July 5, 2019

In "Dr. Zhivago," one line stands out — starkly — and reveals the meaning of the long, stately sequence of images.

Ah, I know I could not understand it in 1965 when I was 14, and I could barely understand movies at all. I hadn't yet accustomed myself to cinematic storytelling. I was continually confused. Why are they going there? Is that the same guy? It took me a while to face the fact that it was my job to pick up the clues and put things together. If you're drifting along waiting for things to make sense, wondering what you're looking at that and why are they doing that, a 3-hour-and-39-minute movie is an awful slog.

And it was a slog the second time around too. Even with better understanding of the grammar of film, I wasn't patient with the filmmaker's approach to storytelling, the long lingering on images — branches of trees waving in the wind, a corpse inside a grave, the gray sky, the balalaika, the expanses of snow, the frosted-up windows, the lovers' eyes. It was only thinking about it the next day that it occurred to me that all those shots represented the poetry that formed inside the head of Dr. Zhivago. We were told time and again that he was a great poet, but not one word of his poetry was ever heard. Instead, we got the poetry of the filmmaker (David Lean). I don't believe his shots were wonderful enough to stand in for great poetry, but then, if we'd heard the words, they probably wouldn't have sounded so great either. So let the big brown gazing eyes of Omar Sharif represent ART!

The line that reveals the meaning of the movie is: "The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it." The revolution has taken place and Zhivago is confronted by the Bolshevik commander Strelnikov (Pasha Antipov):
Pasha: I used to admire your poetry.
Zhivago: Thank you.
Pasha: I shouldn't admire it now. I should find it absurdly personal. Don't you agree? Feelings, insights, affections... it's suddenly trivial now. You don't agree; you're wrong. The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it. 
I had trouble in 1965 — and I had trouble in 2019 — understanding why I should care about Dr. Zhivago's romantic life. He has a wife, and she's perfectly fine (Tonya, played by Geraldine Chaplin), but he's fixated on another woman (Lara, played by Julie Christie), and we're supposed to root for Lara, apparently because her eyes are fakely lighted up and a balalaika tune plays every time Zhivago feels drawn to her.

When I was 14, I took the cue and rooted for Lara. Why wouldn't Tonya melt away and let the lovers have what nature declares belongs to them? At 68, I felt irritated to be pressured to see an adulterous affair as the most important thing in the world. Strelnikov was a monster, but I had low regard for Zhivago's personal life. Much more important things were going on all around him, but he put this affair above everything else (including the rest of his personal life). It was absurdly personal.

As Bogart says to Bergman in "Casablanca," "It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

Fortunately, in my "imaginary film project," I'm challenged to process my feelings and write about it. My project is absurdly personal. Feelings, insights, affections... so trivial.

And yet... I collected my thoughts, and I decided that Lara symbolized the life of Russia, and Dr. Zhivago needed to save her and preserve her through love.  In one scene, Dr. Zhivago uses a surgery metaphor to talk about the revolution:
Zhivago: You lay life on a table and you cut out all the tumours of injustice. Marvellous.
Yevgraf: "I told him if he felt like that he should join the party."
Zhivago: Ah, but cutting out the tumours of injustice - that's a deep operation. Someone must keep life alive while you do it. By living. Isn't that right?
By living a personal life — in spite of the revolution — he was keeping the country alive. He's a doctor and a poet. Everything depends on him. It's for others to be the revolutionaries, to get caught up in the politics. He has something more important: His personal life. He needs to live it, and he needs to write about it, to preserve personal life to pass it on to Russia.

Zhivago asks Yevgraf, if he thinks the poetry is "personal, petit-bourgeoise and self-indulgent." Yevgraf says yes, but he's telling the story years later — after Zhivago's death — and admits that he lied. Yevgraf is telling the story to a girl he believes is the long lost daughter of Lara and Zhivago. The girl — played beautifully by Rita Tushingham — is dubious. She doesn't want to believe the story if it's not true. Yevgraf takes that to mean that she is Zhivago's daughter. He didn't want to believe what was not true, and "That's inherited." And the girl has a balalaika, and she can play it. She taught herself — "She's an artist!" Another inheritance — "It's a gift." She's kept life alive.

***

Next up in the imaginary movie project — more Russians! And with that clue it should be easy to guess what I saw in 1966 and rewatched today.

108 comments:

narciso said...

Well Lara was based on a real life person of oasternaks acquaintance.

theo said...

It is a beautiful film.

I am sorry you missed the romance and cinematography.

Perhaps you over thought it.

narciso said...

As with every David lean film, the cinematography is excellent the acting very real, it was largely based on oasternaks experiences during the early part of the revolution and civil war.

tomaig said...

Is it "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!"?

gspencer said...

Somehow I think that life in Russia, even today set aside the Zhivago time frame (early 20th Century), is quite a bit harder than watching two nice-looking people taking sleigh rides in the Russian snow.

My thoughts of Russian weather is similar to my thoughts of Canadian weather. Both places have two season - this Winter and next Winter.

Two-eyed Jack said...

