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Whew! I just finished watching War and Peace (1965), and are my eyes tired.


slaytonf
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Not all at once, but even over two days, it got to be an effort.  Funny, reading the book is a great adventure.  But I suppose it's because I only read one or two chapters at a time.  I gorged on the movie three hours or so at a gulp.  It doesn't do full justice to the work.  That's understandable.  I'm the only one who knows how it should be directed.  But Bondarchuk did a fine job.  Even coming close in places to how I would do it.  Another reason might be that War and Peace is a titanic work and unless the movie stretches to twelve hours plus, it wouldn't be possible to get it all in.  And no matter how long it is, you'd be hard-pressed to get in his discourses on history.  Still, at over seven hours it gets most of it.  And it's the best adaptation to date.  That's not saying a lot because there haven't been a lot of adaptations, naturally.  But it is saying a lot, because even if there were, it still would be the best.

Still, there are lots of my favorite things missing.  Like the confrontation at the beginning between Count Rostov and Nikolai about gambling debts.  Or the dog race where Uncle Rostov's hound outpaces all the others.  Or the visit to the barn by Nikolai and Sonia to find out whether they hear knocking or grain shifting (Tolstoy doesn't follow them into the barn, but I would).  And the entire romance between Nikolai Rostov and Princess Maria Bolkonskaya is eliminated. 

Conversely, Bondarchuk spends about an hour on the Battle of Borodino.  I can understand his desire to demonstrate the horrors and devastation of war and the scene was probably so costly he had to make as much use of it as he could to justify the expense.  But after the fifth cavalry charge and the seventh aerial swoop across the smoking  and chaotic battlefield, the brain tends to soften. 

But really it's a terrific movie.  And taken in small doses, would not be overwhelming.  It's divided into four separate movies, so one a day should work well.  Sergey Bondarchuk obviously had all the resources the Soviet movie industry could muster at his disposal.  The production is sumptuous, elaborate.  The sets are--cavernous.  Even the middling aristocracy like the Rostovs live in palaces the British Royal family would feel lost in.  The battle scenes are on a scale many times greater than any movie I've seen, including The Battle of the Bulge (1965), The Longest Day (1962), or Spartacus (1960).  Bondarchuk captures everything from events on a big scale to intimate portraits.  Here's a scene showing the entrance of Alexander I to a ball--Natasha's first:

You get the grand sweep of the Czar entering and starting the ball contrasting with Natasha, young, insecure, terrified at the prospect of being overlooked (not to worry, she'll soon be asked to dance by Prince Andrei). 

Along with the wonderful direction is fine acting.  You'd expect Russian actors to best embody the characters in the novel.  Sergey Bondarchuk himself played Pierre, a great clumsy bear of a man, and from what I can tell, an avatar of Tolstoy himself.  Awkward and uncertain, bumbling through different phases of his life, from hands-on lord-of-the-estate, to fervent Freemason, to The Man on a Mission to Save Russia.  We see his anguish, loving Natasha from afar, devoted to her, despairing of ever attaining her.  Vayacheslov Thikhonov is suitably sardonic as the doomed Prince Andrei, embodying the bleak nihilism of the Russian psyche.  Central to all is Lyudmila Saveleva as Natasha, the greatest woman in all of literature.  It would be unfair to expect an actress to fully realize her in a role, but she comes as close as you can expect any single person to do (you'd have to combine somebody like Natalie Wood with Anna Karina and Vivien Leigh to get her).  But we see Saveleva bring Natasha from pixieish child, through ingenue, to womanhood, battered by history, suffering due to her own naiveté, grieving, heroic, joyous, triumphant.

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One thing I noticed on rewatching it was that the homes of the main aristocratic characters were, while not spartan, not as elaborately decorated as one might expect.  This is true not only on movies that take place later in the century, like The Leopard (1963, about events a century earlier), or The Age of Innocence (1993, about the 1870s), or The Innocent (1976, about the first decade of the 20th century), but also of movies that take place before it like Barry Lyndon (1975, ends in 1789) or Dangerous Liaisons (1988, about the 1780s).  And I have a book by Patricia Roosevelt on the Russian (aristocratic) country house which supports that suggestion.  Incidentally the movie got a nomination for art direction in 1968.  It, and 2001:  A Space Odyssey' s memorable designs lost to Oliver!

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I recorded it and look forward to watching it. I love long movies with great sweep, and I don't think anything tops the more than seven hours of this movie.

