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This masterpiece could likely never be produced today, and the reasons for this go far beyond regional Mideast politics. What studio would enable any director, no matter how talented (and David Lean certainly was) and in possession of any equally brilliant script, the liberty to present a story so matter-of-fact in its portrayal of Britain's accomplishments in the colonial era? Oh, the wave of Leftist angst that would ensue! Yet, in this film David Lean manages to weave an enchanting and historically accurate tale of adventure and struggle, of crisis and achievement, of triumph and tragedy that both informs and uplifts, without modern-day remorse over matters of race, creed or color. The story couldn't be more gripping, the acting more talented, the scenery more breathtaking. This is perhaps the finest war adventure story ever filmed, and will reward any number of repeat viewings.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA C-216min ****(1962)D:David Lean. Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quale, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy. Excellent, blockbuster adventure epic, a biographical account of enigimatic adventurer T.E. Lawrence, a British military officer who played a decisive part in the Arab Revolt in the Arabian desert, in which he leads desert tribes to drive the Ottoman Turks out of Arabia in 1916 during World War I. Beautifully filmed with stunning cinematography by F.A.(Freddie) Young, Lean's inspired direction, Maurice Jaurre's majestic score and fine acting make this classic one of the most universally admired films of all time. Won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay(Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson), Cinematography, Original Score and more. Restored version runs 227 min.
I won't try to compete with the superlatives of others and am less
certain that this movie was the best flick of the 1960s. In that
decade, American "culture" enjoyed a true renaissance, and our films
were as much a reflection of it as was our music, our literature, and
our science. As many good movies were made in a single year back then
as have been made ever since, which is perhaps why Peter O'Toole didn't
win the Academy Award for Best Actor --he had too much competition
(Gregory Peck won it for "To Kill a Mockingbird"). Obviously, however,
"Lawrence of Arabia" was one of the best movies of its time and one of
the best movies ever made. To me, the real star of the movie was the
Arabian Desert (although technically, it was filmed in Morrocco and
Jordan). There was dramatic and arresting physical beauty in its sense
of limitless space and its bleak, wind-whipped desolation. The dunes
with their swirling sands, the dramatic barren mountains, and the
isolated ridges far off in the distance yet easily visible all
contributed to a dreamlike world. Perhaps even more important, and
certainly more relevant to the theme, was the spiritual element
inseparable from the vast emptiness of the broiling desert wilderness.
The gorgeous and highly effective landscape photography firmly
established the setting early in the film. Not unexpectedly, it was
Lawrence's determination to leave the desert that signaled his eventual
demise. His return "home" to England and the shallow, conventional life
it offered led to the motorcycle accident that ultimately killed him.
It seems he had ceased to follow his heart, perhaps because his
experiences in Arabia, which had inspired him to greatness, had at the
same time transformed him into someone he no longer believed in,
understood, or felt he could keep living up to. By war's end,
therefore, he seemed to have outlived his usefulness, if not so much to
his Arab friends (who apparently worshiped him), than in his own mind.
The outstanding performances by Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn (and even Alec Guiness) threatened to upstage O'Toole's Lawrence, but he held his own and made the movie his. As such, it was probably the defining role of his career. It wasn't long, however, before Omar Sharif starred in "Dr. Zhivago" and Anthony Quinn in "Zorba the Greek," no doubt these opportunities arising from their significant part in the making of "Lawrence of Arabia." After watching this movie again, I had a new sense of the Arab's plight, yet had to remind myself not to get carried away. The film was set during WWI, long before Israel became a country, and in that day, the Arabs were the oppressed people fighting for their independence from the Ottoman Empire, a civilization which at the time was well ahead of their own tribal existence and encroaching upon their seemingly cold and detached wilderness ethic. Much has changed since then.
By the way, many years ago I had the opportunity to get a good look at a beautifully restored "Bruff" motorcycle (actually spelled b,r,o,u,g,h). That was the type that Lawrence owned and on which he had his fatal accident, shown in the opening sequence of the film. It looked to be all engine, with a surprising amount of horsepower for motorcycles of that era, which is why it was the fastest racing bike of its time.
