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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, released in 1962, is one of the best motion
pictures ever made. Be that as it may, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA contains one
particular scene that is my favorite out of all the thousands of movies
I have viewed over the past 50 years. To my mind, this scene is the
most beautiful, most joyous and wonderful cinematic experience.
So I would like for you to experience this scene from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA as well, but you must do the following. Watch it on the biggest and best screen available to you, turning up the sound to movie theater volume. Additionally, the scene won't be appreciated unless you watch LAWRENCE OF ARABIA from the very beginning, including "The Overture".
The scene begins at night, just before sunrise. Lawrence and his "army" have succeeded in crossing the "sun's anvil" portion of the Nefud desert. Lawrence then notices there is a camel with no rider. It is Gassim's camel; perhaps Gassim fell asleep and fell off the camel and could not catch the camel in time to remount? Lawrence decides to turn back and rescue Gassim if that is the case.
This is where the scene begins. It ends when Lawrence, completely exhausted, looks at the ground and falls onto a mat into a deep sleep. Everything that happens in between is the most enjoyable piece of cinematic art I've ever seen and is now there for you to discover and enjoy. This is all I will reveal.
This film requires no introduction. It's one of the greatest movies ever made if not the best. Truly inspiring. It leaves me with the feeling that I would have liked to have met Lawrence but being born 37 years after his death regrettably this will never happen! I went to see the movie in the National Film Theatre, London in order to see the panorama on the big screen. Well worth the trip even if you have seen the movie on DVD. He was arguably one of the greatest englishmen to walk the earth. Why doesn't anyone make films like this anymore?! Thank God for David Lean's work. Looking forward to viewing this film again and again on DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are films that define a time. There are films that define a genre. There are films that define cinema. 'Lawrence of Arabia' defines all of the above. Within its frames 'Lawrence of Arabia' captures the essence of a man, a time and place with unparalleled cinematic magic. Though a winner of 7 Oscars and one of the Top 100 ticket sellers of all time, most people were not able to see 'Lawrence of Arabia' the way it was intended until 1989 (and I still imagine most people have only seen it during one of its annual Christmas TV viewings). Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Robert Harris deserve massive applause for their efforts to restore this film to its 2.20:1 widescreen, 220 minute glory.
I, myself (thankfully) have never seen any other version of this film. So when I first saw the film it was in its untainted glory and it's an experience I shall never forget. Never before had I seen a film that blurred the lines between storytelling and art so much. Never before had I seen a film so assured in visual storytelling. Never before had I been so transplanted into a film's world. The awesome acting, the stupendous story, the remarkable visuals, the sublime script, the fascinating dialogue and majestic music all combine to make a film like none other.
'Lawrence of Arabia' is played out in five acts, each one of them represents a different part of Lawrence's psyche. The first act is Lawrence's introduction into Arabia where he is very much an Englishman albeit an outcast. The second act concerns his assimilation into Arabia, the taking of Aqaba and his rise to deity. The third portrays Lawrence at the peak of his military career and his growing egotism. The fourth act is his capture, torture, mental breakdown and dissertation of his troops. The fifth concerns his comeback, revenge and both his greatest and most flawed accomplishment: the slaughter of Turks and the liberation of Damascus. Every scene in these acts is essential to the development of his persona. Lean and Bolt raise the question of who Lawrence was, but they never answer the question. This is one factor that brings me back to the film time and time again each time I watch the film I am left with a different perception of Lawrence's character.
The film contains an all star cast including Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins and Claude Rains. Only 'JFK' rivals it in my view. Of course, there was been many all star casts that haven't performed to their usual standards, but it is not the case here. Everyone is on top of there game especially Peter O'Toole who gives the greatest cinematic performance I have ever seen. From extremes of joyous extremes and heated contempt he dominates the screen with undeniable screen presence and charisma. Many an actor would be lost on screen amidst all the sand, but O'Toole never is. Watch Lawrence's scene in the mess hall near the beginning then watch his immense 'No prisoners' scene the change is remarkable. Omar Sharif is also superb and it is easy to see why he became a big international star following his charismatic performance.
I have never been a fan of desert films and find the majority of them boring, but Freddie Young's 70mm widescreen photography brings the desert alive in such an exciting and absorbing way. The film is simply full of memorable and beautiful scenes such as Sharif's introduction, the long pan over the assault on Aqaba or the glorious reveal from a purple flag of Lawrence and Sheriff Ali leading their final army. 'Lawrence of Arabia' is a unique visual experience and one you will not forget in a hurry.