I saw Dr Zhivago when I was quite young. Two things stayed with me. First, how alone young Zhivago was when his mother died. Second, the unfairness of the Bolsheviks who moved a bunch of urban poor into the palacial home in which Zhivago was raised. No one could live a beautiful life when there was still poverty, and everyone was forced to agree that this was for the best. It was an anticommunist message that struck and stuck with me.

Ernest Forepaw said...

Is The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming up next?

narciso said...

Well the images dont convey the savage Russell winter, that stopped napoleon and Hitler in his tracks, but once you get past that it's a very human film not as abstract as 1984 or animal farm

Ann Althouse said...

"I am sorry you missed the romance and cinematography."

I thought the cinematography was aggressively bad.

The romance was dull. These characters... what is interesting about them? A gorgeous man is torn between 2 beautiful women, one of whom it's easy to see is more beautiful than the other.

I'd have to take the right drug to be swept away by the thing David Lean wanted to sweep us away with. I don't like the manipulation, and it was very slow, and reliant on gorgeous actors eyeballing each other.

There is meaning in the story, as I've tried to bring out — sorry you missed that, if you did — but I would prefer a different storyteller. Not Lean!

Ann Althouse said...

@tomaig

Yes!

Ann Althouse said...

"Somehow I think that life in Russia, even today set aside the Zhivago time frame (early 20th Century), is quite a bit harder than watching two nice-looking people taking sleigh rides in the Russian snow."

It was filmed in Spain. The snow was all fake.

traditionalguy said...

Tsarist Russia aristocrats were not expected to have sexual morals. Zhivago as the truth seeker was faithful to Tonya until he went back across the Urals to his mother and fathers land. And he got seduced by Lara’s extraordinary erotic powers. She was the earth goddess of Slavic Russia whose siren song no man could resist .

Komaravski was a good lawyer who always worked for the winning side. And he gave Lara to the idealist Doctor knowing her extraordinary erotic powers.


Ann Althouse said...

"I saw Dr Zhivago when I was quite young. Two things stayed with me. First, how alone young Zhivago was when his mother died. Second, the unfairness of the Bolsheviks who moved a bunch of urban poor into the palacial home in which Zhivago was raised. No one could live a beautiful life when there was still poverty, and everyone was forced to agree that this was for the best. It was an anticommunist message that struck and stuck with me."

Yes, it looked like a film set, not real at all, but it was a visualization of something I've had in my head from verbal descriptions. I really think a better script and a better set could show the predicament much better.

There was also the train ride. I loved that Klaus Kinski was in it!

Unknown said...

"I felt irritated to be pressured to see an adulterous affair as the most important thing in the world."

I have to agree with you here. I was disgusted by The English Patient. A privileged aristocrat pursuing an adulterous affair, and during a war where he had duties.

That revolution destroyed personal life because it was all pervasive. The doctor was a good medical officer (impressed into Bolshevik service), but he wasn't a good comrade because he wasn't a believer in the revolution. Just like the social justice agenda today.

narciso said...

Many of the character were drawn from his experience, including strelnikov (minchakeiv) and Lara (wissotskaya sic). The former detected to anerica.

chuck said...

> apparently because her eyes are fakely lighted up and a balalaika tune plays every time Zhivago feels drawn to her.

Love it, the perfect put down from the abandoned wife. I've heard it before...

Ann Althouse said...

"Lara’s extraordinary erotic powers."

How were these powers ever shown to us?

The use of lighting on her eyes was so ridiculous.

And where did she get her clothes? They run off on that train with nothing and they hole up in that cottage, and she has nice new sweaters? Why?!!

And the wigs!!! How could their hair have stayed in shape.

They look like actors in a fake set.

And that reminds me: The English accents! I had to put on the closed captioning. I can't understand their jibber jabber. And on the 4th of July. I needed independence from the English... accents.

narciso said...

Well they had to be creative with the English patient, ondaatje is Sri lankan,,he hates the brits, count al massy is an explorer, and a nazi collaborator who was let us say preference fluid in real life, but the camaraderie of the explorers club was somewhat real.

narciso said...

They had to make the story palatable to a western audience, who would you have picked to adapt the story, its ultimately a doomed love affair as much of these Russian events are.

William said...

I remember that last scene very well. Alec Guinness plays a kind of idealized Bolshie superman. Comrade Obi Wan. He understands the forces of history and is willing to endure and inflict tragedy in pursuit of the ultimate fulfillment of Marxist dialectic. As I remember, the scene takes place at a huge hydroelectric power plant. Behold the omelet. All these sacrifices have accomplished something. In the remake, I suggest that they film the last scene at Cheronobyl. It would add poignancy to the subtext.

narciso said...

That's where pasternak worked during the war.

Rory said...

One of two films that I just let people assume that I've seen it so that they won't be telling me I have to see it. I was glazing over just reading the post. The other film - Fantasia- is such a glaring departure from my viewing habits that people have reminisced to me about when we saw it together.

My 1965 film would be The Great Race. I was six, and it may have been the only movie I saw in a theater. It's been one of my favorite movies for over 50 years. Elvis's Girl Happy, The Truth About Spring, and A Very Special Favor are some other good 1965s.

buwaya said...