I just watched this film today on DVD. It's one of my favorites and I'm just amazed every time I watch it. God, what a beautiful film . . . Although, I have to say, I wasn't crazy about it at first. I came to appreciate it more after watching it two or three times. I know epic films aren't for everyone, but I keep returning to this one time and again. The way the film is shot and edited is breathtaking. The acting is top notch and played to the hilt. What I find most fascinating about this film is the metamorphosis of T.E. Lawrence in the process. He's a man who rises to become a legend who is then repeatedly reminded that he is just a man. How does one face this? It's an interesting journey (and worth watching 100 times!).
There have been some intelligent comments made on this - and the most I
can do is to show why this is my favourite film. Not having been born
when it was made, I have only once had the privilege of seeing it on
the big screen - when the restored version went on limited release
around the country.
As a boy, I undoubtedly appreciated it on the level I appreciated other films about adventure and war. As I have watched it again, I have appreciated and marvelled at the film-making techniques and tricks others have drawn attention to - for example, the lighting of a match in an office leading into action in the desert heat.
However, it is now as a character and historical study I most appreciate it. Reviewers have sometimes complained that the film really helps us understand nothing about Lawrence's motivations and that the desert atmosphere and action are what is paramount. However, that is precisely the point - the T.E. Lawrence of the film does not understand himself. After his early victories and his working of the 'miracle' he was told was needed he sees himself as a prophet, someone for whom 'nothing is written', someone like Moses who is 'beloved of God'. His insecurity about his identity is, however, reflected in his conversation with Ali about being born out of wedlock. And towards the end of the film, after his torture and also after his discussions with Allenby, he has changed from someone for whom mercy is 'a passion' into someone guilty of a massacre of Turks and then contemptuous of the responsibility to care medically for Turkish prisoners. He has assumed some of the barbarism the British, French and Americans have accused the Arabs of - and yet there have been his statements about how his white skin have meant Arab robes could not hide the fact he was not a true Arab! He is indeed a man who does not understand himself - who cannot settle comfortably into the role of either prophetic uniter and deliverer of the Arabs or else the ordinary soldier he sometimes aspires to be.
In terms of history, I find the film interesting in reflecting the divisions between different Arab peoples. Although no expert on Middle East affairs, I wonder if that is a lesson Westerners have failed to learn about the Arab world. And I am also intrigued by the light it casts on colonial interests during World War One - on how, for example, Lawrence was also at the mercy of the politicians. And again, I suspect those are factors whose bearing remains to this day.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is an eccentric British army officer who
is serving as a minor staff officer in Cairo during World War I, until
General Murray (Donald Wolfit), the commander of the Egyptian
Expeditionary Force, is convinced by Dryden (Claude Rains), the
slippery chief of the Arab Bureau, to dispatch Lawrence - who has
knowledge of Arab culture from his pre-war visits to the region - as a
liaison officer to forces of the faltering Arab Revolt against the
Ottoman Empire, led by Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness). Ignoring the
skepticism of the already-present British officer, Colonel Brighton
(Anthony Quayle), he convinces Feisal and the latter's chief
lieutenant, the fiery Sheriff Ali (Omar Sharif), to allow him a small
expedition to seize the Turkish-held seaport of Aqaba, Jordan.
Undertaking an impossible forced march through the Nefud Desert,
Lawrence is successful, becoming first accepted by the Arabs and then
made into a sort of superhero, and succeeds in recruiting the
flamboyant chieftain of the Howeitat tribe, Auda abu Tayi (Anthony
Quinn) to his cause in the process. This catches the attention of the
British general staff in Cairo - including General Edmund Allenby (Jack
Hawkins), who has replaced Murray - who decide to supply Lawrence with
arms and supplies to wage a guerrilla war against Turkey to complement
Allenby's conventional attacks - but with a tight leash, as Britain
(and France) have designs on the Middle East. Encouraged by his
victories and an American journalist (Arthur Kennedy) who is looking
for a hero, Lawrence lets his fame get to his head, thus beginning a
long downward spiral as he discovers his own fallibility, the perfidy
of his commanders, and that, no matter where he is, he must always be
There isn't really a negative thing that can be said about this film. The cinematography and direction is simply the best in any movie ever, there's no doubt about it. Lean is a master of the epic scope, and his amazing, non-stop shots of large bodies of men moving through the vast desert is simply beautiful, and more surprisingly never gets old (at least for me). Freddie Young's cinematography does an excellent job of showing the vastness of the desert, as well as just how insignificant people - even an army of 2,000 Arabs on horse/camel-back - are in it. The entrance of Ali at the well is just an amazing scene, done with no music - nothing but a camera pointed at a black figure emerging from the vast wasteland of the desert. The battle scenes also deserve credit, too: in times when "Lord of the Rings" relies on CGI battle sequences, it's refreshing to watch a film which uses thousands of REAL people. The most amazing of these is the attack on Aqaba, which ends with an amazing thirty-second panning shot, showing the Arabs swarming through the entire town, finally settling on a Turkish cannon that is pointed to the sea "and cannot be turned 'round". The raid on the Turkish supply train, and of course the massacre of the retreating Turks towards the end ("No prisoners!") are no less effective, the latter being a much more potent anti-war message than all of the films of Oliver Stone combined. Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson write a wonderfully literate and thoughtful script (with amazing relevance to current events in the Middle East today). And need I even mention Maurice Jarre's amazing score?