Although it comes in at over three and a half hours, 'Lawrence of Arabia' never lulls and if not for the forced DVD intermission I doubt I would move at all while watching it. The innovative editing (including some of the most famous examples of direct-cutting) keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. There are no gratuitous scenes. Every scene is a required piece of the puzzle. Maurice Jarre's phenomenal music also helps keep the film going. I'm sure some of the scenes of people crossing the desert would have been tedious without his music, but with his majestic music transplanted over the images they are simply compulsive viewing.
The epic action scenes are breath-taking in their scope and execution. But what gives them their impact is that Lean (perhaps limited by censorship laws) is not concerned with the visceral thrill of battle, but rather the effect they have on the battlers. What drives men to war and what do they get from it. And thankfully the action scenes are succinct and progressive with no blasted shaky-cam or CGI troops. Everything you see on screen is real and was performed, which just adds to the gob-smacking sense of the shots. It is this sense of realism that deepens the experience.
If one's respect for 'Lawrence of Arabia' is not enamored after viewing the film, perhaps it will be when thinking that we will NEVER see a film like this again. No studio would take the risk of a project this big that excludes many of their 'key demographics' and 'film rules'. There are no talking parts for women. There is no love interest. There is no happy ending. 'Lawrence of Arabia' a product of Hollywood showing its balls, which for many a year it seems to have lost. 'Lawrence of Arabia' is an awe-inspiring Goliath of cinematic perfection. The best film I can lay claim to having seen.
The moment David Lean makes you aware you are in the hands of a master
comes early on in "Lawrence of Arabia." Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) holds
a lit match close to his lips and with one quick puff of air blows it
out. Before the action is even completed, however, Lean has cut to a
shot of a desert vista, with the sun slowly rising over the lip of the
horizon. It's one of the most famous elliptical edits in cinema
history, second maybe only to the bone/spaceship cut in "2001: A Space
Odyssey." And it's only the first of countless memorable moments in
"Lawrence of Arabia." The appeal of David Lean epics has always been
his ability as a director to maintain an equilibrium between the scope
of his films and the characters in them. Character development is never
sacrificed to massive set pieces or knock-your-socks-off action
sequences. "Lawrence of Arabia" has these elements too, but at heart
it's a character study of one remarkable man. Lean seemed to understand
that impressive landscapes alone are not inherently interesting; but if
you place a fascinating character among those impressive landscapes,
you can have movie magic.
"Lawrence" feels unlike other historical epics of its time. In most "big" films--I'm thinking of movies like "Ben-Hur," "Spartacus," "Cleopatra," all movies that premiered roughly around the same time as "Lawrence"--one gets the sense that directors framed compositions based on how much they were able to fit into their widescreen lenses. One rarely sees characters filmed from anything closer than a medium shot, and usually the background is stuffed to overflowing with garish art direction. Everything feels static and wooden. But in "Lawrence," Lean keeps his frames constantly alive by juxtaposing huge landscape shots with extreme close-ups of actor faces. In one especially brutal scene, after a battle that results in the slaughter of many people, the action cuts to a close-up of O'Toole, looking panicked and crazed, gripping a bloody knife in his hand as if he's reluctant to drop it, obviously both disturbed and titillated by the carnage he just witnessed. It's moments like that---not just an impressive battle scene but a character's reactions to the results of that scene---that set "Lawrence" apart from other standard epics.
And of course, I have to reserve space in my review for the performance of Mr. O'Toole. He is perhaps my favorite actor, not one of the most prolific, but certainly one of the most unpredictable. He has a flair for choosing eccentric characters that give him almost unlimited room in which to perform. He carries "Lawrence of Arabia" almost singlehandedly on his slim shoulders. That's not to say the supporting cast isn't great, but O'Toole towers above them all. O'Toole understands that the most influential figures in history could also be the most difficult and ruthless when they needed to be, and he gives Lawrence an incredibly complex characterization, leaving his audience in doubt as to whether he should be worshiped or feared, or perhaps both.
Lean would never direct an equal to "Lawrence of Arabia" again. His later films are certainly more than watchable, and "A Passage to India" is even quite remarkable in its own way, but we would never get another "Lawrence." Even more reason to appreciate it now.
My Grade: A+
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you are looking for desert vistas, sharp action, excellent acting,
directing and camera- work, this is the film for you. But take
everything you see with a pinch of salt: the filmmakers based the
script entirely on Laurence's memoirs, and are thus guilty of
perpetuating a number of myths, among them:
1 the Arab revolt. Myth: the Araba as a people, rose up in revolt against their Turkish overlords. Truth: only those tribes Prince Feisal, and later, Hussein, had direct influence over rose in revolt, the myth of the Arab revolt was largely conceived and perpetuated by Laurence.