Oh well.
I liked it, a lot. Lara was beautiful even to me, pre-pubescent.
Mad obsessive love made sense, as did tragedy and sacrifice.
A function of a difference in the stories we heard and saw in youth.
Not least in church, where our Christ’s were realistically bloody and agonized.
And sin was normal. We struggled with it every confession.
We understood sin.

Russia was terribly exotic, to us.
And there was war and trains.

The rundown of WWI as related

Our kids liked it too.

William said...

Julie Christie don't need no stinking wigs, lighting, or wardrobe to look beautiful. I do think, however, she's more at home in a Hardy novel than in a Russian winter.

Bob said...

May not be quite on topic, but I loved the line Rod Steiger had to spit out near the end: "Do you accept the protection of this ignoble Caliban on any terms that Caliban cares to make? Or is your delicacy so exorbitant that you would sacrifice a woman and a child to it?"

He's a bad guy, but, man, can he talk swell.

Zach said...

From what I gather, Pasternak's point was that the Revolution was killing people's souls. The thing which distinguished Zhivago is that he was still capable of seeing the beauty in life. His affair with Lara was problematic, not because it was adulterous, but because he was in love.

Regarding the film, it's a sweeping melodrama. If you want the full effect, you have to let yourself be swept. It's hard to like a comedy if you don't get the jokes, and it's hard to like a melodrama if you don't feel the emotions it's trying to make you feel.

buwaya said...

Meant to say Yevgrafs narration of the course of WWI was brilliant.
You noticed the lighting of Lara’s eyes?
We noticed Lara, full stop.
Whatever artifices were applied, these worked on the testosterone beings.
If one was to go mad for a woman, then this was one to go mad for.

narciso said...

I guess an illustration is helpful

https://youtu.be/kaHPjT_GDm0

Ann Althouse said...

I don't understand the argument that a story is good because things actually happened to the author or a character is good because it's based on someone the author knew in real life. That's true of good, bad, and mediocre books. It means nothing. It's certainly not an excuse for lack of good details and depth. Well, the lady the author knew actually did lack a inner life and just stared about blankly until she was told what to do.

Henry said...

The theme melody was stuck in my head for weeks. It was worse than "Day Dream Believer".

Here's another movie series idea: Movies in which Alec Guinness is completely miscast.

The Star Wars series and The Man in the White Suit would not be on that list. He was perfectly cast in those movies.

Narr said...

I always found Lean overstuffed--the imagery is exactly what the Prof calls it: the stand in for Z's poetic soul. Steiger's the best thing in the whole absurd concoction. J Christie never did much for me.

Narr
Somewhere my lust

Henry said...

I've seen a number of David Lean movies, some of them twice. They're all slow. But Lawrence of Arabia holds up. It's brilliant. Peter O'Toole probably deserves a lot of credit for that.

Also? Alec Guinness, miscast.

narciso said...

One doesn't have time for an inner life, in a revolution, one becomes disposable pawns

Ann Althouse said...

"May not be quite on topic, but I loved the line Rod Steiger had to spit out near the end: "Do you accept the protection of this ignoble Caliban on any terms that Caliban cares to make? Or is your delicacy so exorbitant that you would sacrifice a woman and a child to it?" He's a bad guy, but, man, can he talk swell."

I was just emailing with somebody about the movie and I quoted that line. It's sort of good and bad at the same time. There's a certain level of artificiality in the lines that goes with British actors and historical material. It's an old fashioned sort of thing that I've never liked very much.

buwaya said...

The truth is a defense in both life and literature.
A plot is believable if this is how things go down.
That is, if the viewer is prone to believe this is indeed how such things go down.
That the vision of the world is plausible.

The idea of the likelihood of human disorder, in this case.

narciso said...

I would have to look if it was actually in the novel, it is in keeping with the grand scale of Russian (even Soviet drama)

Michael K said...

Oh well.
I liked it, a lot.


I did, too. Althouse has no clue,.

MikeD said...

Our hostess seems to have ignored the fact that the serfs lives didn't make for drama. Born, worked for subsistence, died, not a story line lasting more than 15 minutes. That said, Fiddler on the Roof is one of my all-time favorite movies! Hopefully it's on Althouse's list? Also loved Funny Girl, maybe something about Jew-centric musicals?
While I'm a decade plus older than Althouse, I find most of the 60's/70's movies I enjoyed in theaters are virtually unwatchable on big screen HD TV.

chuck said...

There is a story that the first Russian audience laughed during the scene where Tonya arrives at the Moscow train station because everyone was so reserved, so English, so very not Russian.

Zach said...

My favorite scene is when they're riding the train through Siberia. They throw open the door, behold the frozen landscape, and the music swells. The train is perfectly miserable, but it hasn't destroyed his ability to perceive beauty. I might be conflating scenes, though, because I can't find the clip on YouTube.

The private life is dead scene. This is the basic conflict of the movie. The Bolsheviks think the private life is dead, but Zhivago can't help but experience life:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozpct8zUA_U

Horrible scenes seen from the train to yuriatin:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rneQLYXduk8

Klaus Kinski scene:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzs0681gdf0

narciso said...

Yes you have to accommodate for western audiences, I'm thinking a modern equivalent for Christie perhaps rosamonde pike, Jennifer Lawrence was painfully miscast in red sparrow.

chuck said...

