A Kind of Love That Lasts

Epic romances survive,but making them is not easy.

Written by Nandini Nair | Published: January 8, 2011 11:37:08 pm

Theirs is the kind of love that has lasted — David Lean’s Dr Zhivago (1965) and Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (that was made in 1939!). Newly restored prints of these two films have been released in a double pack,complete with special features. Handsome men,beautiful women,love and war — enough for an epic romance,one in Russia and the other in America.

Once you are done with all of that,turn to “Special features” of Dr Zhivago. It would be of interest to anyone who is seeing the movie for the first time or the twentieth. Omar Sharif says he was surprised at being offered the lead role as “most people knew me as an Arab riding a camel (in Lawrence of Arabia),and not as a Russian poet”. To perk the cheek bones and narrow his eyes,to make him look suitably Russian,he waxed his hair line and had to wear an elastic band that stretched out his features.

Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin’s daughter),who played Zhivago’s wife Tonya,talks about director David Lean’s attention to detail and devotion to perfection. The shooting,she recalls,had its share of bad luck. In a scene in a burnt-out village where an old woman runs to get on the train,they used a real train in motion. The actor playing the old woman came under the wheels of the train and got badly injured. Lean just said,“Dress the double.”

Lean’s commitment to the movie was evident even in the creation of the sets. The entire movie was shot in Spain; Moscow was created outside Madrid. The famous ice house was made from beeswax,and snowscape from marble dust.

The special features include fascinating information on Boris Pasternak. Dr Zhivago,which took him 10 years to write,is also autobiographical,as he too loved two women. There is an interview with Pasternak’s “Lara”,Olga Ivinskaya who was forced to serve two prison sentences in a Soviet work camp. The sublime achievement of both the movie and book,Chaplin says,is that Yuri goes from his wife’s bed to his lover’s bed — and the audience understands why.

If Gone with the Wind,with Vivian Leigh torn between Clark Gable and Leslie Howard,doesn’t have a great special features section,do you,frankly,give a damn? If you do,then there is an audio commentary by Rudy Behlmer,film historian and author of Memo from David O. Selznick.

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