driving subscriptions, this non-coordinated market abuse will drive a significant portion of people who might buy one or two subscriptions to steal the content. Eventually the funding will run dry and the islands of content will become deserts. Nostalgia will be the only currency in which these fake-monopolies trade. Forget monoculture. Remember protoculture.

The point here is that there is very little room in today’s marketing/content churn environment for a director – let alone Stanley Kubrick – to film a Thackeray satire. This three-hour epic, Barry Lyndon, does read like vignette of half-hour shows, told anthology-like through a narrator we’re supposed to believe is reliable. Barry Lyndon‘s eponymous Redmond Barry is the tragic farce of stale upper crust Thackeray was known to lampoon. His narrative arc is as long as Kubrick’s shots are wide. His character portraits are eloquent, but backloaded. Action is sprinkled among shots that double as paintings. Barry Lyndon requires an attention span and a patience audiences no longer possess en masse. Students of film know and love this film for its technical innovation and its warm, true-to-tone adaptation of Thackeray’s “The Luck of Barry Lyndon.” An everyday audience, the one whose billets-complets fill Disney’s pockets, has no use for this low-budget movie. Even casual Kubrick fans dismiss this as Kubrick’s passion project; it is, and it is impossible to edit down. Continue reading

[1975] One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

I haven’t read a lot about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, intentionally, for the first twenty-four years of my life. There is a certain lore to the performance and mystery to the allegory that intrigues the brain to either watch this film right away or to categorically forget it. I didn’t want to spoil my decision either way.

But as an impetus for this project, I decided to tackle this movie early on. My initial reactions are somewhat split: it might be a hangover from the campiness of San Francisco or I might just be dull to shock and awe, but I didn’t find the ending particularly powerful or Nurse Ratched to be particularly evil in the traditional sense. I want to explore these reactions in depth.

This movie is justifiable in its major oscar sweep, even among the movies nominated in 1975. Remember, five years after the release and idolization of Patton, the middle of the 1970s showcased the greatest density of the greatest movies ever made, and Cuckoo’s Nest is nested right in the chronological center. This affords it more than modest exposure – perhaps overexposure – and not just because of its shining performances from Milos Forman in the director’s chair to Jack Nicholson’s delightfully misanthropic R.P. McMurphy and Louise Fletcher’s domineering and understated Nurse Ratched. The story is singularly linear and does a perfunctory job developing all of the characters as a series of exposes – both demonstrating character strengths and flaws through the particular brand of Ratched’s evil.

But as for the lasting impression of Ratched’s evil? I’d argue she’s paradoxically too evil and not evil enough. She’s the head nurse at a small Oregon state mental hospital, in charge of the well-being of 18 patients with varying levels of mania. Some patients are self-committed, some state-mandated, like Nicholson’s McMurphy. But Ratched morphs her power as a caregiver into that of a caretaker. A minor distinction, sure, but to the absolute stature and reputation among the “Doctors,” she has the power to literally take and take and take, all for the sense of decaying the atrophy of the crazy. Her evil is seen through the lens of the general oppressor so relevant in the ’70s, off the heels of Cuba and Russia and especially Vietnam.  Continue reading