Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Zhivago's Zeitgeist

Zhivago’s Zeitgeist

In 1965, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO made a ton
of money, more than all the other David Lean
films lumped together, but it was created in
its own chaos, and its production blemishes
and secrets were covered up in make up and
costume, conspiracies, politics, and egos.

Everyone wanted to shoot it in Russia,
but the regime of Alexei Koygin
would not allow an imperialist film
based on a banned novel to be
filmed there, so the cameras were
set up mostly in Spain, with some
shots done in Finland substituting for Siberia.
The finished film, considered a classic
love story, was not shown in the
Soviet Union until 1994.

Director: David Lean
Writer: Boris Pasternak (novel)
Robert Bolt (screenplay)
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Omar Sharif Yuri
Julie Christie Lara
Geraldine Chaplin Tonya
Rod Steiger Komarovsky
Tom Courtenay Pasha
Alec Guinness Yevgraf
Rita Tushingham The Girl

Carlo Ponti bought the rights to the novel,
and then hired the entire production crew
who had made LAWRENCE OF ARABIA,
wanting to cast his wife, Sophia Loren,
to play Lara-- but Lean turned her down, saying
“She was too damned tall.”

David Lean wanted Peter O’Toole to play Yuri,
but O’Toole was still angry about the experience
he had with Lean on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.
The producers wanted Albert Finney to play Yuri,
but Lean was still angry at him for turning down
the title role in LAWRENCE. Later Dirk Bogarde
and Max Von Sydow were considered for Yuri.
Lean wanted Marlon Brando to play Komarovsky,
but Brando never returned his calls, so
James Mason was cast, later dropping out before
Rod Steiger snagged the role.

Jane Fonda, Yvette Mimieux, and Sarah Miles
were all approached to play Lara, but Lean
had seen BILLY LIAR, and politicked for Julie
Christie, wisely. He wanted Audrey Hepburn
to play Tonya, but was so impressed with
newcomer Geraldine Chaplin’s audition,
he cast her on the spot.

Pasha: They rode them down, Lara--women and
children, begging for bread. There will be no more
peaceful demonstrations.

The Moscow scenes were shot in Canillas,
a suburb of Madrid, on a ten acre site, with
a replica of the Kremlin stately towering.

Gromeko: They’ve shot the Czar and all his family.
What a savage deed. What’s it for?
Zhivago: It’s to show there’s no going back.

Tagline: A love caught in the fire of revolution.

Now let’s see, Yuri, the good doctor, was married
to Tonya, an aristocrat. Lara was married to Pasha,
who left her to become a revolutionary. Komarovsky
lusted after Lara, and Lara became the muse for
Yuri as poet, star-crossed love mired in the
blood bath of dialectical materialism.

While shooting in Spain in 1964, this was still
the regime of Gen. Francisco Franco, who sent
his secret police to hang around the set, and
infiltrate the crowd scenes. During a major crowd
scene shot at 3 a.m., the extras were singing
the Revolutionary Internationale so loudly,
townsfolk came out of their homes mistakenly
believing that Franco had been overthrown.

Pasha: Yuri, I used to admire your poetry, but I should
not admire it now. The personal life is dead. History
killed it.

At nineteen years old, watching the film,
I did not like Omar Sharif’s watery eyes or
Arabic accent, and I felt that Julie Christie
had been better in John Ford’s YOUNG CASSIDY--
but I did enjoy the fantasy of someday
becoming a writer, and the spirit of
revolution was rampant midst the
melodrama and twisted history lesson,
better served years later in Warren Beatty’s
REDS. I was raised in a very liberal family,
and the patriots of this drama seemed
contrived and pale to me.

Still some semblance of sanity prevailed,
and decades later most of us remember
the romance, the tragic love story, and
have let the limp politics loose in the wind.
Even the Academy sensed the truth,
only giving Oscars for cinematography,
screenplay, and musical score--honoring
none of the acting, directing, or popularity;
and we are left with a salient fact--
Varykino is actually a city to the west
of Moscow, but it is not to the east
in Siberia as the film portrays.

Glenn Buttkus

January 2011

Listed as #40 over on Magpie Tales 50

Would you like the Author to read this poem to you?


Paul Bauck said...

One of my all time favorite films. I've lost count of how many times I've watched it and it still is wonderful. I guess I'm just an old romantic.

Rick Mobbs said...

Interesting notes on a lush film. I didn't know the background but remember being moved (jolted; I was 14) by Julie Christie and mesmerized by Geraldine Chaplin. All production flaws faded next to the magic of a teenage imagination. Glad to see you are still with us.

jannie Funster said...

FABULOUS, as always!!! makes me want to rush out and get the DVD today.

had no idea of Spain and Finland, nor of any of the politicking and such.


Adrian Sparks said...

So interesting!
Why was O'Toole angry with Lean?

Kristen Haskell said...

Wouldn't it be great if another film could be made that would be more historically accurate but just as romantic. I did love Dr. Zhivago but I was so young when I saw it that I ended up believing things that just were not true and that kind of sucks.

Tumblewords: said...

My all time favorite movie. Enjoyed reading the details, which I didn't know. Good post.

Lucy Westenra said...

Lots of interesting background info. on the film. Is it really true that for one scene (Z and L. approaching the dacha) the crew had to stick thousands of autumn leaves onto the bare trees?

Tess Kincaid said...

I like when you read to me. Have you seen the HBO Zhivago series? Of course it can't compare to Lean's version, but it is well done.

(I get lost in Sharif's great pools of eyes. Sigh.)

Glenn Buttkus said...

I did not see the HBO version, but saw a poster for it; starred Kyra Knightly as Lara, right?

Brigid said...

Great movie and interesting post, enjoyed it.

uma.a said...

A detailed explanation of the movie made me to search it in youtube.Love your writing!

gautami tripathy said...

So so good!

zeroing into the arrow