After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
An inordinately complex man who has been labeled everything from hero, to charlatan, to sadist, Thomas Edward Lawrence blazed his way to glory in the Arabian desert, then sought anonymity as a common soldier under an assumed name. The story opens with the death of Lawrence in a motorcycle accident in Dorset at the age of 46, then flashbacks to recount his adventures: as a young intelligence officer in Cairo in 1916, he is given leave to investigate the progress of the Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I. In the desert, he organizes a guerrilla army and--for two years--leads the Arabs in harassing the Turks with desert raids, train-wrecking and camel attacks. Eventually, he leads his army northward and helps a British General destroy the power of the Ottoman Empire. Written by
A man has an inner drive that makes him peculiar and intense. He goes to the desert and falls in love with it and its people. Gaining powerful sponsors, he has a grand vision that he accomplishes by inspiring and directing thousands. But in a very short time, that grand work is compromised and disassembled by fat cats in offices who are concerned with different values.
True of both Lawrence and Lean. The legacy of Lawrence is still in violent disarray (I write this a short time after the Sept 11 attacks on New York). But Lean's vision was saved, and what a vision! Of this picture, it can be said that it is perfect if only because it is so visionary that it defines its own rules.
Lean's vision is also lean, with vast zones of sonic and visual silence -- several meditations on the unperceived. Though there is a story (who are you?) this is really a film of TE's 'Seven Pillars,' which creates a romantic vision of sculpted natural forces. So powerful a depiction that Islam experienced a faddish attraction in the West, a place now enjoyed by Tibetan Buddhism. That was before.
See here the original Obiwan, every intonation, movement and dress. See here Peter O'Toole's personality become completely entwined with the character, who is as fictionalized by our eye as by Lowell's. See the most expressive, anthropomorphic train wreck in history.
Watch a particularly interesting brand of acting by the 'Arabs.' Macho men are acting anyway, so an actor can play an actor when he lands such a role.
The star of the film is the clever eye of God, not the clockmaker or judge of the west but the chess player of the mirage. Its face is clearest in my mind when the Turk holds TE down for torture and smiles. Its hand in the creaking of Feisal's tent -- who would ever imagine the wind acting? (Kurosawa's 'Ran' at the beginning is the only other example I know.)
I have a few films I admire for various. mostly intellectual qualities. But in the direct matter of visual storytelling, this one tops my list.
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