Tuesday, November 15, 2011

- 'Dr. Zhivago' Open Thread

 What did you think?


  1. I was twenty years old when I first saw this movie. A junior in college, we had traveled down from Spokane to play in the soccer tournament at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. I remember it was a beautiful Fall out in eastern Washington, cold in the evenings and sunny, cool and crisp in the afternoons, much different from here in Oregon. It was Saturday night between the two days of play and the school was showing the movie in one of their auditoriums. I can hardly remember the tournament, who we played, how we played, where even we stayed (sleeping bags on the gym floor?), but this movie I will never forget. It was the best thing to come out of the trip.

    I should have it in a day or so.

  2. This looks like a serious blanket movie. May need hot chocolate, too. :)

    (Oh, how I've missed my own little computer. Granted, it doesn't give me enough time to make tea for every new page, but it does actually accept my comments to post.)

  3. Come to think of it, the Dr Zhivago thread never even showed up on my dad's computer last night. There is something totally not right in that house.

  4. You may have to hit "Ctrl" while clicking refresh. The old page was stored in a temp page file and the new post didn't show.

  5. You don't live in that house on American Horror Story do you? In that case there is something wrong, especially with the maid that looks young to men and matronly to women. I suggest leaving immediately.

  6. I've always been very conditioned by my mother's opinion of this film; she didn't much like it because it was a downer and specifically because it seemed to celebrate, or at least not condemn, the reckless, selfish behaviour of the Doc and the Julie Christie character.
    When I was older I watched it in the first flower of my David Lean love affair and was blown away by its visual grandeur and dramatic sweep, and something in me responded strongly to the bigger story, behind the romance, ie: the massive tragedy of the Russian revolution.
    I did, though, instinctively agree with those who said that Lean's attention to texture and scale at times completely overwhelms the narrative, to the point where anyone who hasn't read the book - as I haven't - would find some parts hard to understand, and completely miss the point of others.
    I only realised that this was indeed true when I saw the recent two part tv version with Keira Knightley. Have you see this one, James? I'd be fascinated to know what you think of it, and how you'd compare the two.
    As a piece of film-making the new version is most definitely not unhandsome, but obviously not in the Lean class. as story-telling, though, I think it's superior in every way, and I came out of it with a much clearer and deeper sense of the human drama, to the point where I sympathised with the characters far more. The result was that when I watched the Lean film again not long after, I was far less annoyed by the selfishness of the two lovers, and cared about them far more.
    And you haven't lived until you've seen Keira in one of those Russian hats.

  7. The story starts with a rather serious looking Russian official conducting an inquiry. We soon learn he is looking for someone, someone that is valuable to him, but the looking is not for his sake. He searches for the sake of his brother, long lost in a struggle that he himself was a part of. Then with Alec Guiness gently continuing the narration, we are suddenly transferred to a magnificently expansive view, snow covered fields, wide plains, and far off mountains, where a small boy walks slowly in a funeral procession, and we at once know that this will be something unusual.. a story of great beauty, a story of love and suffering and loss.

    I absolutely loved the look of the film, and thought it was a magnificent achievement. The year it was made was 1965, and in those days the Soviet Union was a dark place, isolated behind its border. How Lean created a feel for the vastness of Russia, and the cold of the Russian winter was remarkable. I also loved Maurice Jarre's score, and his use of the balalaika. An amusing story is that the balalaika was not a common instrument in the West, and its presence in the movie seemed in question, as Jarre could not find any players. Finally, he went to a Russian orthodox church, did some inquiries, and found his balalaika players. Though marvelous players, none could read music, so he had to teach them the score by ear and gave them special queues as to when they were to come in when he was cutting the score. It really gave the film a warmth and a feeling of authenticity.

    The story itself I will speak of in my next comment.

  8. This movie always seemed like a whitewash of history to me, even as a kid. Sure it was mildly critical of the Russian Revolution, enough to get the book banned in the Soviet union and to put Pasternak's life in danger, but I've always seen it as critical of some individuals, not the ideology of Socialism or the monster made flesh of its realization in the USSR. This was the perfect time for Hollywood to expose all the horrors, to actually shed some light on the 40-60 millions murders and the hardships inflicted on the rest of the population. And to counter the lies Americans had been fed, like from Walter Duranty of the New York Times that won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Reds and their successes--and was later revealed to be made up out of whole cloth. Something the NYT hasn't acknowledged to this day, much less returned the Pulitzer. To educate people as to what went wrong in the Soviet Union. To show that life became worse, going from poor but the breadbasket of Europe to even poorer and never coming close to the harvests of the past. Ever. Yes, I know some people were always in fear of offending the Soviets. Kennedy, although he would be considered a conservative today, brought the leftist academics into the CIA [Europeans liked dealing with those who understood] under the counsel he received from the many academics he took advice from and put in key positions in his a Administration. Yes, the CIA (and MI6) actually helped Pasternak get the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958 even going as far as to print copies of the book in Russian and smuggle them in to meet the requirements. But to me, the book was always weaksauce. I will give credit for the first mention of "Gulags" though.

    And David Lean coming on board assured that filmgoers would take away the grandeur and majesty of the sweeping images and the central love story. Somewhere My Love (Lara's Theme) assured the latter. When I finally saw the film a couple or three years after coming out, I more more interested in Julie Christie and that aspect of the film. As I would be about Keira Knightley in subsequent versions. Many of the people I've talked to about the film didn't even know the Revolution (and later Civil War) was playing out in the background. Even those that did couldn't say which sides the players were on, as they forgot to include a scorecard. Teenagers used that time to make out. Lucky them.