> But Lawrence of Arabia holds up. It's brilliant.

It would have been better, IMHO, if he had shown Lawrence's intellectual brilliance as well as his oddity. But then, I suppose making the workings of a first class intellect cinematic isn't easy.

buwaya said...

True. A properly Russian version would be more weird, more random, more mad.

Birkel said...

Every statement about art should either be written with "to me" at the end or read with "to me" at the end.

Opinions on such things are personal.

BJM said...

"War and Peace"? nah....the Oscar winning Russian film is too tedious w/ subtitles...a 13 yr old would have bolted.

As a sappy teen Andrei Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostova completly broke my heart.

I thought the 2007 RAI miniseries quite good. Clémence Poésy is the Natasha I had in my head all those years...the BBC 2016 adaptations was meh....but then there are as many versions on film as translations in print.

So it is with Zhivago.


"The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" is my guess too. One wonders how it will play nowadays.

narciso said...

Maybe a story of thar scope like war and piece cant be captured in one piece of cinema.

buwaya said...

Our War and Peace was the 1972 BBC miniseries. The battle scenes were silly, but it was still a great soap opera. Local TV got all the BBC stuff pretty much free, from Australia I think. Whence we also got Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and the dubbed Shintaro the Samurai.

William said...

The Russian Revolution and the subsequent civil war were ghastly beyond comprehension. Then came the famines, the purges, the war. I don't think you can dramatize of even understand the sheer waste,cruelty and futility that was inflicted on the Russian population. All that suffering, starvation, mass murder to accomplish nothing.....The best depiction of Russian life that I've ever seen was the HBO series Cheronobyl. Not the drama necessarily, but the background--the ugly apartment complexes, the clunky cars, the pervasive shabbiness everywhere. Those people who worked at the power plant were the winners in Soviet society. They had cars and apartments, but such cars and apartments.

narciso said...

About 30-40 million perished between the revolution and the end of the purges if memory served

traditionalguy said...

How were Lara's erotic powers shown to us? By showing the reaction of the men she focused them on, of course. Even Lara knew what she had and tried to restrain her use of it...and then a man she really respected showed up again.

FTR erotic powers are not sex so much as the life force of the woman that merges itself with a man. That is what men are looking for. The women do not know what they are looking for (any more than Freud did) until a noble man that wants her shows up. Then bingo.
the relationship of Donald and Melanie fits this mold.

But back to the star of the movie, Rod Steiger's perfect portrayal of the legal counselor Komaravski. He had buried Zhivago's family and placed him in a Moscow family, and made him the gift of Lara to complete him. Even if he did it all for money, he was a magnificent connector and arranger of affairs among men and women and governments.

mockturtle said...

I agree with Althouse. Both the novel and the movie left me cold.

Unknown said...

The restored "Lawrence of Arabia" hit Fathom Events last year. I have to admit to not being that impressed. There were some clever bits and even some funny bits, but I never got a sense of Lawrence as a whole. OK, that was one of the themes -- that nobody really knew him, but that doesn't make it satisfying.

narciso said...

Well Lawrence was meant to be inscrutable, lowell Thomas depicted him so, he was the real muadib the foreigner who liberated the arabs or so they thought. Benedict Cumberbatch would probably be cast in the present day.

Big Mike said...

Of course “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming”. Except the backwards ‘R’ they use (twice) in the title is actually one version of the letter ‘A’ in the Cyrillic alphabet (there are two versions of each vowel in the Cyrillic alphabet).

Freeman Hunt said...

When I was seventeen, I thought Zhivago was a jerk.

When I was thirty-eight, I thought Zhivago was a jerk.

Don't know that I'll ever watch him be a jerk yet again.

traditionalguy said...

Zhivago was a good man but he was jerk in his character weakness of letting powerful women have their way with him. The jerk should have ignored Lara and quit wasting his time writing all that soulish Poetry about Russia. But no, he followed his loves and died of a broken heart after losing them.

readering said...

Was too young to appreciate Dr Z when I saw it a couple of years after it first came out and after reading the novel later have had no desire to rewatch the film. Loved RACRAC when it came out. Saw the DVD earlier this year. Love Alan Larkin but otherwise best part was the DVD extra about the significance of the film at that point in the cold war.

Yancey Ward said...

Better to read the book. I have seen the movie once about 30 years ago, but had already read the novel, so was a little disappointed with the movie. Reading the wiki page on the movie, I didn't realize the film was shot in Spain.

eddie willers said...

I find most of the 60's/70's movies I enjoyed in theaters are virtually unwatchable on big screen HD

My take was the same as Althouse, but I never saw it on the silver screen, just on my (very good) 55" OLED.

I do wonder if 70mm on a huge screen would make a difference.

Static Ping said...

When I saw the film, my main impression was the titular Dr. Zhivago was the cause of his own tragedy and he was, frankly, an idiot. There's all sorts of major world events going on unending his life, but he always adapts to it well enough, but when given the ability to make a decision - perhaps his only agency in the entire film - he simply cannot do it. The man has a choice between his wife, who is practically perfect and the mother of his child, and his mistress, with whom he has great passion. If he could just pick one or the other he probably would have been happy, but he cannot do it and it basically ruins everything. By the time he decides to stay with his wife, it is too late and the final result is he gets neither of them. He dies chasing ghosts on a bus.