2 leader of the Arab army. Myth: Laurence was the only Britisher leading Arabs. Truth: Laurence was only one of a number of British and Australian officers assigned to lead Arab forces, although he was arguably the most successful.
3 Allenby. Myth: General Allenby was a demanding, unscrupulous man who used Laurence and the Arabs without a second thought. Truth: Allenby had a great deal of respect for Laurence and the Arabs, and vice-versa.
4 British inaction. Myth: while the Arabs were busily fighting the Turks, the British were lazing around in Cairo, accomplishing nothing. Truth: at the time of the Film's opening, the British army had already fought the first and second battles of Gaza, and the vast majority of British and Imperial troops were up at the front, closely facing the Turks
5 Damascus: The greatest myth of all, and quite libelous. Myth: Laurence and the Arab army made it to Damascus a day and a half before the British got there. Truth: The Australian Light Horse, having crossed 400 miles in 6 weeks, made it into Damascus a day ad a half before Laurence and the Arabs got there.
Conclusion: This is not an historically accurate film, so don't watch this for history class, but if it's a good war movie you want, you should try this one out.
I give it 8 stars(9 if they hadn't spent a quarter of the film on desert vistas)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Note: I talk about scenes in the film so there are MILD spoilers.
Yes, Lawrence of Arabia is remembered for desert vistas and sweeping battle scenes. The cinematography is unforgettable, the scale vast. In many ways, it defines "epic," but at the center of Lawrence of Arabia there is a real historical person who was also a hero worthy of classical Greek tragedies: a man whose virtues are his downfall. A lot of people seem to miss this, and often I think fans of the movie even miss quite why there is nothing else out there like it. Every aspect of the film, from the narrative structure to the staging of shots, revolves around exploring not just what T.E. Lawrence did but why he did it, and what it cost him.
The desert is a recurring image, but it's not simply a stunning landscape. Shots linger on vast emptiness, and suggest a blank canvas on which Lawrence can paint whatever he wishes. Profoundly alienated from his family and home culture, Lawrence pulls on the robes and persona of the man he might have been, if he'd been born an Arab. The deeper his insecurities reach, the farther his ambitions must go. He conquers the desert, and the desert conquers him, demanding payment for every personal triumph.
The desert and the visuals of Lawrence of Arabia work in relation to the narrative, characters and themes in a way that would be impossible without 70mm film, without the long, lingering shots that make the desert itself a character. The desert shifts and changes, shimmers and conceals, as mysterious and indefinable as Lawrence himself. Peter O'Toole's performance is mirage-like, with emotions flickering and disappearing. Just as some shots linger on a vast and empty desert, others linger on his face, frozen in a moment of internal conflict.
Director David Lean cuts together close-ups and wide-angle shots to reflect the dual nature of his film as vast epic and intimate portrait, as when Lawrence journeys through the furnace heat of the desert to rescue a lost man. Consider the sequence. A speck in the distance; Lawrence's eyes, lit up in relief and vindication; the man, who has expected to die, almost literally rising from the dead; they move toward each other, two specks becoming one; and finally: the impersonal specks become human beings again.
Robert Bolt's screenplay is elegantly structured to show that the desert exacts a personal price for every public triumph, and that Lawrence's inner and outer identity are constantly in conflict. Lawrence captures a Turkish seaport by crossing the Nefud desert, but this success has required him to execute the very man whose life he just saved from the desert. Returning to Cairo to announce his military triumph, he helplessly watches a young friend drown in quicksand. Grieving and stunned, Lawrence approaches the Suez Canal and is seen by a British motorcyclist. To this man, Lawrence is a speck on the horizon, and when he calls, "Who are you?" we know this is the very question Lawrence is asking himself. The more Lawrence accomplishes, the more of a stranger he becomes to himself -- an unknown speck in the desert within.
Eventually Lawrence must come in from the desert, and rejoin his own race-and-class divided culture. This time, Bolt hides the theme of identity in a way that can only be noticed when the film is seen more than once. At the end of the war, and the movie, a British officer shouts racist insults and slaps Lawrence down to the ground because he is dressed in Arab garb. A few days later, when Lawrence is wearing a British uniform, this same officer is proud to shake Lawrence's hand.
