Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The restored War and Peace opens Friday at Lincoln Center

This is a repost of my piece on WAR AND PEACE which ran way back in 2011. The the film getting a new restoration and screenings starting Friday at Lincoln Center here are my thoughts.

Arguably the greatest, or one of the greatest films ever made. The six and a half hour International running time caused the film to be screened in two parts (and its still several hours short of it’s full length). The extreme running time also resulted in the film being referred to as a joke, except it’s not, even to the point of winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

It was originally shot as four separate films that were released in Soviet theaters over a period of four years. The film was then cut together and the cut down for international release. As one of the extras on the Rusico release the head of Mosfilm, which produced the film, says that it’s the international release that became the only existing copy of the film anywhere, even in the Soviet Union. When it came time to restore the film (at a cost of several million dollars) a search had to be made across the globe in order to find elements of the film that they could use and restore. It was only through chance that they found an odd print here or there. The film was then restored digitally, and as of the time the restored films (they returned the one film to four) they never struck a new print. (The film was semi-recently released into theaters once more by a company who ignored my questions about their restoration. Like why their cuts of the four parts of the film varied wildly in running time from any known prints)

First off when you see this film, do your best to see it widescreen. For years Kultur had a version on VHS and on early DVD that was so cropped that one section of the film was called 81 instead of 1812.

Second try and find the longest and most complete version you possible. Right now the Rusico restoration seems to be the most complete and with all it’s additional goodies is the best way to go. It adds back in well over an hour of footage that makes things much clearer and deeper. This version also comes with an English dub, which while not ideal, does make watching an almost 8 hour long film easier than reading subtitles all that time (The restored footage is however in Russian and will play with subtitles automatically if you are watching it in English).

For me watching the film is like going into an isolation tank.I’ll start the film, fight with it for about 15 or 20 minutes before I click with it and I find that I’m in Russia for the next 8 plus hours of a weekend or several weeknights.

As great as the film is over all, the film, as it unwinds, is wildly uneven, going from truly amazing to almost laughably bad often with in the same sequence. There is huge spectacle and small human drama. There is a kind of whiplash to it all, but at the same time the film sucks you in and shows you events and people in a way that almost no other film has ever managed. Rarely have I ever felt that I’ve gotten to really know a character, any character, so thoroughly as I do here. (which one? all of them)

I can't say enough good about the film.

Actually the problem with this film is that it's considered a joke. The whole idea of War and Peace is a punchline and it carries with it certain connotations. Trust me I had reservations. When I first started the film for the first time I expected to see a film that was a joke. What I got was a film that blew me away. It changed the way I saw Film. Actually what I got was a film that had me chasing fuller and fuller copies across the globe.

The film is simply put one of the greatest films ever made

Yes, I know I haven't gone into details. I haven't gone into the story of the Russian nobles fleeing Napoleon and trying to make sense of life. I haven't gone in to the breath taking look of the film. I haven't mentioned the shattering performances. I haven't done so because if you haven never seen the film and are reluctant to see it there is nothing I can say to make you see it. The only way to do so would be to kidnap you and force you to see it.

I can't do that.

The only thing I can do is say see this movie because you really need to see this. (okay I could probably send you all copies of the film but I don't have that kind of money)

You want a great film, see this film.And if you've ever seen this film but only saw it on TV in a pan and scan version see it restored and wide screen, because until you've seen this widescreen and restored you haven't seen it.

This is the top of the heap as far as I'm concerned. It's as good as movies get--and it's a great film both emotionally and intellectually.

See this film and see the world differently.

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