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If we're in the mood to do film genealogies, and I am, then Lawrence of
Arabia is probably the inventor of the modern biopic, the perennial
awards-bait genre. (You could maybe posit Citizen Kane as the
originator, but that's really a different kettle of fish.) It examines
a fairly recent historical figure at the prime of their life,
dedicating numerous scenes and most of the dialogue to hammering home
that the central character is a Very Special Person Unlike His
Short-Sighted Bosses, and in this way the film spends a good amount of
time justifying itself. This genre obviously has strengths and flaws,
and they're apparent in Lawrence: the striking personal power as well
as the kind of historical oversimplification and tourism that goes
along with it.
Lawrence of Arabia's main claims to being a great film are David Lean's gorgeous cinematography, stopping the action at several points simply to capture the desert in all its cold grandeur, and the film's final hour, in which Peter O'Toole turns his larger-than-life hero into a desperate, wild-eyed man who can no longer control the violence he's created. The biggest points against it are its indulgent four-hour running time and its unavoidable racism (having two of its major Arab characters played by white actors in brownface is really one of the lesser offences.) With this in mind, it's hard to say whether a contemporary viewer will really enjoy this film. I found it fitfully interesting but ultimately had trouble engaging with it, and felt kind of exhausted by the film. On the other hand, I've been told that it needs to be seen on a big screen for true appreciation, and not my modest laptop monitor, so I don't want to say anything definitive. Whether or not it "holds up", Lawrence of Arabia is a pioneering movie that manages, despite everything, to capture a kind of beauty, and that makes it worth slogging through for anyone genuinely interested in film.
Reading "The seven pillars of wisdom" does enhance the film experience
indeed. Several times you have to hear "No, I didn't know him well, you
know." at his - T.E.Lawrence' - funeral and it will ring some more
bells inside you, if you've read his biography. One might accuse the
film here, that it missed the opportunity to show what his
extraordinarity consisted of other than his control of pain and fear.
But at the time, 1962, it wouldn't have made too much sense to include
those things. Today though... the man is so severely against the modern
grain that it would have been a delightful thing to have him privately
portrayed. He is an anti-future, so to speak, a glimpse on a branch
that history just didn't pursue any further.
So much for Lawrence, now to the film itself. "Lawrence of Arabia" seems to be a monumental film, but all the wide shots do nothing to disturb its personal tone, probably because there is nothing that they capture, just the emptiness of space. Anyway, as such, as the exhibition of emptiness, they don't really work, that's better left to the imagination of the reader or the eyes of the tourist. The important thing though is that they do not disturb the personal tone, which is the quality of the whole film.
That statement might surprise after my prelude, but personal isn't the same as private. In this film we see only ordinary stuff, people getting shot at, arguing, riding horses or camels and laying bombs. Yet artificial as it - as any film - is, it radiates warmth. The characters are convincing. Their dialogue is essential and sometimes, where you'd least expect it, namely in Auda, it is even philosophical, touching Lawrence' religious considerations "It is my pleasure that you dine with me in Wadi Rum!" This exposure of hedonistic thought illuminates a wider principle. What it means to be truly free. So free that you can even choose what you want to believe in, what you want to make the religion of your tribe. And what it means to be truly tolerant.
Now, having stated all that, I still haven't even remotely begun to tell anything about the film's plot, about "big things" in Arabia. How "big" these things were in Lawrence' head, you won't be able to tell by watching the film, the term "New Asia" doesn't occur once, a shame, considering the influence of more recent ideas on the same subject. Still, a "big thing" remains essentially a "big thing", no matter how far you drive your fantasy. And standing against "big things" there'll always be the common things. Verily, both sides do their best to drive each other mad.
And then, there's something more, something elusive that is never clearly mentioned in the film... o.k., enough of that parody. I missed the quote "Preaching is victory. Fighting is illusionary." I did miss that, because it captures the soul of this whole thing and gives the answer.