Still later -- but seen at the opening of the film, at Lawrence's funeral -- this very British officer professes his great respect for Lawrence and berates a reporter, who really did spend time with Lawrence, for daring to be cynical about him. And the theme of identity comes full circle. Much as Lawrence fought for ideals his own people did not understand and against personal conflicts few would see, Lawrence of Arabia remains a film of many secrets, offering something new to discover on each viewing. It is the dual nature of Lawrence of Arabia, as an epic and as a personal exploration of the mind, that lifts it to a level of poetry made from images and dreams.
Ironic that the film is like its hero: often celebrated but rarely understood.
I have seen this movie many times. It is a movie to be seen in a large
movie theater on a very wide screen. One of the persons responsible for
the restoration of this great film is my cousin Robert Harris.
Bob did a masterpiece in restoration. He invited me to the opening of the restoration in Los Angeles, and I was introduced to Omar Shariff. Unfortunately, the Cineplex Odean in Centuty City has been demolished to make way for a modern office complex. The demolition of this movie house coincides with the demolition of movie making in this town.
The scene of Ali coming into view on the desert is the best piece of cinematography I have ever seen. This movie prompted my wife and I to travel through Syria, Jordan and Israel, where this movie takes place. I brought with me on this trip Lawrence's autobiography, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom". I used this book to instruct my car and guide to take me to all of the places that Lawrence visited in Syria and Jordan. I even hired a 4 wheel drive vehicle to take me into Wadi Rum, the canyon that Lawrence sung Tum Te tum Te tum. The place really echoed. My Bedu driver took me to a cave at the end of the Wadi where I was introduced to a very old Bedouin who fought with Lawrence during the "Arab Revolt". There was even graffiti on the wall of the cave written by Lawrence's followers.
Before Lawrence involved himself in the "Arab Revolt" he lived among the Arabs in the land once called "The Ottoman Empire", which was administered out of Constantinople. His book discussed his visit to the most preserved Crusader Castle still in existence today in Syria, north of Damascus, Craque DE Chevalier, where the Crusaders held off Saladin during a great siege.
That movie and my visit will never be erased from my memory. Thank you Bob for that wonderful restoration.
This film should be viewed in a big cinema on a big screen. That really
is the only way to truly "feel" the desert scenes in this film
beautifully photographed by Fred A. Young.
This film has influenced so many - Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, etc., etc., but most of all film restorer Robert A. Harris. Mr. Harris along with Jim Painten, brought the film back to life with the magnificent 1989 restoration and director's cut watched over by Sir David Lean and Anne V. Coates, the film's original editor. It is a MUST for all film buffs.
Although the film is over 40 years old, being a period piece it doesn't date. The film re-creates the stiff formality of the British Military of the First World War very nicely bringing to life the pompousness of General Murray, a type not likely to be encountered by today's generation. The odd quirkiness of Lawrence and his many hang-ups are depicted as only O'Toole could have created the character.
The DVD is pretty crisp and clear infrequently revealing the age of the celluloid. It is very exciting but no television can match the awesome landscape created in a large format cinema equipped with real 70 mm projectors. If you have the chance, see it there first (and often, if possible).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie has been the most praised movie by David Lean and is a favorite of Greek television which plays it every year especially during religious holidays. It is a memorable film and has many affinities with A passage to India in the sense that it presents the picture of an unconventional Briton who defying his prejudiced superiors sides with the native underdogs,underdogs from the point of view of the British of course, for, for their own people they are the elite. But differences exist: while Fielding in a passage to India makes a temporary alliance with a falsely accused Indian middle-class doctor, Lawrence forms meaningfull relationships with simple Arabs as the camel boys and the Arab whom he saves with danger of his life. Of course the main course of action is the relationship of the British agents with the indigenous ruling class. The movie is based on the life of a historical personnage T.E. Lawrence, a British archaeologist,spy, adventurer and larger than life personality.The historical veracity of the movie is questionable since as Steven Spielberg said in an interview, this movie genre is not a documentary but creative use of existent historical material- creative logistics comes to mind. Of course art always has to uplift the mundane realities of life, in that case of colonial power politics. As far as we know Lawrence was not the ardent arabophile the movie presents him to be and he was loyal to his country's imperial interests which did not identify with those of the Arabs, that is of the dynasty of Prince Feisal since no institutions as referendums were utilized to express the will of the average Arab, if such a life-form existed then. While the politics of the film is unreliable and murky, its' artistry is great with unforgettable performances of the major and minor protagonists of this drama that was the Arab Revolt.Lawrence, general Allenby, Prince Feisal, the hauitat chief Abu-tayi, the American journalist are all portrayed unforgettably, although I suspect that if one was to meet those personalities in private after having seen the movie(which of course is impossible) he would be disappointed. But of course the role of art is to create role models and icons not to copy mundane reality.
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