Today there is snow in the woods outside our cottage. The white pines are lilting on the white sugar hill, as honest and elegant as haiku. The beauty of it reminds me of a scene from the David Lean film ‘Dr. Zhivago’, based on the novel by Boris Pasternak. In the twenty years since I watched it, the particulars of the love story have faded, but my fascination with the ice palace has not.
In order to create the look of an abandoned summer estate, reclaimed in the midst of a Russian winter, the design department formed much of the set from beeswax, which registered as ice and snow on camera. Knowing the trick of their creation makes it no less romantic and intriguing to me.
Studying the still above for details, I now marvel at design elements that did not stand out to me when I was a callow teen, watching the soap operatic tale unfold over the top of a cereal bowl. The byzantine carving of the cornice in the grand entry, to include the stags emerging from the pillars, underscores the opulence of the home. While the bass relief is refined, the use of leaves and animals speaks of Russian folklore, recalling grim and magical stories of wolves attacking wedding parties deep within frozen forests. The decision to leave the crystal chandelier clear and sparkling enlivens the shot and harkens the glamor of balmy days passed, when the house overflowed with guests. The fragrance of orchids and caravan teas would have filled the halls; piano music would have rumbled lustily from a distant salon.
In the story of Dr. Zhivago, our lovers find and take possession of the abandoned home, living for a while in happiness in its remote splendor. The milky dream scape captured above is chased away by hearth fires, but the house that emerges is lost to my memory. Only the bitter frost version stuck with me, much like the home of Mrs. Haversham in Dickens’ classic ‘Great Expectations’. That is another of my fascinations. Though I enjoy the craft of making homes warm and friendly, I have a never ending love for scenes of lost places, windows crusted with frost, corners strewn with webs and everything silvered by chill and dust. The absence of cheer and order is somehow more intriguing to me than the presence of it.