The story of T. E. Lawrence as he fights for the Arab cause becomes a sprawling screen epic, magnificently photographed under the keen eye of Lean. The film made O'Toole a star and boasts an all-star. This is a fine film, but is extremely overrated. The plot, what little there is of it, is generally uninteresting and rambling, causing the middle part of the film to drag terribly. An hour or so could easily have been trimmed from the middle, thereby producing a tighter and more compelling story. The acting is uneven, with Guinness underacting and Quinn overacting as Arabs. Ultimately, though, the cinematography and score manage to compensate somewhat for the weaknesses in the script.
Lawrence of Arabia......an epic and a saga movie of a man in Arabia and
those lot of things he does between Arabs and European powers. A huge
cinema of a long duration as a memoir told in about 228 minutes (12
minutes less then 4 hours).
Well well well, so far so good.....but let me 'inquire' whats all this fuss about. I mean why was this long and big movie created, won Oscar, and is rated very high? I found this film as a really monotonous, although not complete boring account, plain, colorless, eventfully eventless, dramatically hopeless, forlorn, woebegone, abject-ed journey, despairing account of events that were so so so artificial that such kind of artificiality may be considered as a new kind of film style by movie geeks (scholars).
I will compare it with the title of the film I just found "Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bridge of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On the IMDb discussion boards a few years ago, someone asked what made
"Lawrence of Arabia" (LofA) such an important movie. The poster had
watched the film but was left scratching his head as to why this was
such a significant and revered movie. If you have seen the movie and
are asking yourself the same questions, hopefully this will help.
You might have wondered why this movie lasts almost four hours with an intermission. When LofA was made, going to the cinema to watch a movie was a bigger deal than it is now. It was commonplace for movies to last this long, and lengthy epics with a cast-of-a-thousand were the flavor. This is the only significant quality this movie shares with other contemporary movies of the time.
Obviously, this movie takes place in the Middle East. As far as western audiences were concerned, LofA might as well have taken place on the moon for all that was understood of Arabian culture and history in 1962. LofA transports us to an alien land with strange characters and values. To help tell this story, the movie is anchored by established actors like Sir Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, and Claude Rains. While Hawkins and Rains perform familiar characters, Guinness and Quinn paint credible portraits as Arabic royalty and tribal leader. That their characterizations still ring true today is a testament to their portrayals. Only in the last 10 years or so has western cinema begun to maturely portray Middle Eastern culture. Omar Sharif, one of the few actual Middle Easterners with a prominent role, demonstrates the complex beauty and brutality of this culture.
Of course the real star was newcomer Peter O'Toole. His was a risky casting and proved to be one of the best of all time. The real genius of LofA is its simplicity. Here is the man Lawrence, here is what happened, here's how he felt about it all. This is made possible by O'Toole. At the time, campy presentational acting was still the prominent style of movie acting. O'Toole was part of the new blood of method acting, made en vogue famously by Brando and "On the Waterfront", that was showing the audience, not telling, the emotional fabric of a character. Watch O'Toole's eyes on his close-ups. He communicates more depth and presence than any dialog could provide. He draws the audience in, includes them in his triumphs and despairs, all the while impressing the hope and ambition of Lawrence.
Steering the ship is David Lean. He makes nearly every minute of the movie matter. An important part of the story is the environment of LofA, the desert. It's such an integral part that Lean treats the desert as a character. Lean takes the audience to another world to show how the desert is a huge factor to the method of madness Lawrence finds there; why a man is killed simply for drinking from a water well, why Lawrence is the Giver of Life, why crossing the desert for gold is honorable, why it is important that Arabia be ruled by Arabians, not the British or Turks. There's a scene where Lawrence is crossing the Devil's Anvil. In that sequence Lean includes a shot of a dust devil (the tornado-looking thing) spinning fiercely on the baked ground. If this movie were made today, a CGI-artist would make this. Of course CGI didn't exist in '62, but nonetheless Lean patiently set up in the desert to capture this phenomenon and include it. It's a small color, but important the vast and vibrant world he communicates.
If this movie were made today, it would be filled with snappy dialog and probably focus on big action sequences. Lean makes every minute of the movie matter because everything that happens serves the characters. The movie lasts nearly four hours, not because that was the style of movies in that era, but because it takes that long to diligently explore the characters of Lawrence, Feisal, Sheriff Ali, and abu Tayi. Lean's direction and crafting was revolutionary. The movie stills holds currency in our modern culture because the movie's direction, acting, and characterizations ARE timeless and of no particular era.
