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The 13" Test

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 5, 2008 4:15PM

2008_12_5zhivago.jpg How do you know when you've seen a good movie? Try the 13" Test. That is, watch the movie on a 13" TV. If you still like it, if it moves you and thrills you and does all the other things a movie should, then you know it's good.

Doctor Zhivago, which screens at the Siskel on Sunday and Thursday in an archival 35mm print, passes the 13" Test.

The first time we saw it was during college on a TV of just such a size, on low-res pan & scan VHS. And you know what? It was still killer. And it shouldn't have been. It's long (197 minutes); it's got Russian characters played by Egyptian, English and American actors (!); and a cursory reading of the plot suggests that it's nothing more than a soggy love story.

But some movies, beyond all rationality, just work. Master filmmaker David Lean takes Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel, covering four decades of Russian history, and adapts it into a visually stunning and surprisingly sensual epic. It won five Oscars, including Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (there's a stunning frozen ice palace you won't soon forget), Best Cinematography (gorgeous ultra-widescreen Panavision) and Best Score (Maurice Jarre's haunting "Lara's Theme" made its way into thousands of music boxes). More than forty years later, it remains sweeping but intelligent, the perfect movie to get lost in for a few hours. Projected on a big screen at the Siskel, it won't be difficult. And by the way, at both showings there will be a ten-minute intermission.