Monday, 3 October 2011


DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (David Lean; USA; 1965)

I’m left cold. No matter how I try to frame it, I’m just left utterly utterly cold.
It’s not that I’m averse to epic films. It’s not that I bemoan deviations and abridgements to the original novel, which I read so long ago that I can’t even remember it anyway. It’s not that I’m constantly finding flaws in the acting – true, I’ve seen Alec Guinness, Rod Steiger, and Tom Courtenay pull out better performances, and Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Geraldine Chaplin were just a little too stiff and wooden for my liking, but by and large it’s not the performances that seem to cast an icy chill across my viewing pleasure. It’s not the length – 197 minutes is a breeze, I’ve knocked off much longer films in my time, and have often been riveted for nearly minute. It’s not even that I totally screwed up my viewing experience by watching the film out of sequence – split over two discs, I ridiculously sat through the entire second disc before thinking, “hey, this is odd, where was the opening credit sequence, and why the hell is it ending after only 90 minutesssss hang on, craaaappppppp…….” Yes, I’m sure this hilarious cock-up forever skewed my enjoyment of this film, but, heck, I did the same thing years ago (thus displaying a larger amount of stupidity than I’d like to admit) when I watched Bela Tarr’s 7-hour magnum opus, Satantango – it took me about 40 minutes to realise that I was watching Disc 3, not Disc 2 – but this didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film at all, it merely turned a 7-hour film into an 8-hour film.
It’s just one of those anomalies that seems to occur in the realm of film-viewing. Grand and detail-rich scenes do not matter, and a decade-spanning story-arc does not matter either. Ultiamtely, it seems to be a film trying to be so many different things that it falls between the cracks of it’s own genres. It seems to be presented as a romantic epic, a war epic, action-packed, gripping – posters referred to it as ‘turbulent’ and ‘fiery’.  But it is none of these. It’s defiantly sluggish. It’s interminably lacklustre. It’s like an ant mired in molasses, determined to keep moving forward, but unable to get anywhere.

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