I know, you’re going to laugh, but I’m OK with it. Nothing could separate me from a movie whose dialogue, costumes, characters, music and scenes I know by heart after seeing it so many times — Dr. Zhivago. And when did you last see a film that has, labeled, an overture, an intermission and exit music? I can think of few films that, 44 years after their release, still thrill me with such pleasure: David Lean’s direction, Maurice Jarre’s unforgettable music, Freddie Young’s cinematography, Ron Bolt’s screenplay (the latter three won Oscars for their work on the film.)
Many of its actors went on to greater stardom, from Omar Sharif, (whose own son, Tarek, played him as a small child in the opening scenes), Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie to Klaus Kinski, even then a wild-eyed scary blond I’d later admire in the films of Werner Herzog (I can watch Aguirre, Wrath of God about as often as Dr. Zhivago.) While others, of course, were considered for almost every role, I can’t imagine anyone else in them.
What amazes me is that, having watched Dr. Zhivago again last night, I saw a host of images I’d never seen before. Almost every single scene — I might go back and storyboard it for fun — has a window or a mirror, usually fogged or crusted with snowflakes. The film is a parade of loss and gain, troops and trains and trams and horses and carriages constantly thundering in and racing off again in a tableau of intimacy quickly torn to shreds by external circumstance. Its palette is powerful in its restraint; the only colors throughout are gray, black, white, cream, brown, lavender, punctured with bursts of bright red: blood on snow, fluttering flags atop a speeding train, a Communist star on a hat. Yellow is allowed only twice in more than two hours, in daffodils and sunflowers — transient beauty.
I never noticed before how Tonya’s initial costuming, in the scenes when she is still rich and innocent, is so fluffy she looks like a newborn chick, something that can only survive with constant attention and protection. Lara, poor and compromised, is often draped in lace. Why, carrying his mother’s balalaika throughout his entire life, does Zhivago never learn to play it?
I’ll just have to watch it again.
Do you have a movie you’ve loved as deeply over decades?