I understand the focus was supposed to be the love story between Zhivago and Lara, but I could not get past the philandering jackass who somehow managed to lose a no lose situation. Just pick one, damnit! At the end, I had basically no empathy for the character and he pretty much got exactly what he deserved.

The movie is beautiful on the big screen, by the way.

Ralph L said...

I saw it on a huge screen, too, which made the movie for me. It seemed like all the men were jerks and the women vapid. The movie would have failed completely if Zhivago were a pasty Slavic blond.

He had buried Zhivago's family and placed him in a Moscow family,
I didn't figure that out and wondered what happened.

Peter said...

You are a tough critic. The cinematography that you find tiresome was new and breathtaking on a wide scene in 1966. Lean was famous for it (would you dismiss Lawrence of Arabia and Ryan's Daughter for all those endless sand dunes?). The emergence of spring from the long, dark winter is a common and popular theme in Russian songs and poetry in a contemplative way that can escape the impatient, get-to-the-point American soul. Boticelli's Venus looks pale and vacuous compared to today's California girls, but somehow I can't take that as serious criticism. Zhivago is a flawed and not particularly strong character, but that's why he is helpless in the face of the historical storm swirling around him. That is the tragedy of their revolution and what came after. You could try to hide from it, but it didn't work. Also a common theme of Russian literature. I suppose Lean could have cast John Wayne or Gary Cooper to thwart the bad guys and save the townspeople, but I doubt that would have resonated with Russian audiences.

Kevin said...

Is it Dr. Strangelove?

Wait, that would be another doctor movie.

David Begley said...

Because I have written two screenplays and have studied the subject I have to say that Ann’s analysis is outstanding.

Ann Althouse said...

"When I was seventeen, I thought Zhivago was a jerk. When I was thirty-eight, I thought Zhivago was a jerk. Don't know that I'll ever watch him be a jerk yet again."

Ha ha. I wonder what your thoughts were when Zhivago comes in from his long walk in the cold and looks at himself in the mirror. He's so upset at the image in the mirror. He knows what he's been through and how he feels, but now he sees how he looks.

He's the embodiment of It's better to look good than to feel good at that moment.

Presumably, he has a whole fancy-schmancy poem in this head, but all I could read on Sharif's face was: "Oh my God! What will Lara think?! I'm a ghoul now, and I was SOOOO handsome. I was like a movie star... wait a minute, I AM a movie star. I'm Omar Sharif, and this is a horror all right — a ridiculous Hollywood makeup job. Hold it together, Omar. You'll be fine again in the next scene. And surely, wardrobe has a sumptuous sweater for me and a lush puffy wig."

Ann Althouse said...

"Zhivago was a good man but he was jerk in his character weakness of letting powerful women have their way with him."

I make it work for me by thinking that of Lara as a symbol — she's the real, soulful, artistic Russia.

Cue all he staunchly hetero guys to tell me that Julie Christie stirs their loins and I'm therefore missing the true meaning of the movie.

If the movie's worth depends on your sexual attraction to one of the stars (especially if the person isn't on screen all the time), that's rough going.

I don't think JC had much to do in "Dr. Zhivago." Did she have ANY good lines? She just looked around worriedly. I remember one thing she said... toward the end, something I can paraphrase as: If it's true we only have a short time left together, let's make the most of it.

By the way, there are 2 more Julie Christie movies coming up on my list, and they are ones I expect to like more than DZ.

Also, I've walked out of only a few movies in my life. I mean in the theater, where I have PAID and gone to the trouble of getting there. The first time I ever walked out of a movie, it was "Petulia."

Ann Althouse said...

"Reading the wiki page on the movie, I didn't realize the film was shot in Spain."

It would be better not to realize that.

The movie wants you to think it's a "sweeping" epic, depicting the vastness of Russia, but it's an illusion. They really don't have a lot to show you. The Moscow set is just that one main square (for the rich) and one alleyway (for the poor). It is in Spain.

The battle scenes are in a constrained space.

The ice they cross on horseback is a dry lake bed with marble dust strewn on it (which seems unhealthy for the actors!).

Ann Althouse said...

"Is it Dr. Strangelove?"

"Dr. Strangelove" is 1964. The next year in my project is 1966.

It's one of my all-time favorite movies, but it wasn't a good choice for this project because I've seen it many times. And, actually, it doesn't even minimally qualify, because I didn't see it in the theater when it came out.

Ann Althouse said...

"You are a tough critic. The cinematography that you find tiresome was new and breathtaking on a wide scene in 1966. Lean was famous for it (would you dismiss Lawrence of Arabia and Ryan's Daughter for all those endless sand dunes?)."

I've never seen "Ryan's Daughter." I've never particularly liked this style of movie. It's really the "Gone With the Wind" category. Big. Old fashioned. Melodramatic. I'm not being snobbish, I assure you. I try and I get bored.

