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Last week, I received the awesome privilege of being able to watch
Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen at a local theater. I have seen
this film multiple times. In fact, I own a DVD copy, but I have never
seen it magnified. And yes, it makes a difference. You can actually see
the grains of sand blowing around the Nefud desert. You feel the sun
burning down as Lawrence rides through the scorching Devil's Anvil. And
more than once, you see those blue penetrating eyes staring straight
into your heart and know how a skinny, white British soldier inspired
the Arab people to almost free themselves once and for all from
This won't be so much of a review as a reflection. Truly reviewing this movie would be a daunting task which I won't attempt now.
If you haven't seen Lawrence, it is an experience worth having. True, at 216 minutes, it is longer than your average film. But unlike some films of this length the viewer stays involved. In fact, at the end of this film, I am always wanting more. It seems impossible that a people group could get so close to their goal only to turn back. And I want to see Lawrence and Sheriff Ali continue their strange, endearing fellowship past what this film shows. And unlike some biopics, we don't see some long drawn out story about how painful Lawrence's childhood was or follow him past his prime to see him sighing over lost opportunities. The ending is abrupt with no sense of conclusion. The whole thing seems like a big buildup to failure, but no one ever said Lawrence of Arabia could be put into a nice, neat box.
At the beginning, T.E. Lawrence is stationed in Cairo in the maps room. He is portrayed as messy, reckless, and somewhat masochistic. He enjoys letting a match burn down to his fingers and "not minding that it hurts." He is called to the general's quarters by Mr. Dryden, of the Arab Bureau, for his knowledge of the Bedouin people. They want to send him to look for the Bedouin people and Prince Feisal. His mission is to assess the situation. That's a somewhat nebulous task, but Lawrence is enthralled. He gets to come out of his hidey hole in the maps room, out into the desert, and away from those stodgy British military folks. Lawrence has an obvious obsession with the Arabian culture and the desert. As we watch him riding his camel, he looks around him like a kid with his first slingshot.
Lawrence's initial encounters with the Arabs are mixed. He gets along well with his guide only to see the man get killed the next day by another Arab merely for drinking from a well. Lawrence sees this as somewhat barbaric, but we can see his eyes sparkle when it happens. This is a physical tell. He has been raised to be a civilized British conservative, but his heart longs for the feuding and bloodthirst of the eastern world.
Lawrence finds Prince Feisal and his people in the midst of a Turkish air strike. He is invited into the tent and speak out of turn. Feisal wants to hear what he has to say. Lawrence seems to desperately want to please this man and to "out-Arab" the Arabs. What is his motivation? Does he truly love the Arab culture so much? Does he wish to glorify himself as the one who could make it work? Is he just suicidal? Is he out to prove an agenda? Director David Lean (genius) makes the wise choice to leave this open. He never attempts to "explain Lawrence." This is why people are still obsessed with this movie 40 years later. Lawrence is a mystery.
Lawrence breaks with his orders by deciding to do more than assess. He decides to help the Arabs take Damascus and will stop at nothing to make this goal a reality. Not ridicule, not the impassable desert, and especially not "what is written" will keep this white boy from dreaming the impossible dream. He dares to hope, to dream and creates a believer out of Sharif Ali and the rest of the Bedouin peoples.
The film contains moments of grandeur, such as the battle scenes and the train raids. It also includes quiet moments around the fire, like when Sheriff Ali tells Lawrence he can choose his own name. This movie is a symphony, which has dynamics of highs and lows. This is a lost art in the film world today. Above all, there is the desert, which is more than the setting of the movie, it is a living thing which invites Lawrence into its danger and secrets. The desert is the seductress which pulls Lawrence into his long arduous path from conquering hero to possible madman to a man resigned. The dessert brings out the very best in Lawrence, and the very worst.
The dialogue is precise and memorable. The music is gorgeous. The acting is superb. The only problem with this film is that I will never be able to understand who Lawrence truly was. That is the maddening genius of this film. I am going to make a bold statement here. I believe this is as close to being a perfect movie as one can get.
