In its expression of the epic, cinema has shifted from the battlefield to the computer, generating worlds beyond belief from bits of code. Hollywood—forever wary of the shrinking screen—embraced the live-action epic as a foundational genre, grown spectacular in the 1950s in a thwarted attempt to divert audiences from their newly purchased television sets. Millions of dollars were spent, millions were often lost, and even the masters of the form—Cecil B. DeMille, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, David Lean—were constrained by time, budget, and the whims of their producers.
No such limitations impeded the completion of Sergey Bondarchuk’s WAR AND PEACE (1966), the greatest epic in cinematic history and a Cold War triumph of Soviet filmmaking. This seven-hour retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s work was filmed over the course of five years, cost $100,000,000 (pre-inflation), and employed over 100,000 actors—including regiments of Red Army troops who precisely re-enacted Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.
So, the battles are here—as is the jaw-dropping sacking and burning of Moscow—but so are the day-to-day dramas of Bondarchuk’s three aristocratic protagonists: Prince Andrei (VyacheslavTikhonov), Natasha (dancer LudmilaSavelyeva), and Pierre (Bondarchuk himself). For Tolstoy, WAR AND PEACE was more of a philosophical explication than a novel, and Bondarchuk does not neglect the author’s theoretical digressions motivation, will, memory, and regret.
This weekend in Santa Monica, the American Cinematheque presents a screening of a new digital restoration of this four-part masterpiece, with an encore in Hollywood in April.
War and Peace stills courtesy Mosfilm. From top: firing squad; LudmilaSavelyeva (right) as Natasha at her first society ball; VyacheslavTikhonov, as Andrei, on the battlefield (2); religious procession.
“I was always pro-artist because I was well aware that what I knew about art I learned from artists—not from criticism… [Robert Smithson] went to Max’s Kansas City every other night, and he’d bring a question to be discussed; he’d come ready to talk. I was there rarely, but I love to argue, so I’d argue with him… I liked him, but I always said he was a more important writer than he was an artist, and that pissed him off—for good reason, I guess.” — Lucy Lippard*
Following a Getty Center screening of RobertSmithson’s Spiral Jetty and Charles and Ray Eames’s Powers of Ten—in conjunction with an exhibition on monumentality—TacitaDean, Edward Ranney, and writer-activist Lucy Lippard will talk about their engagement with land art.
“I’ve always liked what feels like the impossibility of writing about images, and I always welcome the chance to mess around with form in ways that try to address that… Writing parallel to art, or collaborating with it, is what I’ve been trying to do, and it’s certainly more fun than just acting alone.” — Lippard*
From top: El Anatsui, Flag for a New World Power, 2004, aluminum and copper wire; El Anatsui, courtesy the artist; ElAnatsui, Gravity and Grace, 2010, aluminum and copper wire. Images courtesy the artist and Haus der Kunst.
“As much as I’m engaged with it, with violence, I remain ever hopeful that change is possible and necessary, and that we will get there. I believe that strongly, and representing that matters to me: a sense of aspiration, a sense of good will, a sense of hope, a sense of this idea that one has the right, that we have the right to be as we are.” — Carrie Mae Weems*
The timeless themes of political power, social justice, gender oppression, and valiant persistence are brought to life in a modern context in PAST TENSE, Carrie Mae Weems’ multimedia take on Antigone.
Combining music, spoken word, video, and projected images, PAST TENSE—presented this week in Los Angeles by CAPUCLA—includes works by poet Carl Hancock Rux and composer Craig Harris, and will be performed by Weems, Eisa Davis, Francesca Harper, David Parker, Imani Uzuri, and Alicia Hall Moran, who brought the house down at Disney Hall earlier this week in Bryce Dessner’s Triptych.
*Megan O’Grady, “Carrie Mae Weems,” T: The New York Times Style Magazine, October 21, 2018, 140.
From top: Carrie Mae Weems, Past Tense, in performance; Past Tense production photographs (2) by WilliamStrugs; Carrie Mae Weems, portrait by Jerry Klineberg; Past Tense, in performance with, from right, Alicia Hall Moran, Imani Uzuri, and Eisa Davis. Images courtesy CAP UCLA.