"The emergence of spring from the long, dark winter is a common and popular theme in Russian songs and poetry in a contemplative way that can escape the impatient, get-to-the-point American soul."

Nope. That's not me. I'm not interested in getting to the point. My favorite movie is "My Dinner With Andre." I want my reward, but I have my taste. I'm not impatient about getting to points, but I want to be looking at valuable stuff in the moment. It's like the way I am with novels. I don't care about "page-turners" and plots and endings. I want great sentences.

"You could try to hide from it, but it didn't work. Also a common theme of Russian literature. I suppose Lean could have cast John Wayne or Gary Cooper to thwart the bad guys and save the townspeople, but I doubt that would have resonated with Russian audiences."

I'd like to see it with Alan Arkin. Now, there's a Russian!

Lewis Wetzel said...

The notion that men (and women) should find love only within marriage is odd.
In romance, love is free of all obligations other than love. Married life, on the other hand, is made up of obligations that are not love.
That is how the idea of courtly love was justified, anyhow. Marriage is about family and fortune, not love.

Tank said...

I didn't see the movie when I was young; a "love story" did not appeal to young Tank.

But I saw it recently after Steve Sailer talked about the line, "You have been noticed," and thought it was looooong, but OK overall. "You have been noticed" seems related to "the personal life is dead."

In America today you too can be noticed, and not in a good way. If you go against the zeitgeist, you can be demonetized, shunned, ruined, beat up and destroyed. In Russia it was the State, here the State has delegated that role.

Jeff Gee said...

When we see Zhivago's mother in the coffin under ground, I thought 'she must have been buried alive!' Otherwise why were we seeing her? I kept waiting for her eye lids to flicker. 50+ years on, that puzzlement has stayed with me. Also Tom Courtney's glasses landing in the dirt in the battle scene.

Howard said...

Geraldine Chaplin was essentially Omar's sister. Platonic love versus romantic love. Even an idiot moron like me can see that. Love of the State versus the love of life. Also, I don't think Althouse understands that that beauty is on a log-scale. Chaplin is a 7 and Julie Christy was and still is a 10.

The opening sequence was the scariest scene I had ever seen before or since (I was 6 and saw it at the drive-in). The branches scratching on his bedroom window, seeing his mother in the grave. Being sent away from home with strangers. Monsters are fake, this was all too real and possible.

Ann Althouse said...

"I want my reward, but I have my taste. I'm not impatient about getting to points, but I want to be looking at valuable stuff in the moment. It's like the way I am with novels. I don't care about "page-turners" and plots and endings. I want great sentences."

Now, after thinking for myself about the meaning of the movie, after it was over, I have what I need to watch the movie and value it in the moment — sentence by sentence. I could watch it with pleasure now, but I don't want to spend the time doing that now. If it were playing on a big screen, I'd give it another go, using my improved understanding of how to watch it. I did kind of understand that the first time... You know you could say something like that about your own life!

Ann Althouse said...

"Also, I don't think Althouse understands that that beauty is on a log-scale. Chaplin is a 7 and Julie Christy was and still is a 10."

Of course, I can see that Julie Christie is much better looking than Geraldine Chaplin.

I think the numerical system for rating women (especially with added math) is really unsexy.

I get the idea that Christie is supposed to represent real sexuality. Rod Steiger informed us that she was a natural-born slut.

Ann Althouse said...

But I don't see the sexuality in JC's performance.

Ann Althouse said...

Now, put JC with Warren Beatty and you've got something.

Ann Althouse said...

"The branches scratching on his bedroom window..."

Reminiscent of the Laurence Olivier "Wuthering Heights." There, it really was supernatural.

Kit Carson said...

when DZ and Lara encounter each other the first time. back to back on the subway and their tushes touch and Lean cuts to the sparks of the electric trolley car. beautiful.

when the cavalry commander gives his commands, mount up, draw saber, etc and Lean cuts away to Komarofsky doing the same in the exact sequence before innocent virginal blood is splashed on the white snow.

of all the movies in the the professor's project, this one is most relevant to our current zeitgeist/BatSitRep - battle situation report) as those who would kill the personal life struggle to impose their new power over those who wish to live free. the difference between Strelnikov and the SJW's seem minor. only the level of brutality, so far, distinguishes them.

klaus kinsky "i am a free man".

we are beset by a massive hive-mind like mass of people who intend to kill the personal life. let us hope we come out luckier than DZ.

Howard said...

It's not just sexuality with JC. I fell in love with her when I was six, then when I saw it at 24 on video, the lust kicked in. Chaplin's character was that of a cool harpie who would punish precocious boys like a soviet bureaucrat, while JC came off as a free spirit with the capability of releasing a boys desire to be wild and adventurous.

Rusty said...

So. I take it that belief was not suspended in this case, Althouse?
To be fair there is little of the entertainments we enjoyed when we were young that survives us growing older and wiser.
I especially find animations and cartoons tedious. Which is odd considering my youngest daughters profession.
Good stories told well are rare in cinema these days.

Howard said...

