Hearst movie club sees 1965 classic, ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ on big screen
The most recent digital restoration of the 1965 David Lean classic “Doctor Zhivago” looked better than most contemporary films at a Hearst Movie & A Martini screening at the Bethel Cinema.
The film starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie drew more than 140 movie fans on a damp February night and all but a few of the audience members stayed until the end of the three-hour-and-twenty-minute adaptation of the Boris Pasternak classic.
The romantic drama has been a broadcast television, and cable staple for decades, but everyone agreed the epic was meant to be seen on a large screen, with stereophonic sound.
“I tried to show it to my children on television but they couldn’t make it all the way through,” one audience member said. “I wish they could have seen it here.”
Tom Carruthers who runs the weekly FilmFest 52 at the Bethel Cinema — a mix of new independent films and classics — said “Doctor Zhivago” has been a personal favorite since he saw it in his early teens.
“I think it’s amazing to look at — you don’t see cinematography with such detail anymore — and it’s one of the greatest love stories ever,” he said of planning the movie as a special Valentine’s Day event.
The screening recalled the glory days of the 1960s Hollywood epic, when films were presented like plays, with reserved seats. The movies were always preceded by an overture and included a perfectly placed break for an intermission. “Doctor Zhivago” played in exclusive runs in major cities that lasted a year or more. The huge downtown theaters that booked the film only showed it once or twice a day.
Audience members were taken with Julie Christie’s star-making performance as Lara, the young woman who inspires the writing of the doctor/poet Yuri Zhivago, played by Omar Sharif.
Christie went from being a virtual unknown at the start of 1965 to major stardom by the end of the year thanks to the release of “Darling” in the early fall and “Doctor Zhivago” in December. In the spring of 1966 Christie won the best actress Oscar for “Darling,” but many industry observers believed she was given a big boost with the voters after the David Lean picture opened.
The scale of the movie impressed the Bethel audience, especially the fact that Lean had no access to the computer-generated backdrops that are now standard in Hollywood productions. A full scale set of many Moscow streets was built in Spain. Lean and his cameraman Freddie Young sometimes had to wait hours for the perfect lighting and cloud formations that they wanted in their vast landscape shots (those effects could now be achived through computer tweaking).
Alice Hutchinson, who runs Byrd’s Books in Bethel, spoke to the audience before the movie about the Boris Pasternak novel that inspired the film.
Like the character of Yuri in the movie, Pasternak was a poet whose work was suppressed after the Communist revolution of 1917. His writing was seen as being too focused on the personal aspects of life at the expense of the political changes in the country.
“He started working on the novel in 1910, but it wasn’t published until 1957,” Hutchinson said of “Doctor Zhivago.” The manuscript was smuggled out of the country and then published all over the world to great acclaim and huge sales.
Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in 1958, but the Soviet Union would not allow him to travel to Sweden to accept it. Thirty years later, family members accepted the prize.
“The novel only got into the country because of the CIA,” Hutchinson said of copies of “Doctor Zhivago” that were smuggled into the Soviet Union after the book’s international success.
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