A big galumphing 70mm Soviet mediocrity, this relic from the Brezhnev era pushed cultural hegemony at home and sought prestige abroad. Sergey Bondarchuk’s alternately jaw-dropping & inert version of WAR AND PEACE/’66 (7'7" and a billion dollars) remains the best known example of the form. Hack director Igor Talankin must have been in the good graces of the party bosses at SovFilm to get this lavish production off the ground; too bad he couldn’t get the infamous SovColor film stock to stabilize tint densities or stop fluttering. Charting the sorrowful life of Pyotr Ilyich as refracted in his compositions might have worked (in fact, it briefly does in a sequence on his opera PIQUE DAME*), but the film mostly sinks toward arbitrary narrative jumps as assorted waxwork figures come & go. And it’s not even bad enough to laugh at, like one of those classical music Hollywood bio-pics. (A SONG TO REMEMBER/’47, anyone?) Adding insult to injury, KINO’s embedded subtitles only display properly in anamorphic mode . . . except it’s not anamorphically mastered! Enlarge the ‘flat’ picture to fill the screen and half the titles disappear.) Long time Hollywood composer Dmitri Tiomkin returned to his Russia roots to exec produce this and to arrange/conduct the musical excerpts (alas, not very well recorded). All told, the film’s about as convincing as a 'Soviet Life' editorial of the day.
DOUBLE-BILL: The same year found Ken Russell mauling Tchaikovsky in THE MUSIC LOVERS/’70, hitting hard on the gay angle that goes missing from the Soviet pic. But to see Russell, and the classical music bio-pic at its best, try his superb tv-film SONG OF SUMMER: FREDERICK DELIUS/’68. OR: *PIQUE DAME fanciers should try to see Thorold Dickinson’s elegant & scary version of it, THE QUEEN OF SPADES/’49, with great perfs from Anton Walbrook & Edith Evans.