Bondarchuk's War and Peace
Literary Classic to Soviet Cinematic Epic
Denise J. Youngblood
Sergei Bondarchuks War and Peace, one of the worlds greatest film epics, originated as a consequence of the Cold War. Conceived as a response to King Vidors War and Peace, Bondarchuks surpassed that film in every way, giving the USSR one small victory in the cultural Cold War for hearts and minds. This book, taking up Bondarchuks masterpiece as a Cold War film, an epic, a literary adaptation, a historical drama, and a rival to Vidors Hollywood version, recovers—and expands—a lost chapter in the cultural and political history of the twentieth century.
Like many great works of literature, Tolstoys epic tale proved a major challenge to filmmakers. After several early efforts to capture the storys grandeur, it was not until 1956 that King Vidor dared to bring War and Peace to the big screen. American critics were lukewarm about the film, but it was shown in the Soviet Union to popular acclaim. This book tells the story of how the Soviet government, military, and culture ministry—all eager to reclaim this Russian masterpiece from their Cold War enemies—pulled together to make Bondarchuks War and Peace possible. Bondarchuk, an actor who had directed only one film, was an unlikely choice for director, and yet he produced one of the great works of Soviet cinema, a worthy homage to Tolstoys masterpiece—an achievement only sweetened when Russias Cold War adversary recognized it with the Academy Awards Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1968.
“Youngblood shows how a careful, scholarly comprehensive treatment of a film subject can be presented in a short, accessible format.”
“Anyone interested in war film will certainly find this of great value.”
—New York Military Affairs SymposiumSee all reviews...
“Denise Youngblood, the premiere scholar of Russian/Soviet cinema studies in the West, here applies her expertise to one of the most gargantuan films ever made: the Soviet version of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. the results are superb. . . . This is richly engaging, highly insightful cultural history that out ought to elicit applause from anyone interested in film, Tolstoy, or Soviet studies.”
—The Russian Review
“As Youngblood argues in her engrossing book, Sergei Bondarchuk’s film adaptation should be considered an epic, one that captures many important aspects of Soviet culture in the 1960s.”
—Stephen M. Norris, author of Blockbuster History in the New Russia: Movies, Memory, and Patriotism
“A tour de force . . . Every class in film studies, Russian literature, and Cold War history will greatly benefit from this book.”
—Anna Lawton, author of Before the Fall: Soviet Cinema in the Gorbachev Years
“A highly informative and engaging book that will appeal to film buffs, Tolstoy aficionados, and scholars alike. ”
—Andrew D. Kaufman, author of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled TimesSee fewer reviews...
Denise Youngblood examines the film as an epic (and at seven hours long, released in four parts, at a cost of nearly $700,000,000 in todays dollars, it was certainly that), a literary adaptation, a complex reflection on history, and a significant artifact of the cultural Cold War between the US and the USSR. From its various angles, the book shows us Bondarchuks extraordinary film in its many dimensions—aesthetic, political, and historical—even as it reveals what the film tells us about how Soviet patriotism and historical memory were constructed during the Cold War.