There are a thousand variables that make a great movie, but if you're looking for the important qualities to latch on to, it's how this movie is timeless. This movie was a radical departure from the hammy "epics" of the time and set a nearly unreachable standard for every movie that follows. It was great in 1962, great today, and will be great in 50 years.
I should probably throw on a pair of asbestos overalls if I plan to
insult the classics. It just needs to be said that the old movies are
I tried liking the Manchurian Candidate, but it didn't get my heart racing. Citizen Kane almost put me to sleep. Even some of the newer "must-sees" like Marathon Man were less than appealing.
But finally, I can give an solid 8 out of 10 to a classic movie. While Lawrence's running time has put a dent in my free time, I can honestly say that the adventurous story was well worth watching. There were grand scenes and great fights. While melodramatic in some parts, most of the acting was good.
Lawrence of Arabia is the best classic I've watched so far. I recommend it to anyone who's a fan of the epic adventure movies.
After three hours of watching this film I went and had a bath and when I came back it was still going. Why we're all expected to swoon over this film I don't know. I always found it a colossal bore. Okay, nice scenery but it's basically yellow and flat. The endless vanities and self aggrandisements of the characters are supposed to enthrall us I suspose. Lawrence walking along the top of the train to stirring music is supposed to do what exactly? Having to shoot the man he laboured so hard to save and at great personal risk was the only interesting irony that compelled me a bit. I can't bear Lean's films.
When I first saw Lawrence of Arabia, I was 16 and my teacher had loaned
it to me as he suspected that I might enjoy it, much unlike students in
his previous classes. I actually expected the film to be an incredibly
boring four hours in the desert, but my opinion had changed almost as
quickly as the movie had started. I was amazed by the characters, the
graceful and witty dialog, the never-ending presentation of amazing
shots, and of course, the character of T.E. Lawrence.
To understand that a film crew had to go out there and film rare and beautiful desert phenomena, without the aid of modern visual effects technology or even a SINGLE matte painting presented an incredible feeling. Before watching this film, I was under the impression that beauty was better recreated in artifice than actually filmed. I thought that only the skill of a matte painter could produce such beauty. No. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the desert, by the magnificent and colossal natural structures in Wadi Rum and the seemingly infinite vacuous space covering the land. It was difficult to believe that there are actual places on earth like these.
Second, the script was brilliant. I had a bit of trouble following the plot, but it mattered not; I was too busy admiring the visuals and the almost poetic dialog. On my second viewing, I had no trouble understanding the plot.
In short, this is perhaps the most beautiful film I've ever seen.
Though, I must warn: The movie is heavily fictionalized. The historical inaccuracies are numerous, however they don't take away from the film at all.
In fact, not long after purchasing the film for myself, I've done quite a bit of reading about the Arab Revolt, T.E. Lawrence, and the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
There are so many excellent insightful comments, here, I will only add
1. Like many others, I consider this the greatest movie ever made. 2. I consider Peter O'Toole's performance the single greatest acting performance in the history of cinema. 3. What never fails to amaze me is that it is an awesome epic with the brilliant dialog of the best, intimate play.
In "Amadeus", Salieri says about one of Mozart's pieces, "Displace one note and there would be diminishment". That's the way I feel about this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Seems that all modern movie to have the large computer effects to make great film. Not true with this old film. Seems good today as was when released decades ago. Movie show classic heroism as lone British operative help to unite the Arab people to fight the brutal Turk empire. Thomas Edward Lawrence is name of real life person who did this for British to help remove the destruction of the areas touch by Turkish armies in the Middle East areas. This movie also contains the acting by many famous actors. Most important is the film have one of the best direction a film could have. Film has some very dramatic moments such as scary Turkish torture scene and also the large build up to big battle scenes. Film also contain the stunning large amount of extras in the background. No computer gimmick like in the film today. Every person you see in scenes with thousands is actual real person! Film is as good as any film could be. Please hope that nobody says that book not like film or that they have too many differences with book since this film one of the best. Film truly worth 10/10.
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