Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon – duel scene

I watched the duel scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon on Youtube:

The scene is very suspenseful and brilliantly shot. I like how the characters moved and spoke in a deliberately slow manner, which added to the tension of the whole scene. The effect is amplified by the background music, which “mimics” (and seemingly beats in synchrony with) the heartbeat of the audience. The slow pacing might have been for more than just artistic purpose. Stanley Kubrick tried to shoot the film “without recourse to electric light” as much as possible, to depict the look and feel of paintings in the 18th century when electric lighting didn’t exist. The actors were instructed to move as slowly as possible to avoid underexposure. This beautiful candlelit scene from the movie, shot without additional lighting, is a good example (and Lady Lyndon is stunning):

What I don’t understand is what slow movement has to do with the level of exposure. In photography you have to compensate for insufficient lighting by longer exposure, which however requires the subject being photographed to remain still or the image will appear blurry. Perhaps a similar relationship between movement and exposure exists in filming?

On a side note, I wonder if 18th century gentlemen actually duelled like that. It is true that smoothbore pistols at that time were wildly inaccurate and hitting a man ten paces away could be very difficult. Nevertheless standing still while someones fires a bullet at you is suicidal. The party who, by luck, gets to fire the first shot gains an unfair advantage. Of course it can also be argued this kind of duel is fair in the sense that both parties have the same chance of being the first to fire. That said, the whole idea of duelling itself is just as a mystery to modern people. We now have a hard time associating such savage acts with gentlemanship and honor.

One thought on “Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon – duel scene

  1. Your post reminded me of a memorable scene in the film Onegin (adapted from the long poem with the same title). I felt the same about the danger of getting killed…..

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