A few days ago on Facebook someone posted a link to an interview with cinematographer John Alcott on how Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) was shot. This appeared in the March 1976 issue of American Cinematographer. The interview covers technical matters in some detail. These include lenses, film stocks, filters, shooting by candle light, and the like. A lot of this was above my pay grade, but I found it fascinating nonetheless. Plus it has some really great photographs.
The full interview can be accessed here. It is followed by an article on the special lenses used for Barry Lyndon by Ed DiGiulio, president of Cinema Products Corporation. After this piece there’s a reproduction of a letter of instructions from Kubrick for projectionists in theaters that would be showing Barry Lyndon. Kubrick was a real control freak; the level of detail and micro-management is impressive. I like to imagine the reaction of a projectionist receiving this letter. It’s a hoot.
John Alcott (1930 – 1986) was a British cinematographer who was Director of Photography on five films for Stanley Kubrick, starting with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). On that film, which was Alcott’s first DP credit, he replaced Geoffrey Unsworth, who had to leave the production after six months due to another commitment. Alcott had been Unsworth’s camera assistant before getting promoted. Following that, Alcott shot A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), and The Shining (1980).
At The Beat website, Jourdan Aldredge wrote about Alcott’s work with Kubrick in a piece called “A Look Behind the Lens of Stanley Kubrick’s Cinematographer John Alcott.” Despite the rather unwieldy title, this is an excellent overview. It also includes the following four videos:
“How Kubrick Made 2001: The Dawn of Man”
“Cinematography in A Clockwork Orange”
“Barry Lyndon: The Use of the Zoom Shot”
“The Cinematography of The Shining”
Aldredge’s piece can be accessed here.
Shooting a number of scenes in Barry Lyndon exclusively by candle light gets considerable attention in the American Cinematographer interview. Here is an example of one of those scenes.
Here are two videos that focus (so to speak) on Barry Lyndon. The first discusses the cinematography. It runs slightly under 14 minutes. The second is an overview of the film itself and runs just under 10 minutes.
John Alcott received the Academy Award in 1976 for Best Cinematography for Barry Lyndon, one of four Oscars won by the film. Kubrick would make two more features after The Shining in 1980. Alcott would likely have continued to work with Kubrick on those final films but for the fact that he died of a heart attack in 1986. He was only 55.
Two years ago I posted a four-part series on Stanley Kubrick. If you missed those and are interested, they can be accessed below.
Okay, that’s it for this one. See you next time. Meanwhile, stay safe. — Ted Hicks