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How the movies led me to Russia

In 1965, my parents took me and a school friend to the Elmwood Cinema in Elmwood, Connecticut, to see the just-released David Lean epic Doctor Zhivago. That was in the days when big, serious films had overtures and intermissions, and Doctor Zhivago was nothing if not serious and big, with a super-sized running time of 192 minutes and a balalaika-spiked Oscar-winning score by Maurice Jarre that contained a hit tune ("Somewhere My Love") that saturated the airwaves for months.
I was enthralled.
Lean's desperately romantic and passionate film, released at a moment when the United States and USSR were locked in the deadly nuclear competition of the Cold War, sent me on a quest for deeper knowledge of all things Russian. I began to read the novels of Dostoyevsky and, a few years later, began studying Russian, taking the first steps on a lifelong crusade to conquer and penetrate that most challenging and rewarding of languages. Doctor Zhivago humanized Russia for me, transporting me far beyond the small faded New England clock city where I had spent my life to date to a vivid and exciting world that on the screen loomed so much more real and important than my own. There was Russia, right on the screen just a few hundred feet away, alluring and seemingly attainable. I could almost reach out and touch it.
No wonder Vladimir Ilych Lenin had once called cinema "the most important of all the arts." Images seen on the screen have a way of overwhelming and superseding all others.
In time, I came to recognize how artificial, inaccurate and manipulative was the image of Russia presented in Doctor Zhivago, and in other films about Russia that emerged from Hollywood. But they infected me with a fascination and love for Russian history and culture that has enriched my life beyond measure. 
And eventually, these films led me to the work of Lewis Milestone, an immigrant from the Russian Empire who came to the United States on the eve of World War I seeking a new life, but never forgot the country or culture he came from.

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