Jim Emerson is having a grand time on his wonderful blog, Scanners, coming up with great opening shots. In one particular article, Movies 101 – Opening Shots, he waxed eloquent about the opening of Barry Lyndon.
“It is gorgeous, it's preternaturally funny, and it tells you everything you need to know about how to watch Barry Lyndon, one of the greatest movies ever to grace our planet.”
Couldn’t agree more.
He went on to talk about how the composition of the shot was perfectly balanced with the trees, the grass, the rolling hills, the dark clouds, the old stone wall in the foreground (representing death), and how the shot did not give the characters much space to maneuver (or have any free will). He also listed other elements - the ritualized conduct of the duel, the humorous phallic imagery in the dialogue (“Gentlemen, cock your pistols”), and the playful interaction between the narrator and the duel, which conveyed how everything that would follow has already been predetermined.
Great! I love it!
But the writer in me couldn’t help but wonder, "How was this great scene written? If I wanted to write something like that in the opening scene of a script, how much of that information should I put to paper? How did Stanley write it?"
Let's read it together, shall we?
EXT. PARK – DAY
Brief shot of duel.
My father, who was well-known to the
best circles in this kingdom under
the name of roaring Harry James, was
killed in a duel, when I was fifteen
Funny... yet maddening.
(You can read Barry Lyndon here.)