The cast is flawless. Peter O'Toole is simply amazing as Lawrence, giving one of the most compelling performances is cinematic history. He is able to convincingly portray Lawrence's massive shift in character: going from an arrogant outcast, to a man who believes in his own infallibility, to a man who is finally a broken shell, disillusioned by his own violent acts and his manipulation by his superiors. O'Toole's performance is simply stunning, and it's no wonder this movie made him a star. Omar Sharif is also impressive as Ali, a charismatic character who is the perfect foil for Lawrence's shifting personality. Alec Guinness is solid as Feisal, who is both sagely and cynical at turns (I am convinced that George Lucas cast Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi because of this performance). Jack Hawkins deserves credit for making Allenby both manipulative of and sympathetic to Lawrence simultaneously. Anthony Quinn and Claude Rains steal every scene they're in - Quinn with speeches and flamboyant gestures, Rains with marvelous dry underplaying. Jose Ferrer does a nice job cramming a lot of interesting depth into the Turkish officer who captures (and does other things) to Lawrence, considering that he has all of five minutes on screen. Arthur Kennedy (as the Lowell Thomas-esquire reporter, Jackson Bentley) and Anthony Quayle (as Brighton, the stuffy Brit who grows to respect Lawrence over the course of the film) round out the cast nicely.
Simply put, there is no other film quite like this. It is the ultimate epic/adventure movie, and MUST be scene in widescreen to be appreciated. I have the fortune of owning a plasma TV with surround sound, which is about as close to seeing it in a theater as you can get. Do NOT watch this movie pan-scan, or it will be ruined.
If the only reason why you wouldn't watch this movie is "length" - well, that's your problem for missing out on THE greatest cinematic experience of all time. You can have your "Titanic" or "Return of the King"; I'll take "Lawrence of Arabia" any day.
One of the best films I've ever seen. I first saw this years ago when I
was 17 and just thought it was a very good movie but I decided to catch
the film at the NFT last night seeming how my teacher told me the
cinema is the only way to see it and all I can say is... HE WAS
RIGHT!!!!!!!! The big Screen is the only way to see this movie I could
not believe how incredible it is the problem now is that if I watch it
on my widescreen TV on DVD I will not have the same experience as I've
just had but for those of you who haven't seen it try to see it on the
big screen if you know it is on in your area. it will be worth it.
Definitely deserves all the acclaim from critics and movie lovers
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"It's no wonder that nearly all the great founders of religion came out
of the desert. It makes you feel terribly small, and also, in a strange
way, quite big." David Lean
Some brief points...
1. Of all of David Lean's films, "Lawrence of Arabia" is perhaps his most beautiful. Here's a director who waited months for the perfect sunset, who spent hours composing every shot.
2. Virtually every other sequence in "Lawrence of Arabia" is logistical nightmare, Lean having to frame grand compositions, choreograph huge crowds, build vast sets and manage hordes of animals.
3. Lean's "Attack on Aqaba" sequence is staggering. Lean built an entire town, with over 300 buildings, all for a single unbroken shot which tracks an army as it swarms a coastal city. When Lean's camera finally draws to a halt, revealing the Mediterranean Sea and Aqaba's massive coastal cannons, we can't help but gasp.
