What's the best-looking movie you've ever seen? It's a capricious question, but watching the newly restored Criterion Blu-ray of Barry Lyndon has put me in a capricious mood, and a rapturous frame of mind.
First, the obvious: There's no such thing as an ugly Stanley Kubrick film. His frequent cinematographer, John Alcott, won an Oscar for this one. Kubrick himself began as a still photographer, and he stayed one at heart. But even by Kubrick's exacting standards, Barry Lyndon is something special.
Candles have simply never looked like this before. For his 1975 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's tragic novel, about the rise and fall of an Irish country lad (Ryan O'Neal) who becomes a gentleman, Kubrick procured rare lightning-fast lenses used by NASA. He studied the master painters, created an eighteenth-century world of natural light, and conjured a movie from which you could extract just about any frame and mount it on your wall. Barry Lyndon is as close as any movie comes to cinematography porn. Watch it anew and gasp.