I haven't read the book in decades. Just reserved the audio book from the library -- 61 hours, great for the treadmill and long walks. (The three-volume biography of Winston Churchill and The Diary of Samual Pepys audio books which I've recently "read" actually top that.)

The reader of War and Peace is Frederick Davidson, one of my favorite readers. But the Bondarchuk film over four days seems the right approach, as you suggest.

Several years ago, at London's National Theatre, I saw an adaptation of Ibsen's The Emperor and Galilean, a play about Julian the Apostate. Originally about eight hours, the National adapted down to about four. I'd love to see an uncut production of the play, which Ibsen called his major work.

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7 hours ago, Swithin said:

...which Ibsen called his major work.

Yes, but most people will still probably always best remember him as television's Jed Clampett of course.

(...sorry, couldn't resist)

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1 hour ago, LornaHansonForbes said:

it's been a few years, but WAR AND PEACE was on TCM and I started watching and- honestly- I found THE AMOUNT OF MAKEUP WORN BY HENRY FONDA TO BE OFF-PUTTING, i could NOT take it seriously, and I had to turn it off.

See the source image

OOPS Lorna!   Wrong WAR AND PEACE.  :D 

Back in the '70's PBS showed it in two parts.  It does get involved.

I tried once to read the novel and had trouble getting through the first paragraph, letalone the first chapter!  ;) 

Sepiatone

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58 minutes ago, Sepiatone said:

OOPS Lorna!   Wrong WAR AND PEACE.  :D 

Back in the '70's PBS showed it in two parts.  It does get involved.

I tried once to read the novel and had trouble getting through the first paragraph, letalone the first chapter!  ;) 

Sepiatone

ah, okay! I wasn't sure if we were talking about the `1956 KING VIDOR version or not when someone mentioned "it's in three parts."

ok.

got it.

and thanks.

but for the record, HENRY FONDA is still wearing WAY too much make-up in the 1956 version.

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I think I may be the only person to have watched the 2016 BBC miniseries of it with Paul Dano and Lily James. It was shown here on the Hallmark station of all things. I loved it.  I also liked the Audrey Hepburn version, I probably wasn't paying much attention to Henry because I was too much in awe of Audrey.

 

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10 minutes ago, AndreaDoria said:

I think I may be the only person to have watched the 2016 BBC miniseries of it with Paul Dano and Lily James. It was shown here on the Hallmark station of all things. I loved it.  I also liked the Audrey Hepburn version, I probably wasn't paying much attention to Henry because I was too much in awe of Audrey.

 

I watched it and liked it pretty well. Great cast.

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The 1970s 'adult' version of "WAR AND A PIECE" was much shorter at 69 minutes.   🤪 

It got 'Exxxcelent' reviews at the time!  😜

(If DARGO can do a joke then so can I!).  

Seven hours is a long slog -- even if the movie is 'Very Good' to 'Excellent".  If I watched the movie over 2 or 3 days I'd likely forget what I saw the day before!  I've noticed one's concentration does not improve once one gets older (I'm 49 now). 

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14 hours ago, slaytonf said:

And no matter how long it is, you'd be hard-pressed to get in his discourses on history.

Yeah, because how are you going to compare post-sacking Moscow to an abandoned beehive on screen?  (And if memory serves, there's still another 400 pages of book left after that discourse.)

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Unlike Charlie Brown, I watched the 60's Hank & Audrey version to get a general Cliff-Notes idea of the story, and...immediately wished I knew where to track down the six-hour Russian version.  The US version I found a bit, um, Hollywood-corny, quickly condensing all the meaningful points and What They Meant, but it still felt like a big US studio trying to knock off Gone With the Wind in Napoleonic uniform.

(Otherwise, I like to tackle long roadshow movies in miniseries form, watching one half hour a night over a week.  Less eye strain that way, and lets you ponder what will happen in the next "episode".)

That, and finally getting a few of the jokes in Woody Allen's Love & Death (1975):

 

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1 hour ago, EricJ said:

 The US version I found a bit, um, Hollywood-corny, quickly condensing all the meaningful points and What They Meant, but it still felt like a big US studio trying to knock off Gone With the Wind in Napoleonic uniform.

I got that feeling as soon as I heard the music.  It fairly shouted EPIC PROPORTIONS AND A CAST OF THOUSANDS!

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I watched the whole Anthony Hopkins version, I think it was on YouTube, and then forgot almost everything about it except Fiona Gaunt whose low cut dresses were laughably outrageous.  Way beyond  the woman in the Woody Allen parody.  

War & Peace (1972)

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