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The Wright Stuff Week 6: Ambition in steps, and the exhaustive effort of it all

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Delon is still out, so why not consider some broad history, the ambition of a single man, and the inevitable end coming regardless.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to The Wright Stuff, our weekly column following the career of Raptors point guard Delon Wright. Since we can’t influence his training or anything on the court, we’ll recommend films that reflect his past week and hopefully inspire a leap forward. It’ll be part film breakdown, part essay, and part whatever loose piece of wisdom we can shake from the experience.

ACT I

The steps to an injury in the NBA are the same across the board: assess the situation, undergo surgery if necessary, commence with rehab, work back into the playing rotation. The severity changes, but the rest is the same for every player.

For Delon Wright, he of the injured shoulder and month-long return timeline, the process is doubly familiar: he’s already had this injury before. And while this time there’s a step to skip (surgery), Wright will still have to rehab and rest, and then work his way back into playing shape, into rhythm.

So yes, we haven’t seen Wright play any basketball since November 15th. We have to wait, just as he does, to return. With injuries, as with life, it’s best not to skip any steps.

ACT 2

If you happened to venture to the TIFF Bell Lightbox during the Stanley Kubrick exhibit (one of the last of note held there) back in late 2014/early 2015, you’d see evidence of an expansive film process. Kubrick’s pre-production work was, in a word, exhaustive. On display were tons of notes, sketches, props, and entire tomes of research; the man did not skip a single step in his work. And the results? Unimpeachable.

While not forgotten, Barry Lyndon is perhaps one of Kubrick’s less remarked upon films. (OK, fine, you could make the case that his early films are less regarded, but work with me here.) In the broader cultural context, it lacks the controversy of, say, Clockwork Orange, or an insane performance at its centre like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It is long (187 minutes), slow, and ties itself to a character, Redmond Barry (played without force by Ryan O’Neal), who is charming in a way, but not particularly winning. Barry Lyndon documents his adventures through 1760’s Ireland, into the the Seven Years’ War, and right on into the machinations of his dotage as a wealthy, if opportunistic, man of title.

The elements of the film that immediately come to mind when thinking about Barry Lyndon all have to do with Kubrick’s tireless production efforts. Some examples: it took 300 days to film the thing; it was lit naturally, or with candles, or artificially with extreme care; its classical music score was assembled through a long, thoughtful selection process; its costumes were hyper-detailed. What emerges from all this work is a beautiful film, one filled with unforgettably lush images and passages of such splendour they truly define (to me, anyway) what filmmaking is all about. Kubrick’s control with and combination of editing, music, cinematography, design (and more), make the entire film sing.

However, Barry Lyndon, by dint of its weak central performance, was deemed a cold film upon its release. Sure, the style is meticulous, but who cares if the finished product plays like a disaffected and distant reading of a dry novel? That was the thinking then — despite even some later Oscar wins. But over the years, a reclamation has occurred. Kubrick’s rich process has come to be rewarded. Now many (including such luminaries as Martin Scorsese) claim it as their favourite of his films.

Watching it at the Lightbox those years ago was, for me, to see it anew. The picture glowed, the droll narration from Michael Hordern brought chuckles, and the film’s inconclusive final images — just what was the fate of Barry? — brings all of the action and story to a satisfying (and oddly heartbreaking) end. Yes, O’Neal as Lyndon does not jump off the screen, but then that’s the point; the film works because of how the muteness of the performance enhances all of the context around it — this huge world, this towering history, this busy cast of many going about their lives in the resulting shadow.

ACT 3

There’s a rise and fall narrative here that lends itself well to, I don’t know, anything. Wright came into the league relatively unheralded, and has since claimed a place for himself — through his guile and agility, through his physical gifts and mental acuity. He’s a quiet sort too, though far less overtly devious than Redmond Barry. (Except when he’s making those great defensive plays on the court.)

It does not seem a stretch to assume Wright will return to the court soon for the Raptors and pick up right where he left off. What’s more, we know eventually he will leave the team, and Toronto, and disappear from our consciousness. Just who will Delon be then? We don’t know.

But after everything in Barry Lyndon, we arrive at the ultimate conclusion, which doubles as a fitting joke. I suppose you could call this snapshot a spoiler, but really, isn’t it the implied end of every film? Of every life?

Kubrick’s Barry laboured his whole life to achieve something, just as the director did behind the camera for years. It’s sad, in one sense, but we can also chuckle and take heart through the ups and downs. You’re still off the court Delon, but you will not be denied a beginning, middle, or an end. All the steps will come.