The true story of T.E.Lawrence is hidden somewhere inside his personal memoirs. For the adventure-seeking Englishman from Oxfordshire, the Middle East was a land so remote from his that surely a man could become a hero, if he found the right location or conflict. Lawrence himself was a self taught expert in many of his interests. Having graduated from prestigious places, made him even more sought after by authorities, both academic and military. The film " Lawrence of Arabia " is laced with many actual events taken from Lawrence's own accounts, and it's difficult to separate fact from fiction. That is not really important for the Hollywood version in which Peter O'Toole plays T.E. Lawrence with such uncanny precision, the character overlaps the actual man. To add to the authenticity are the supporting actors such as Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal who is superb in his part. Anthony Quinn is Auda abu Tayi and is so convincing, many actual Arabs on the set accepted him as one. The main actor who gain hundreds of accolades while filming is Omar Sharif who plays Sheriff Ali. Jack Hawkins plays, General Edmund Allenby and Anthony Quayle is Colonel Brighten. The Turkish General is played by none other than Jose Ferrer. Claude Rains is the sly and slippery French minister Mr. Dryden. Arthur Kennedy is the American Newspaperman Jackson Bentley, seeking a story for his readers. When one views the film, it cannot but overwhelm as the vast but beautiful desert scenery and dramatic events convince the audience this film is fantastic in breath and scope. So highly recommended, it has achieved Classic status. ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Firmly cemented in history as one of cinemas greatest achievements, I've yet to come across someone who didn't like or respond to this movie positively in some way. It brings the viewer such a sense of wonder and amazement, it would take a particularly steel gated and disinterested individual to leave this masterpiece and not be affected - this is one of those rare films that can be appreciated on all sorts of levels, and if you are one of those people that don't find life itself interesting, this is one of those rare films that might change your mind. The key dramatic elements are simple: what draws you in to the story is the relationship between two characters that are seemingly so opposite and arrive from such different background that putting them together in the story is like watching a high school chemistry experiment run amok; you are aware of the dangers involved in their pairing, know that while neither is safe around each other, that neither can ever fully trust another, you don't care and want to watch their relationship unfold until the very end. I'm of course speaking about Lawrence and Ali, and their first meeting takes place in one of cinemas greatest scenes. From here on, you're hooked...
To watch "Lawrence Of Arabia" is to be refreshed anew with the power of
film, a visit to a pleasant oasis of perfect delight and contentment
after crossing the arid desert of today's movie scene.
I don't blame modern movie makers. I blame David Lean. He set an impossibly high standard with this film, an epic that plays like serial adventure, with rousing action sequences, multi-layered dialogue, gorgeous camera work, a deep-bodied musical score that feels at one with the desert, and a cast of exceptionally good actors all working at their absolute peaks, led by then-newcomer Peter O'Toole in the title role.
His Lawrence is both bigger than life and quaintly eccentric, rubbing his fellow British officers the wrong way when we first meet him as a humble mapmaker in Cairo.
"I can't make out whether you are bloody madman or just half-witted," says the general who sees him off on his new assignment, "appreciating the situation" among Bedouin warriors fighting the Turks in a World War I backwater.
"I have the same problem, sir," is Lawrence's reply.
O'Toole plays him as a consummate dreamer, unhappy in his Western skin and desirous of challenge and change, and for that ultimately no small risk to himself and others. This is soon revealed when he generously presents a revolver to his Bedouin guide Tafas (Zia Mohyeddin does a lot to establish the film's early exotic tone before bigger names arrive to play the Arab parts). Later, Tafas is killed by the gift when he attempts to use it on a strange figure approaching him and Lawrence across the mirror-like horizon. As time passes, we discover how dangerous Lawrence's gift of military power can be for other Arabs, too, and how that doubles back on Lawrence. "Lawrence is a sword that cuts both ways," observes Alec Guinness's sly Prince Feisal late in the film, at which point Lawrence himself is about cut to ribbons.
Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn are very, very good playing off Lawrence and each other. Sharif is a revelation as Ali, shifting from dangerous adversary to calming ally and finally disaffected brother of Lawrence, the moral center as Lawrence strays into bloodlust and self-deification. Quinn provides much of the comedy as rival chieftain Auda, yet also the embodiment of Lawrence's unstable situation as he seeks to make a nation of Arabs. Auda doesn't understand the concept of "Arabs." He just sees rival tribes to chivvy with.
One thing you are struck with watching "Lawrence" is it runs nearly four hours but feels more like 90 minutes. That's of course testament to a lot of things, but the editing by Anne V. Coates is not pointed out enough. No scene feels too long, and while that is a product of Lean's direction and a story by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, Coates' clever cutting sets a standard for epics by working "off-the-beat" as it were, anticipating a scene change by making it a half-second early, as in the famous one where Lawrence blows out a match and leads us into the desert. Coates had great fabric to work with, of course, but tailors it perfectly. It's a wonder and a shame she and Lean didn't work together again.
