When the Kings Theater opened in 1929, there was a full orchestra on hand to supply the soundtrack for the silent movie “Evangeline,” starring the glamorous Dolores del Rio.
On April 8, a little more than two years after a $95 million restoration transformed the theater into a performing arts center, the venue will once again screen a film with a live orchestra in the house.
Conductor Ryan McAdams will lead 60 musicians performing the original score to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon to accompany a digitally restored print of the movie.
While the 1975 film didn’t have the same box-office punch as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Shining, its reputation has grown “exponentially” in the years since its release according to Joseph Berger, who is producing the event along with Wordless Music.
“I think a lot of people now, 40 years later, are discovering Barry Lyndon in a way that places it as one of the greatest films ever made,” Berger said.
Based on a 19th Century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon tracks the adventures of an Irish card shark and social climber making his way across the war-torn landscape of Europe in the late 1700s.
Barry Lyndon won the Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1976, a nod to the impressive technical achievement of filming key scenes without electrical lighting, recording with only the illumination provided by rows of burning candles. It also won the award for Best Musical Score.
That award might explain film’s selection by Wordless Music, a group founded by Ronen Givony to break down barriers between classical and popular audiences by presenting instrumental music in innovative settings.
But Barry Lyndon stands apart from previous projects.
“Most of our films have been contemporary,” said McAdams, “and they’ve had scores written by young, living composers who we know, who we love.” For example, the soundtrack to Moonlight and There Will Be Blood.
Kubrick’s film is different, both because it is forty years old and because the score comprises classical music, almost all of it from the 18th Century. “We haven’t done a lot of films that are old,” McAdams said. “‘Barry Lyndon is such a unique case because it feels so contemporary. It feels like it could have been made this year.”
A little more than two weeks before the scheduled performance, McAdams and Berger met to survey the Kings Theater and make final decisions for the staging of the event. (What musical cue should the orchestra use to summon the audience back to their seats for the movie’s second act, “Containing an Account of the Misfortunes and Disasters Which Befell Barry Lyndon”? How many field drums could they use to provide the thunderous martial rhythms needed for the film’s onscreen battles without overwhelming the piccolos?)
Putting the discussion on hold, they sat down with BKLYNER to talk about how they planned to bring Kubrick’s vision of a world two hundred years gone to life in a Brooklyn theater.
(The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Typically one of the primary jobs of a conductor is to establish the timing for an orchestra’s performance. How does it change your role when the film dictates the timing?
McAdams: It becomes very much like accompanying a soloist in a concerto, where there is somebody onstage who has a story to tell. My job is to accompany that story the best I can.
The way that film scores are done is with something called a click track where there’s a pulse that’s fed into a conductor’s ear and they follow that pulse so it’s exactly synchronized. I hate those things, mostly because the joy of doing these projects is that they can live slightly different from the way that people are used to. There’s a new kind of conversation that can happen between an orchestra and the story on screen.
The only way to get that is to allow yourself to be free to put things in slightly different places and to underline moments that maybe you didn’t realize before. And at the same time, without in any way subverting the intention of the film maker.
The joy of my job is that I get to spend weeks, sometimes months, just with the printed score and the film, meticulously marking almost every bar, some sort of visual cue or a bit of dialogue, so that I understand exactly the relationship between the music and the film, the way the director and the editor wanted it to work. So I can serve the intention, rather than slavishly recreate it.
Is the score the same as in the original movie?
McAdams: It’s exactly the same score. So everything you hear at the show will be what was originally recorded and played for the movie but it will be played by extraordinary live musicians.
The piece that’s most famously associated with the movie is the Handel Sarabande.
McAdams: It’s really such a fascinating piece. Almost all of the classical era, or early romantic era, music that’s played in the film is played historically somewhat accurately. They use a piano instead of a forte-piano, and there’s maybe a little bit more warmth to the string sound in the Vivaldi and some of these other things in the score, but it’s not distractingly anachronistic.
The Handel is completely anachronistic. It is played with a heavy vibrato, it’s played with incredible intensity. It was originally written for a keyboard, and it’s been arranged for the film for various sizes of ensembles, everything from a trio to a full orchestra.
What I love is that this Sarabande is performed not-in-keeping with the period. It really gave me insight into the film, because the film is not an attempt to recreate the space of the 18th Century. It’s an attempt to bring the paintings of that century to life.
Kubrick said in one interview that he wanted to use only 18th-Century music but found there were not enough period pieces with sufficient drama.