4. A super influential film. You look at "Lawrence" today and you see bits of "Star Wars", "Close Encounters", "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Indiana Jones", "Kingdom of Heaven" etc, all over the place. The film contributed hugely to our cinematic vocabulary.
5. Unusual for a film this size, there was no second unit photography. Lean shot everything himself, too much of a perfectionist to abdicate duty.
6. Though it attempts to convey the intricacies of imperialistic politics and touches upon racial difference and homosexuality, the film's sense of geography and politics are a bit muddled, and its portrayal of Thomas Lawrence hardly factual. Indeed, because of people like Lawrence, and various other events, both before and after the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement, the Middle East was carved up and artificially divided for the very purpose of destabilisation and proxy rule. The problems of this period extend to our era.
7. In his biography, Lean states: "I think the whole of this creativity is sex. There's no two ways about it. And if you want to go and make a good movie, the fact of it is that sex is terribly important. If you want to make a good movie, get yourself a new, wonderful woman and that movie will be fifty, if not seventy, percent better than it would have been if she hadn't existed. It lights everything up. You see, I think lack of energy and tiredness is sexual failure."
8. In a way, the film's also about Lean himself, and the way the alienation of Lawrence's homosexuality mirrors that of the artist. Lean was born to strict Quaker parents who banned him from going to the cinema. In response, he developed a fondness for the desert and a passion for exotic locales (on screen and off). "Lawrence of Arabia" itself almost plays as a kind of autobiography, a story about a man/director who travels to the desert, falls in love with its people, gains wealthy financing, has a grand vision and realises his dreams by managing, inspiring and directing thousands of men. In a way, the film is less about Lawrence the man than it is about creativity as a kind of libidinal drive; a sort of big budget take on Freudian sublimation, creative energy stemming directly from the libido.
9. Watching the film again, its amazing how preoccupied it is with personal identity and sexuality. The film opens with a scene which demonstrates that "nobody really knew who Lawrence was" and that any effort to "sketch" him on screen is "an exercise in futility". Later in the film a man ominously shouts "Who Are You?" when he sees Lawrence, and all throughout the film Lawrence is seen to be extremely conflicted, unsure how to act, how to dress, unsure of his very place in the world. Is he Arabic? Is he British? Is he masculine? Is he feminine? Which culture does he most identify with? Why has he turned his back on his country?
10. Of course Peter O'Toole portrays Lawrence as a very effeminate man. He's homosexual, sexually repressed and sexually conflicted. This is a guy who's psyche is so damaged by being rejected and alienated that his ego compensates by writing its own history, by creating an image of himself as an "epic hero", the "perfect man" who conquers nations and rallies thousands behind him. Watch how he admits to being sexually aroused by guns and sadomasochism, but reacts violently when a foreign General makes homosexual advances toward him. It's almost as though Lawrence's entire "hero persona" simply extends from this timid guy's desire to assert his own sexuality.
11. The film is suffused with sexual innuendos and homosexual jabs, ranging from subtle lines ("That's not the kind of man I am!") to more blatant signals (Lawrence dancing alone, obsessed with shaving etc).
12. Interesting too is the way Lean and screenwriter Robert Bolt turn Lawrence's masochism into a kind of psycho-sexual anti-war statement. After taking part in a massacre, Lawrence slowly turns his back on his masters. "War is the villain of the piece," screenwriter Robert Bolt would say years later, "for it takes this fine and hardy man and turns his own best qualities against him, filling him with revulsion for himself."
13. The film is often praised for its visuals, but few mention how innovative Lean's sound design is. Lean uses the wind as music, makes excellent use of ambient or incidental noises and uses bubbles of silence to create some extraordinary moments of tension. He creates a wonderful aural tapestry.
8.5/10 This may be the gayest epic of all time.
That this film is photographed in brilliant color tones may well be
important in a symbolic way as it is to the physical properties of this
as a motion picture. The main character, the World War in the Middle
Eastern Theatre of War against the Ottoman Turkish Empire and the
treachery from his own country and his Superior Officers are indeed
very complex and deserved something more than a black & white, right &
The story starts out wit Mr. T.E. Lawrence, private citizen, taking a spin on his motorcycle, a short ride from which he would not return. We move to the Funeral, and like all funerals of the famous who die in tragic circumstances,* there are a lot of Big Wigs present, not to pay respects, but rather just to be seen.