    And Cathy? Remember your concerns about the lost material from the book in Possession? You get that in spades here. Pasternak never heard about composite characters. You need at least 8 hours of tightly edited film to do the book justice. Not that I ever finished it, mind you. I lost consciousness every time I tried.

    Now, on with the show! Yay!

  9. It is a story of a poet caught up in violent times, a gentle man forced to live through a time of desperate struggle. The violence is often times overt, as in the burning of a village. More often though it is covert, as when a party chief insists that the doctor continue to serve against his will, or that he accept the idea that the loss of the life of a young boy doesn't matter. Party officials were marked by their violent reaction to simple statements of the truth. For Yuri even to mention the possibility that there could be typhus in Moscow was something that put his life in peril.

    Yuri's brother Yevgraf, though not a poet, was a man who valued poetry and valued truth. However he had the worldly smarts to deny it when cause required his denial. This, then, was the key truth of the story to me, the fact that the ideal of a utopian paradise was in fact a total pipe dream, and the reason it is false is due to the limitations of our failed human nature. Once power falls into the hands of people like the Bolsheviks, well intentioned though they at first thought themselves to be, then truth goes by the wayside, and every man loses his freedom of speech, and even his freedom of thought.

    Yuri was the true revolutionary in opposing this suppression. He would say things like:

    "I cannot offer my support today for things which you may do tomorrow"

    without realizing the danger that such statements could bring upon the heads of himself and his family. Yuri had a naive assumption that the truth was undeniable, and that everyman was free to speak it. It is a familiar fault. Yevgraf knew that in the political world in which they lived the truth was a liability, and no man could speak things that were not correct politically.

    I loved Alec Guinness throughout the movie, but especially here at the scene where Yuri was caught stealing wood. All these peasants living in the Gromyko home, helping themselves to their things and gleefully looking to have Yuri taken away, likely to be shot, when there is a sharp snap of fingers heard, and at the doorway to the room stands the cold eyed Yevgraf. All quietly file out of the room to leave the Gromykos to whatever would befall them, and in his calm, measured narration we hear the voice of Yevgraf:

    "I told myself it was beneath my dignity to arrest a man for pilfering firewood. But nothing ordered by the party is beneath the dignity of any man, and the party was right: One man desperate for a bit of fuel is pathetic. Five million people desperate for fuel will destroy a city. That was the first time I ever saw my brother. But I knew him. And I knew that I would disobey the party.

    Perhaps it was the tie of blood between us, but I doubt it. We were only half tied anyway, and brothers will betray a brother. Indeed, as a policeman, I would say, 'Get hold of a man's brother and you're halfway home.' Nor was it admiration for a better man than me. I did admire him, but I didn't think he was a better man. Besides, I've executed better men than me with a small pistol.

    I told them who I was. The old man was hostile. The girl, cautious. My brother... seemed very pleased.

    I think the girl was the only one who guessed at their position."

    The writing at times was so very good.

  10. Besides all the misguided Bolsheviks, intent on creating their worker's paradise while they sit in judgment of the slightest word of these very same people, the opposite evil is present as well in Victor Komarovsky. He has no visions of a utopian future. His vision is limited to his own future, living life and consuming as much as he can to please himself. His self loathing is projected onto Lara, whom he abuses and then denigrates. It is his own awareness of the vileness that he has embraced, the lusty, sinful life he has chosen to lead that has utterly debased him and that fills him with rage at anything that is free of such an awful weight. The bottom line of his efforts to "help" Yuri and Lara is that it would place them in his debt and give him a sense of superiority over them. This was never better demonstrated than in the simple loading of the sleigh, and Komarovsky gruffly orders Lara "Get in". There is a wounded look on Lara's face, and you know that she can barely stand this man's company, when Yuri comes up behind her, places his arms around her and gently says "Come". Komarovsky is base and belittling. Yuri is encouraging and filled with compassion. The contrast between these two is as great as the contrast between Yuri and the party commissar in the partisan group.

    I must say Rod Steiger was excellent as the loathsome Victor Komarovsky. When he forced the wine down Lara's throat it was so despicably boorish. I just hated that guy. Strong, sharp, duplicitous, resourceful, and utterly contemptible. I also loved Geraldine Chapmen as Tonya. She was only twenty when they started the show, and it was her first major picture. She was wonderful. And of course Ralph Richardson as Alexander Gromyko, Siobhan McKenna as his wife Anna, Tom Courtney as the idealistic and heartless Pasha, they were all very good. But David Lean... David Lean was the visionary director that managed it all and pulled it all together, his was a remarkable achievement.

  11. I agree: a true poet of the cinema, insanely underrated because he uses all of the medium's resources and huge budgets to meticulously and magnificently recreate reality.
    The assumption that huge budgets and effects are there to make real the unreal is very pervasive, as is the notion that a visionary director's job is to make the external subjective.
    Thus Lean, who stands back from his material but labours over the composition, turning historical reality into simultaneously beautiful and historically accurate imagery, is often dismissed as a mere pictorialist.
    I suppose you could say the same thing about Rembrandt.

  12. Well, this was good fun! Now on to The Apartment!!