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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. 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. Consider this: 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 (of both the real world and the fantasy world of cinema). He thus uses "Lawrence of Arabia" 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 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.
People who dislike this movie generally say one of the following
things. "It's boring"; "It's old"; "It's not violent enough." Well, I
have a message for those people: What movie are you watching?
While I cannot deny that LOA is old, it is only boring if you're watching it in slow-motion. A 220+ running time may frighten a lot of people, but LOA apologizes for its bottom-testing quality almost immediately by displaying in that long period of time an epic that someone could actually get involved in. It does that with its cinematography (which mere words cannot describe), its striking music score, and its staggeringly good performances from every actor.
And if you think it's not violent enough, maybe you should go back to watching Tarantino flicks. Violence abounds in this movie, and it is some of the best-handled in cinema history. It's a shame Peter O'Toole didn't win an Oscar for this movie, but its haul on awards night did suffice.
Most of you are probably expecting this review to come from a 50-year-old art-film devotee, but I'm under 20, love movies like "Rocky Horror," and have loved this one just as much or even more since I was 10 or 11 years old.
The parched vastness of the desert stretches beyond the horizon in
every direction. The glorious morning sun begins to rise from beneath
the earth, casting brilliant rays of searing light across the scorched
landscape. In the distance, barely noticeable to the human eye, a dark
speck appears. We watch, we wait. The tiny approaching figure, ever so
gradually, moves tantalisingly closer, and we lean forward to discern
it, the enormity of the Arabian desert instantly enveloping us,
consuming us. We are there. When a character gazes up at the blazing
overhead sun an immense ball of fire in the sky we feel it burning
our skin, and we, too, yearn for that life-saving swig of water.
David Lean's epic masterpiece, 'Lawrence of Arabia,' is one of those precious few films that is capable of completely absorbing the audience into its world. Just like Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterwork '2001: A Space Odyssey' of 1968, the plot of the film is not what we ultimately remember. When asked why it is such a great film, we can only recall the sheer majesty of the images that have been permanently seared into our minds Lawrence blows out a burning match, which becomes the rising desert sun; a stranded soldier, stumbling across the sands, gazes up in horror as the first rays of morning sunlight beam across the land; a triumphant Lawrence, dressed in flowing white robes, poses at the summit of an enemy trainwreck, the sun glimmering behind him as if he is a god. Minute after minute, for the entire four-hour running time, we are simply bombarded with unforgettable images, thanks to the Freddie Young's acclaimed Super Panavision 70 cinematography, a stirring score from Maurice Jarre and director David Lean's epic cinematic vision.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Edward "T.E." Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) died on May 19, 1935 after a horrific motorcycle accident. He was honoured with a bust in St. Paul's Cathedral for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18, his achievements made famous by the sensationalised newspaper writings of American journalist Lowell Thomas, who is represented in the film by the character of Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy). Lawrence's funeral leaves us with several unanswered questions regarding what sort of man he really was: was he a "poet, a scholar and a mighty warrior," or, as Bentley suggests after the departure of the reporter, "the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum & Bailey?"
'Lawrence of Arabia,' very loosely based on Lawrence's personal memoirs, shows how, throughout his exploits in Arabia, he was a man trapped between two cultures, torn between his allegiances to Britain and its army, and to his newfound comrades within the Arabian desert tribes, to whom he had promised freedom. He also battles to understand his own emotional reactions towards violence in war, his uncertainty beginning with the shocking satisfaction he experiences upon executing one of his companions. Early in his exploits, Lawrence embodies the qualities present in all great historical heroes: courage and determination, self-assurance and loyalty. Nearing the end of a harrowing march across the impassable Nefud Desert, though ragged from exhaustion and desperate for hydration, Lawrence turns his camel around in search of Gasim, a fellow comrade who was unknowingly left behind after succumbing to sleep and falling off his mount. However, as Lawrence's victories become many, he finds that his humility has been replaced with arrogance, and his bravery with blood-thirsty cowardice.
The acting performances in this film are absolutely stunning all-round. Peter O'Toole ("The Lion in Winter") is undeniably brilliant as T.E. Lawrence, masterfully portraying a complex character in his debut high-profile role. It is perhaps unfortunate that he came up against Gregory Peck's equally memorable role as Atticus Finch in 'To Kill A Mockingbird' at the 1963 Oscars, otherwise he most certainly would have won Best Actor. To this day, despite a total of eight nominations, O'Toole remains without a competitive Oscar, though he did receive an Academy Honorary Award in 2003 for his collective body of work.
A stunning supporting cast complements O'Toole's performance, and the film simply could not have been as powerful if any of the supporting roles were anything less than perfect. Alec Guiness ("The Bridge on the River Kwai") who had originally wanted the role of Lawrence, but was turned down due to his age plays Prince Feisal, the Arab leader who learns to value Lawrence's advice and assistance. Anthony Quinn ("Zorba the Greek") portrays Auda ibu Tayi, the leader of the Howeitat tribe of Bedouin Arabs, whom Lawrence convinces to invade the city of Aqaba. Omar Sharif is brilliant as Sheriff Ali, a man who inexplicably becomes Lawrence's most loyal comrade, though he fears what his good friend has become in the face of success. Other notable performances in the film come from Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy and José Ferrer.