We also are privy to a roving reporter, stopping all the high governmental folks, asking of their knowledge of the deceased former 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Though the audience was then unaware that Director David Lean's cinematic device to both introduce us to characters from Lawrence's past, who we will be seeing again, later in the film.
Among those who we meet are General Allenby(Jack Hawkins), now a Lord and an American Newspaperman & Newsreel Maker, one Jackson Bentley(Arthur Kennedy)which should be most interesting.
This Mr. Bentley character is the one responsible in the film version for making Lawrence known to the world. This was essentially true, but for some reason the true name of this Press Agent for Lawrence and the Brits.
The true identity of this American Newspaper Man is Lowell Thomas (1892-1981). He had been very active as a Newspaper Writer, as a Radio Newsman and a bit of a film maker, for it was two of his newsreel specials that made 'Lawrence of Arabia' into a household word. A sort of documentary compilation WITH ALLENBY IN PALESTINE AND LAWRENCE IN ARABIA (1919)was released after the War, and it started Mr.Thomas on the road to fame and fortune. (Also a very long career in Film(FOX-MOVIETONE NEWSREEL), Network Radio News and Television right up to the 1970's.(I well remember his HIGH ADVENTURE WITH LOWELL THOMAS as a 7th Grader,1958-59).
Now getting back to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA(1962).
A multi-faceted character would certainly require a multi-level, extra long epic sort of a film to tell the story properly. Well, they sure did that thing! We were all treated to a 216 Minute Epic which had the good sense and decency to have an INTERMISSION inserted right in the middle! And it sure seemed that the hour plus of viewing an awful lot of Sand and Dessert sure must have worked on our minds as pop sales in the lobby seemed quite brisk, indeed! As for the casting of Lawrence, Sir David Lean went with a newcomer, young, good looking and promising as an actor in Peter O'Toole. The very blonde haired and very blue eyed Mr. O'Toole gave us a T.E. Lawrence who was a sort of genius, who was out of step with the rest of the World, though Lawrence would definitely hold that it was the World that was out of step.
He was highly educated and possessed super knowledge of Middle East History, Arabian Peoples, Islamic Religion and Arabian Language. It was while he was on staff a British Army HQ in Cairo that the idea of sending him on the mission to find Prince Feisel (Alec Guiness) was formulated.
The eventual formation of the Arab Milita, which too forces loyal to Feisel and added more and more tribal warriors as time went by was a far cry from stories we are used to. The brutality of the dessert warfare and the frightful methods employed are most vividly portrayed. And what immediately comes to mind is a scene of an attack on a Turkish Railroad Train and its aftermath. As the attackers are 'taking inventory' of the goods on the train, a man in a bloodied up suit walks by in a seeming trance, obviously in a state of shock.
The brutal blood letting scenes seem a little much at times, but it is done purposefully and not just for the sake of gratuitous violence. This David Lean was masterful in weaving a tale with some distasteful elements and maintaining a very mature, grown-up view and attitude. All the way from the start to the very end, this attitude is constant. There is no false glorification of War, nor is there any message that one could interpret as being pacifist. War is just there, we have to put up with it as best we can.
The same sober realistic attitude is maintained with the alleged homosexuality of T.E. Lawrence. There are several parts of the story that sort of hint at it, but it is not mentioned, nor does the Director avoid the issue. His scene with Lawrence's being picked up and fondled by the Turkish Bey (Jose Ferrer) was brutal, shocking and went far enough to get the point across; and to explain the great change in Lawrence's personality.
If made by some lesser Director today, the whole sequence would be far different and much more graphic. A "modern" movie maker would have to 'draw a picture' for the audience, for the old fashioned virtues of subtlety and implication are not in the arsenal of film weaponry of these guys.
And we must make mention of the beautiful, powerful and most memorable original score from the London Phiharmonic Orchestra, which makes our sense of hearing a full partner of our enjoyment.
The Verdict on Sir David Lean's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is ****1/2 (four and a half stars.) See it for the first time or see it again!
NOTE: * The ceremonies like this; Military, Policeman Slain in the Line of Duty, etc., always get turned into a sort of "Show for the Pols and Police Brass.
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