I agree the numerical looks rating system is silly, but it is easy to put numbers to things. It does kinda make sense that boys would do this because of the hyper-competitive, success orientated, put the food on the table, deliver the mail standards to earn white male privilege that are loaded on our shoulders from day one. Not complaining because it's an awesome job. However, this and other irritating male traits are externalities that are the personality requirements to achieve the swiss-watch like efficiency and dependability of our modern technology society built by boys with mustaches.

Ann Althouse said...

"To be fair there is little of the entertainments we enjoyed when we were young that survives us growing older and wiser."

But I didn't enjoy it when I was 14!

Ann Althouse said...

"I agree the numerical looks rating system is silly, but it is easy to put numbers to things."

If she's so great, you shouldn't be doing it the easy way.

"It does kinda make sense that boys would do this because of the hyper-competitive, success orientated, put the food on the table, deliver the mail standards to earn white male privilege that are loaded on our shoulders from day one. Not complaining because it's an awesome job. However, this and other irritating male traits are externalities that are the personality requirements to achieve the swiss-watch like efficiency and dependability of our modern technology society built by boys with mustaches."

Ironically, that doesn't make you guys sound sexy. How are you aspiring to the greatness of what Lara is supposed to be in that movie? It sounds like you're only trying to get an ordinary woman who scores a 10 because of natural gifts and who wants a big pay day. Totally unsexy in my view. No one would watch that movie. The couple you envision would be secondary characters and villains in a Hollywood melodrama.

Rick.T. said...

Emergency! Emergency! Everyone is to get from street!

Rory said...

"I mean in the theater, where I have PAID and gone to the trouble of getting there."

Multiplexes have taken the statement out of walking out on a movie. You just go across the hall and see Chunnel again, so there's no big loss.

Ann Althouse said...

Remark to this, Whittaker Walt. We must have boat. Even now may be too late. This is your island, I make your responsibility you help us get boat quickly, otherwise there is World War III, and everybody is blaming YOU!

Rick.T. said...

Bobby Bare song Numbers. The part where a woman turns the tables on him:

You and me could, uh! make eighteen, if your head's on straight."
She looked up and down my perfect frame
And said these words that burned into my perfect brain

She said, well, another one of those macho-matician men
Kind who grade all women on scales of one to ten
And, you give me an eight, well, that's a generous thing to do
Now, let's just see, just how much I give you

She said you comin' on to me with that phony numbers jive
Your style makes me smile, I give it a five
When you walked up I noticed that suit of (yores)
It's last year's double-knit frayed-cuffs, give it a four

That must be your car parked out on the curb
That sixty-nine homemade convertible, a three and a third
Now, as for your build, I guess (yore) less than five
Except, for your pot belly, I'd give that a ten for size

That wine you're pourin' might be fine to you
But I'm used to fine champagne, I give it a two
It's hard to tell what your flashin' smile is worth
I give it a six, you could use some dental work

But, It's your struttin' rooster act that really makes me laugh
It may be a ten to these country hens, but to me a three and a half
And there really ain't much to add once the subtractin's done
Since there ain't no zeroes, I give you a one!

Rory said...

A movie in this category that I like quite a bit is The Leopard (1963), with Burt Lancaster.

Jeff Brokaw said...

Never saw this one but I remember well the publicity for it even though I only turned 6 that year.

But very much looking forward to The Russians Are Coming, which I did see in the theatre and remember lots of laughing. Have not seen it since! Probably should fix that. Alan Arkin is a comedy bad-ass.

Tank said...

I associate The Russians and MMMMW together as two funny movies from my youth. My brother and I still refer to quotes like the one mentioned above.

Howard said...

I shouldn't be doing a lot of things, but so it goes. I guess I'm being too insensitive to a woman's perspective on looks because that is such a big evolutionary factor for their success. In my experience as a boy and man, wanting to appear sexy is not the formula for landing a smart, strong, good looking, good-hearted, hard-headed woman.

Jeff Brokaw said...

Althouse though I sorta kinda agree with your “meh” on lots of lingering shots and general impatience with too much extraneous detail, I would bet your impressions upon rewatching these movies might be different— especially with this one — in the theatre on the wide screen. It is a qualitatively different experience to have your visual space filled up in a dark space, with other people there in a public space, after choosing to go to the trouble of traveling there, etc.

Not that you should do this — just that it would alter your (and all of our) impressions.

chuck said...

> FTR erotic powers are not sex so much as the life force of the woman

It is strange how it works. I've run into two women who seemed to exude some mystical force. Neither was especially good looking or "sexy", but there was an aura around them. The meetings were transient and I didn't fall in love with either, but both had an immediate impact. I have no idea what their secret sauce was, or if they affected others that way, but I remember both events after all these years.

Ralph L said...

I think the numerical system for rating women (especially with added math) is really unsexy.

Math is hard.

Narr said...

Fer shur a big screen and a crowd can make all the difference to the experience; but even if I could see the Lean machines again the right way (as I did with the three mentioned back when), I'd feel completely robbed if it wasn't extraordinary! (I saw SPR the right way recently; some movies require it.)

I enjoy everyone's analyses of the film. (Not so much the analyses of one another.) People have reminded me or clued me in to things I had forgotten or missed about the movie(s).

Prof's project here is like a 'recit' (not doing french accents) I think.

Narr
Lovely morning here

EAB said...