Some films, very good ones, start strong and fade in the stretch. Others build momentum as they go along. "Lawrence" is different. The film grabs you right away, and even as we lose some things we miss, we gain other elements we enjoy, creating an ever-changing spectacle that defines the Hollywood epic in its purest form (made by a Brit in Morocco, I know.) It keeps building like a symphony, unfolding with patient vibrancy like some perfectly realized life outside nature.
Picking the best parts of "Lawrence" may be difficult, but it's easy for me to name my favorite scene. It's whatever part of "Lawrence" I am watching whenever I watch the film. Which isn't often enough!
Anyone foolish enough to think that this is not one of the best movies ever to have been made embodying the very essence of what makes cinema stand out among all other cultural forms of expression should stick to Matrix, Disneyland and Diet Coke. Pointing out its historic inaccuracy is simply redundant as it never claimed to be a documentary, and biopics generically put an emphasis on story development rather than truthfulness (cf. JFK, Patton, etc.). Lamenting the movie's pace is, at best, indicative of your dwindling attention span you might as well ask yourself if the Bible's too long. Finally, bemoaning the over-the-top acting of the entire cast, but most notably O'Toole, is an anachronism as you're dealing with pre-method-acting Hollywood and there's no concern whatsoever with realism, let alone naturalism; besides, the film, more than anything else, is a psychological portrait meant to express (as in "expression") the inner turmoil of its main protagonist in the face of events bigger than life. Not to forget that O'Toole's character is ripe with homo-erotic innuendo, and subsequently his struggle against his inner demons must also be read as a self-denial of his sexuality, as is made obvious in the rape scene. Indeed, not least thanks to O'Toole's ethereal performance, T.E. Lawrence is portrayed as an outsider in every sense of the word, a pariah of both worlds whose acceptance he is desperately seeking. One of the countless merits of Lean's desert western is to make evident this struggle of the individual against society and conventions but also its shortfalls , revealing itself in extreme situations that command extreme feelings. And rather than serving up an insipid happy end (as it would no doubt have to were it produced today), Lawrence of Arabia tells of the factual prevalence of pragmatism over ideals, of society over the individual, of tribalism over humanity, and not least, of war over peace a gloomy message that couldn't possibly be more to the point, here served by a Homeric plot, a legendary score, sweeping photography, and immortal actors.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Number 1 - 1962
Top 10 - All Time
Lawrence of Arabia is a "miracle of a film", David Lean's Arabia is truly "Spectacular and Breathtaking". Released in 1962, the film tells the story of T.E. Lawrence, a British officer with an iconic, straightforward character who was send to Arabia for a simple job and he resulted to fight the Turkish Empire during WWI. Peter O' Toole is truly astonishing as Lawrence, in what is "in my eyes,one of the top performances of all time", Omar Sharif is also great as Ali and of course the great Alec Guiness who plays an Arab King.
Breathtaking Locations, explosive scenes, clever speeches, superb performances and beautiful direction by David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia truly is "one of the greatest films of all time".
"One of the top 5 films of all time. A towering masterpiece"
"The masterpiece of the masterpieces"
"Beautiful, Stunning, Intoxicating Masterpiece with a Gravitas that is still strong today"
"Peter O' Toole delivers a masterful performance, a classic portrayal of a vivid an eccentric figure"
A film which shall surely outlive all of us, "Lawrence of Arabia" continues to have a life of its own. With the cinematography of no less than Freddie Young and Maurice Jarre's brilliant score, director David Lean crafted his -and one of histories'- greatest films. This was Peter O'Toole's first feature film, and many citics consider it to be his finest work. Much of "Lawrence" was filmed in Morocco, not in Arabia as most people assume. Be that as it may, the visual splendor remains as breathtaking as ever 43 years after its original release. Freddie Young won the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography. Maurice Jarre was awared the Oscar for the Best Original Score. David Lean won for Best Director. Peter O'Toole was nominated for Best Actor, but lost out to Gregary Peck for the latter's performance in "To Kill a Mockingbird". The rest, as they say, is history.
Although I am big fan of David lean but somehow this movie remained
unseen for a long time. Maybe I was afraid that it won't live up to the
expectations and it was like "yeah I will watch it sometime". And when
I did finally watch it, I kicked myself for not having watched it
earlier. Over 200 minutes of movie but it was as if I never wanted it
to get over.