McAdams: Well actually, the only piece of the work that is not appropriate is this Schubert trio that appears twice in the film, once when he’s seducing his wife to be and then at the end, a beautiful bit of parallelism when his wife is just signing all the checks for the debts at the end of the film.
Basically when Kubrick was asked about the fact that the movie ends in 1789 and this piece was written in 1827 in his answer was, “It worked.”
What is different, though, is that it uses a real piano, which I don’t think there’s any other cue in the film that uses a real piano. So the sound is almost automatically more intimate and more warm to our ears now than a harpsichord is. And so it’s wonderful that that music comes in at the moment of what is supposed to be a romance, and then it’s sort of pulled away from us at the end.
Berger: What I like about this anachronism of a piece that was written 30 years later is that it gives us all the sense that this is a historical fiction. It’s actually being told maybe a century later with an omniscient narrator. It’s from the point of view where this is told as a history, as a story that happened with a century’s worth of hindsight. And I think that might have been intentional with Kubrick.
Wordless Music has done many film screenings accompanied by a live score, but looking at the movies selected, I don’t see the throughline. What’s similar about the titles you’ve worked with?
McAdams: Really good taste, I think. Ronen Givony, our producer, has been drawn to great films that he thinks would make amazing live theatrical experiences.
That’s the way Barry Lyndon feels, too. The scope of the film and the scope of the musical journey is so enormous that it stops being a recreated film and it becomes a live ritual that people participate in.
Berger: I really believe that the estate and Warner Brothers imagines that Stanley might have seen the film this way and wanted the film to happen this way. It’s such a grand experience: with 3,200 people in this room, hopefully, that 60-piece orchestra, and that screen, it’s going to be remarkable.
McAdams: There’s music that people write for movies that’s meant to be unconscious. It’s almost like an emotional sound effect, a rumble or a drone, it just raises the tension or raises some quality of emotion but you’re not supposed to process it consciously. And then there’s big choreographic sequences with giant amazing visuals and giant amazing music, like John Williams’ ET going across the moon.
One of the amazing things about Kubrick is that the visual will be so static and the music will be so active. Think about the opening ride through the mountains of The Shining. The music is terrifying but nothing is happening on the screen; you’re just getting sucked in like you’re being hypnotized.
The same thing happens in Barry Lyndon. Often the moments where the music cues, the narrative slows just to a crawl. You feel like you’re just trapped in these places. It’s a prism to keep you in the visual world that he’s created. It’s just manipulative in the best way.
Berger: I think this film is also his best homage to silent cinema. You’re seeing these astonishingly well-performed sequences, between Ryan O’Neal (Barry Lyndon) and Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon) and Murray Melvin (Rev. Samuel Runt) who’s sitting there and with a few glances Murray Melvin sums up the entire second act.
I think it’s essentially a silent film. Unlike something like 2001, where you have these huge musical pieces overlaid on big visual pieces, there’s no foley, there’s no dialogue, it’s sound and vision.
There are moments when it’s so humorous and mocking and condescending and tongue-in-cheek. And then there’s all the sudden the death of his son, when the music has this profound emotional impact. So he is playing a lot with humor and emotion in a way that we haven’t seen with Kubrick in any other film.
Women of Ireland is used so beautifully. Two minutes in, you hear the violins play the “Women of Ireland,” and he’s 15 years old and he’s falling desperately in love with his cousin. And then about 45 minutes later, I think it’s his loss of innocence, he comes upon this Dutch woman, the Dutch farmer, and you hear Women of Ireland again, in its entirety, now with a harp and he’s having his first moment of real intimacy with another human being.
The music really follows his trajectory. There’s all the military marches when he’s in the Seven Years Wars–
McAdams: And by the way, the battle sequence, the music was obviously recorded separately from the shooting, but every single step of the march is perfectly in time with the music. No matter how many times they cut, no matter how many shots there are, it is meticulously perfect.
Berger: Which will happen on April 8.
McAdams: No question about it. Sometimes you want things to be absolutely meticulous because that’s the point. And then there are times when the warmth of something can completely change or saturate a scene in a way that you weren’t expecting. Spending the time to figure out the intention is the most exciting thing for
Spending the time to figure out the intention is the most exciting thing for me because then the whole orchestra feels like we’re part of the story telling.
Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon with Live Orchestra Performance is scheduled for 8pm on Saturday, April 8 at the Kings Theater. Tickets are available online and at the box office.