I could watch The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming multiple times. You just writing the words “Whitaker Walt” makes me laugh. I read a bunch of Benchley’s books when I was in high school and found them all charming and funny. Last time I tried, they were hard to find. I’ll have to look again.

I’m not sure I’ve ever successfully sat through Doctor Zhivago end-to-end. The romance with Lara just leaves me cold for some reason. In the same way I found the main “romance” in The English Patient to be cold and passionless. Scenery is lovely, but Lean focused on people’s eyes in a way that I find distracting.

Andrew said...

Prof. Althouse, what's your opinion of Sergio Leone's movies? My guess is they would drive you insane. Lots of lingering. The opening of Once Upon a Time in the West is 15 minutes of images, and almost nothing happens until the very end of the scene.

Andrew said...

I agree with those who hated The English Patient. What an overrated piece of garbage. The whole time I was wondering what on earth was the point. When the main character emerged from the cave carrying his dead lover (spoiler alert) I felt zero emotion.

Roger Sweeny said...

Even with better understanding of the grammar of film, I wasn't patient with the filmmaker's approach to storytelling,

That's how I felt watching Lawrence of Arabia for the first time recently.

mockturtle said...

My brother had a thing for Julie Christie. I think it was her pouty lower lip more than anything else. He always seemed to like a pouty lower lip.

Roger Sweeny said...

Rick T. brought up Bobby Bare's Numbers.

5:06 of your life that you won't considered wasted.

rcocean said...

Julie Christie is one of those actress that i have mixed feelings about. Sometimes she looks super beautiful and then from other angles she looks strange - almost plastic or robotic. The other problem with the movie is Omar Sharriff. I don't buy him as a Russian. Or maybe Dr. Zhivago is supposed to be an Armenian or Turk who ended up in Moscow.

rcocean said...

I liked her better in Shampoo (even though its a crappy movie). Also good in Petulia and Darling - which were also mediocre movies. Dr. Zhivago is a weird cold war movie that tries to strip all the horror and atrocity from the Russian Civil War. The Bolsheviks were the bad guys, but you'd never know it from watching the movie. But its not really pro-communist either. As some critic said in 1965:

"In the film the revolution is reduced to a series of rather annoying occurrences; getting firewood, finding a seat on a train, and a lot of nasty proles being tiresome. Whatever one thinks of the Russian Revolution it was certainly more than a series of consumer problems.

rcocean said...

I've seen the movie 3 times in 30 years and I still don't know who Tom Courtney's Character (Strelnikov) is supposed to be. Is he a White or Red? Its impossible to tell. The movie is only enjoyable for some beautiful set pieces, various scenes, and the music. Rod Steiger is good too.

Last time i watched on DVD and skipped around. I don't think I could handle 3 hours in a theater - even though that's where it should be seen.

JMS said...

I too thought DZ was strange and confusing the first time I saw it. It seems like one of those movies where the studios say “what are we going do for this year’s historical blockbuster, where we hire a bunch of big stars, do some wide-angle landscape shots, and throw in a bunch of horses, a war and a love triangle.” No surprise, DZ won big at both the box office and awards season. But few critics liked it, and Pauline Kael said Lean’s "method is basically primitive, admired by the same sort of people who are delighted when a stage set has running water or a painted horse looks real enough to ride." I recently watched How the West was Won (1962) and Ben Hur (1959) on late-night TV and I feel the same way about them. And I didn’t like two other historical films that were also big 1960s award winners--Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Cleopatra--for the same reason, although I haven’t watched them in years.

Sydney said...

This is the first movie in your project that I also saw in a theater. It must have been the first movie I ever saw in a theater because I was three years old. Why on earth my parents took a three year old to that movie, I will never know. Maybe they couldn't find a baby sitter. Anyways, even though I was so young, I remember the movie because the funeral scene when they bury Zhivago's mother frightened me so much. I wanted no more of that movie. I remember making myself fall asleep so I wouldn't have to watch anymore. To this day, that's what I do when I'm at a movie with my family that I don't like. I make myself go to sleep.
I watched it again for the first time a few years ago. My adult self agrees with Althouse's analysis.

Tina Trent said...

Pasternak was forced to write obliquely about the revolution. He could be killed if he criticized anything directly. He could be killed for displeasing one government functionary. But he also could not refuse to write because the state demanded that their great poet produce stories glorifying the revolution that killed twenty million and destroyed all privacy and all freedom. It was a command performance. So there are layers of coded meaning, an internal samizat, throughout the story. Still Zhivago did not pass the censors. Pasternak could have gone to the gulag. The book had to be smuggled out of the country to be published. Pasternak, like Zhivago, then could not give up on his country and obliquely refused to receive the Nobel Prize. His life was in danger. He was not free to not write but tried to say some true things behind the requisite admiring scenes praising the communists, Zhivago praising the old woman enforcer who takes his library.

Knowing these things makes the film much more interesting. The ambiguity is a courageous gesture. Romance is deemed reactionary but Pasternak insists on it. We sit here fat and happy and wonder why the movie seems impenetrable, but knowing a little history reveals the actual drama. Loving and writing something true while being ground between the millstone of communist oppression is the real action.