Based on the life of a Controversial British Officer T.E. Lawrence who helped Arabs fight Turks during World War I, this movie is a master piece in every aspect. No words can describe the brilliance of Peter O Toole, one great Shakespearean actor of our times, and his portrayal of Lawrence. His eyes said everything and the voice was just an asset which he used brilliantly as well. I can never forget the pained look in his eyes after he led the massacre of train full of turks. And then there is Omar Sharif who was born to do the role of Sheriff Ali.
I have watched it twice and will watch it again whenever I get a chance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lawrence of Arabia is probably my all time favorite film. Right now I'm right on the cusp of finishing Seven Pillars of Wisdom written by the historical Lawrence. What I found interesting in the film was the scene in which Lawrence is captured by the Turks and whipped for punching the Officer. But in the book, Seven Pillars, the officer actually captured Lawrence in order to solicit him for sex, whereupon Lawrence kicked the officer in the groin. The enraged officer then has Lawrence whipped for not pleasuring him, and proceeds to have sex with a Turkish sergeant. I found the contrast between book and movie interesting, but rather necessary for the generic film audience of 1962.
In 1986 at the tender age of 13 I was holidaying in Dorset, England and
visited a tiny country village called Moreton.
It was here, far far away from deserts, sheiks and camels that I first became enthralled by T.E. Lawrence the British Officer who fought alongside the Arabs against the Turks, and who foresaw and tried to prevent the very political tensions we see in the region today.
Why Moreton you may ask? Well that day I found him. There he was at the back of the tiny graveyard, finally tucked away from the world he spent his final years trying to escape. The grave is simple. There are no carved figures of camels or an effigy of a robed desert king or the like, neither does it make any reference whatsoever to the great man he was or what he accomplished. It simply reads T.E. LAWRENCE FELLOW OF ALL SOULS COLLEGE OXFORD.
Intrigued but not yet in full appreciation of what I had just seen, I was determined to learn more about him and I was recommended a book called THE SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM written by Lawrence himself telling in detail his exploits in the desert. However no-one told me that Lawrence was also one of the most superficially intelligent figures of the 20th century and it was so intelligently written that I found it very hard to get through. You yourself would also have to be a fellow of All Souls College Oxford, to have understood it.
Instead I opted for the 1962 film which basically is an adaptation of this great novel. This I understood and was I amazed? Not 'alf.
This ranks as one of my favourite motion pictures if not THE favourite. Of course the real star of the picture is the stunning cinematography, but the all-star cast runs it a very close second.
Peter O'Toole gives a more than adequate portrayal of Lawrence, and I find it amazing that after such a promising start for such a naturally talented actor that none of his subsequent projects lived up to this standard. Alec Guinness is superb as Feisal and seems to have actually changed his race and creed for the role. Jack Hawkins gives General Allenby more of a humane and good natured disposition than the real Allenby deserves, but none the less portrays him well. Claude Raines, as Dryden, shows true English style, with his wit and dead pan attitude even when faced with the worst of news.
Omar Sharif, in his first non-Egyptian film, plays Lawrence's friend and confidant, Ali and it is their love/hate relationship that gives the film it's tenderest moments. And of course special mention for Anthony Quinn who once again proves that he could play anyone, of any age, race or culture with as much conviction as the real thing. Excellent.
What the film fails to explain is what kind of man Lawrence really was. However this cannot be blamed on the director or the actors as Lawrence was so superior of mind it was almost like he was on another plain, even his most closest of companions failed to understand him if of course he understood himself.
I do not find this film too long and on many frequent watches I often have to look at the time to see if four hours have really passed. It is an engrossing story and is told in a manner as to be true to Lawrence and the people who coloured his world. So true in fact that Lawrence is portrayed in a 'warts and all' kind of way giving equal screen-time to both his failings and his triumphs. From his growing enjoyment of killing and his failure to save his friend from quick-sand to the crossing of the Nefud desert and the taking of Akaba, the events are shown true to life. Rarely do we see a story-line where we are made to love, worship and admire a man who also appalls and sickens us in the same film.
One of the few films to actually stay true to the historical facts without studio sensationalism seeping in, it offers realism unlike any film before or since.
It might also interest you to know that this this is the only film I have ever seen that does not feature any women at all. I wonder if it is the only one? If anyone knows the answer to this please let me know.
If you still don't fancy this epic or still think its boring or badly made, try reading the book instead. You'll come back embracing this DVD with three arms.
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