The making of Doctor Zhivago

Arguably one of the most famous epic films of the last fifty years, David Lean’s 1965 adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago still continues to garner acclaim world-wide and was recently voted number thirty-nine in the recent AFI (American Film Institute) poll of the best hundred films of all time (‘100 films, 100 years’ www. AFI. com ), yet the road to the silver screen was not a smooth one.

That the novel itself was ever published is the result of both luck, determination and civil disobedience. Semi-autobiographical in nature, an attempt perhaps on Pasternak’s behalf to make sense of some of the horrors he witnessed during the Russian Revolution, even though his limp prevented his being called for active service, Pasternak’s own love of art, beauty and poetry and the ability to discover those things even in a land shadowed by tragedy was mirrored in his protagonist Yuri Zhivago.

Like Zhivago, Pasternak’s own poetry, while affording him a highly respected reputation also resulted in problems with the politicians of the day, with his 1932 autobiographical poem ‘Spectorsky’ resulting in accusations of anti-sociability and leading him to concentrate his time thereafter mainly to the translation of foreign playwrights and poets. (Press Book, Doctor Zhivago, Turner Entertainment Co).

Although parts of Doctor Zhivago were written during the revolution, and also into the 1920s (Wikipedia) it was not until 1954 that the completed novel was to be ready for publication, originally submitted to (and declined by) the Russian journal Novyi mir, the manuscript was smuggled out of the country in 1957 by the Italian publisher Giacomo Feltrinelli , who despite receiving orders form the communist Russian government to return the manuscript unprinted, published the novel in Russian, with English and Italian translations appearing the following year.

Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, but like his hero Zhivago, could not conceive of leaving his beloved Russia and so, due to the communist principles of the ruling state was forced to decline his prize, explaining ‘I am bound to Russia by my birth, my life and my work. For me to leave my country would be to die. ’ (Press Book, Doctor Zhivago, Turner Entertainment Co). Pasternak was to die just two years later, eighteen years before his magnum opus was be published in his home nation.

Acclaimed British film director David Lean, known for such masterpieces as ‘The Bridge Over the River Kwai’ and ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ saw in Pasternak’s story more than simply a story about the Russian revolution, but a highly complex love story, what he himself termed as ‘…the drama, the horror, the turbulence of the Revolution simply provides the canvas against which is told a moving and highly personal love story. ’ (Press Book, Doctor Zhivago, Turner Entertainment Co).

With an estimated budget of eleven million dollars, filming took place between December 1964 and October 1965 with a principle cast including Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Tom Courtenyy and Rod Stieger. (IMDb) The press book for the film claims that over a six month period, around 780 men, including 120 carpenters were responsible for transforming a ten acre area of the Madrid suburb of Canillas into an accurate representation of Revolutionary Moscow.

Filming for the demonstration scene, and the revolutionary chanting accompanying it was said to have been so convincing that local residents at first thought that the demonstration was real and that Spanish Dictator Generalissimo Franco had been deposed, leading to subsequent filming of the scene to be closely monitored by the police. (IMDb)

The two other most famous locations in the film could be said to be the ‘ice palace’ at Varakyno which in reality was fashioned from a specially formed type of wax and the snowy plains of Finland doubling for the Russian Steppes, shown during the long train journey which lead in turn to one of the film industries most famous urban legends – namely that a stuntwoman fell under the train during filming, losing both of her legs. (Snopes.

com) In reality though, although she did indeed fall, and was injured, the injuries were not severe and she returned three weeks later to re-shoot the scene. Above all else though, what is remembered about the film itself is the love triangle of three ordinary people just trying to make sense of love, life and the terrible times they are living in and although the premise of the film itself is in no way a happy one, it stands as a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.

References: Doctor Zhivago Special Edition 2 disc DVD (Warner Home Video) IMDb – The Internet Movie Database – http://www. imdb. com Wikipedia – http://www. en. wikipedia. org Press Book, Doctor Zhivago, Turner Entertainment Co – From the BFI (British Film Institute) http://lean. bfi. org. uk/material. php? theme=1&type=Press%20Book&title=zhivago&folder=dr_zhivago_1&fcount=2 American Film Institute (AFI) http://www. AFI. com Snopes. com – http://www. snopes. com

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