Ebert’s Greats: Body Heat & Barry Lyndon

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
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Title: Body Heat
Director: Lawrence Kasden
Year: 1981
Country: USA

Body Heat is a curious film since it borrows so much from another film I really like, Double Indemnity, that it is really hard to watch this without drawing comparisons in my head between the two.  Instead of getting bogged down in all that, since there enough original spins to make it a good film in its own right, I have one comparison: Kathleen Turner is far more believable as the head-turning woman than Barbara Stanwyck ever was.

In fact, I’m going to dwell a bit on Kathleen Turner (known to most people as either the voice of Jessica Rabbit or as Chandler’s father in Friends) since this was her début in a feature film and by God does she own the film. She is a highly sexual and powerful tour de force in a pretty much male-only film. The character of Matty is a strange one since Turner needs to use a strange mix of raw sexuality and subtle expressions to allude to her motives. I mean I can only think of one actress at the moment who could take on this role; Scarlett Johansson.

As for the rest of the film it takes its time to establish the relationship between the two main characters, so when you reach the eventual point of them plotting to kill Matty’s husband… it actually feels organic (this is in stark contrast to Double Indemnity where it feels a little bit forced). The issue that this film has is that for all the atmosphere it creates (which is a lot) it get a little bit sleepy in terms of the pacing. Now I am not sure if this is the conscious choice to mirror the soporific effect had during a heat wave or just that it was a little bit slow… but it has a bit of an issue in the second act. A pity since the opening and closing acts are really good.

Title: Barry Lyndon
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1975
Country: UK/USA

You can never accuse Kubrick of only creating one sort of film. With a back catalogue including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr Strangelove, Lolita, The Shining and Paths of Glory I guess a period drama based on a fictional Irishman who is an absolute wanker.

Where the book would tell the story from the point of view of the main character (as a unreliable, but witty narrator) Kubrick tells the story straight and uses a more conventional narrator to set the scene. The result of this? There is no question as to what sort of man Barry Lyndon is, he is just a horrible human being who gets a just ending in the book but not in the film. It begs the question why Kubrick doesn’t follow that part of the book since Lyndon gets the comeuppance due to him…

I’m not going to dwell on the story or the actions of Barry Lyndon himself since (and this blog is a place of honesty) I actually got very bored in the final hour of this three film. I am all for films taking their time but when you are filling three hours with a thoroughly unlikeable rogue it does pay to quicken the pace at times. To think that when he gets robbed 30 minutes into the film I felt bad for him… they should have just shot him and had done with this odious man.

What you can NOT fault this film is the cinematography and use of music (mostly the cinematography though). This film is beautiful to look at, akin to staring at a painting from the 1700s even. What is even more remarkable is the techniques that were implemented to make sure that only natural light would be used; something that makes all the gambling scenes by candlelight all the richer and more natural. Similar to this is the extensive exterior shots of the Irish countryside (masquerading sometimes as Germany or England) which are beautiful and actually made me wonder if I had already seen these being used during Game of Thrones.

I know that this is a film that is widely loved by many cinephiles but… I’ll just add this to the list of films including Singin In The Rain and Lawrence of Arabia where it pains me to say “I just don’t get it”.


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