In terms of David Lean's vast artistic vision, 'Lawrence of Arabia' is one of the most ambitious cinematic undertakings of all time. This is truly one of the grandest epics ever made, demanding to be witnessed only in the cinema; put quite simply, a minute television screen just does not do this film justice. This is an life-changing experience like few others, and, for 220 glorious minutes, you can almost see yourself in the desert, sitting atop a camel, trekking across the sands alongside one of the twentieth century's most fascinating historical figures.
Although having just watched Lawrence Of Arabia again though I am
bowled over by the size of the epic, I still can't believe that for the
entire length of the film, the word oil was not mentioned. If it were
done today it sure would be.
T.E. Lawrence's story fascinates people today more than ever because he was in the center of the events that gave us the Middle East we have today. In the previous century and a half questions about that area revolved around the Ottoman Empire, the so-called sick man of Europe for that conglomerate of territory spilled into quite a bit of Europe. What's to happen if one country gets control of the place should that aging and decrepit empire falls apart. The question was postponed right up to World War I when Ottoman Turkey committed itself to the Central Powers.
It was time then for the various peoples still under Ottoman control to rise and rise they did. In Arabia a young staff officer named T.E. Lawrence gained the trust and confidence of many Arab leaders and had a lot to do with uniting them and forming an army to chase fellow Moslems, the Turks out of the area and helping the British and French win in the Eastern theater of World War I.
If going native which was the expression used by the British for one of their's who starts to identify with those he's supposed to subjugate than T.E. Lawrence went native in a big way. When his fellow countrymen did not keep pledges made to his Arabs he opted for a life of obscurity which is what he got until his death in 1935.
David Lean when he couldn't get Marlon Brando for the part, opted instead for a young Irish player named Peter O'Toole who he had seen in the Walt Disney version of Kidnapped two years earlier in a small role. It was a felicitous choice as O'Toole became the star he remains to this day as a result of Lawrence of Arabia.
It's a complex role and one you have to keep the audience interested in for over four hours. O'Toole runs the whole range of emotions here. We see him as idealistic, as arrogant, as humble, as honorable, as a stone killer, even a bit of a fathead at times. Sometimes a few of these mixed together at different points. Although David Lean got him a stellar supporting cast, if your Lawrence isn't any good, the film would flop. But Peter O'Toole was up to the challenge, he got the first of seven Oscar nominations. In this particular year he had some stiff competition with Burt Lancaster for Birdman of Alcatraz, Jack Lemmon for The Days of Wine and Roses, Marcello Mastroianni for Divorce Italian Style and the eventual winner Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird.
Omar Sharif also making his first film for a world market got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Such Lean veterans as Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, and Anthony Quayle got plum roles. Anthony Quinn and Arthur Kennedy are the Americans in this film. Kennedy plays the fictitious Jackson Bentley who is really Lowell Thomas. Presumably Lowell Thomas did not want his name used here, but Thomas got his career started in the news field by reporting on T.E. Lawrence in this backwater theater of World War I, making his name famous and launching Thomas's own career in the process.
One thing ever so gingerly hinted at was T.E. Lawrence's homosexuality. You can see it in his relationship with the two young men Daoud and Farraj played by John Dimech and Michel Roy. There is the alleged incident of gang rape when he's taken by Turkish soldiers led by their commander at Deraa, Jose Ferrer. It too is part of Lawrence's story though if Lawrence of Arabia were made today, they would be far more explicit.
They would also be more explicit about oil instead of these unnamed 'British interests' that Lawrence is supposed to be really concerned with. You do get the idea that all they're interested in is the right of transit in the Suez Canal and the right to say who has the right of transit.
Still Lawrence of Arabia is one sweeping epic both capturing the grandeur of the Arabian desert with the complexity of the issues and the man surrounding the desert campaign in World War I.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is difficult to watch this movie today without thinking about the current situation in Iraq. Europeans--and now Americans--have been intervening in the Middle East, with disastrous results, since the Trojan War; "Lawrence of Arabia" tells the story of a man who played a key role in a critical period that led to much of the current turmoil in the region. In order to defeat the Turks, who were allied to the Germans, Great Britain unleashed the genie of Arab nationalism, and no one has been able to bottle it since. By promising what was then Palestine to both Jews and Arabs Britain unwittingly planted the seeds of the interminable Arab-Israeli conflict--but that's outside the scope of this review. Peter O'Toole plays T.E. Lawrence as a bipolar, sexually ambiguous nerd with a messiah complex (interestingly there are no women in the movie). In leading the Arabs to victory over the Turks Lawrence sees himself as their liberator when in fact he's the tool of western imperialism. The latter part of the movie, which depicts Lawrence's bumbling attempts to introduce western-style democracy to the Arabs, bears striking resemblance to George W. Bush's equally naive meddling in Iraq. As spectacle, the movie has never been surpassed and scarcely equalled; among big-budget epics of similar scope only "Ben Hur," "The Ten Commandments," and possibly "Apocalypse Now" come close; the only movie with similar grandeur is "2001: A Space Odyssey," and of course that's a different kind of epic. Sir David Lean won a well-deserved Best Director Oscar for this film. The movie made stars out of O'Toole and Omar Sharif, but there are Oscar-worthy performances from Sir Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Kennedy and Claude Rains; Jose Ferrer is uncommonly creepy as a sadistic Turkish officer, in a scene with uncomfortable homoerotic overtones. Maurice Jarre's score is outstanding; this is the kind of film wide-screen was made for.
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