Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
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From the universally admired cinematography of Freddie Young, the long shot of Omar Sharif's floating mirage entry, the pre-CGI battles and pan-up scene changes, to O'Toole's florid but career-defining performance and the (then) novel time-shift narrative, this film set standards not matched even by Lean himself, and, as many reviewers have commented, financially and practically unlikely to be attempted today. I too have rarely seen such clarity of image outside of Imax, and in my view the script by Robert Bolt (and I now have learnt, an uncredited Michael Wilson) is the finest in cinema. Maurice Jarre's music and some of the acting style now seem a little excessive, but repeated viewing (around 35 times in my case) does not diminish the impact and quality, and the restoration and now DVD release still, after all these years, approaches the effect of that first 1962 viewing.
It is rare that repeated watching of a film (as opposed to a live performance) does this, and the reasons go beyond the photography, performances and editing. In my opinion, it is because the characterisation and storytelling encourage an appreciation of the ambiguity and inconsistency behind our motives and behaviour, and, in a wartime scenario, in the contrast between political expedience and personal morality. For a 13-year old, this opened a window into the adult world, and it explains why the story has resonance far beyond its setting. The film doesn't require an understanding of middle-east politics (though it does have some very current relevance), but it does require an ability to look, listen and understand. The fact that so many people rate it so highly says everything about its wider impact. When The Matrix and even Lord of the Rings have slipped out of the ratings (and the adolescents who inhabit these pages have grown up), I believe this film will still be in the 20s or 30s, perhaps enabling young people to once again see the world through adult eyes.
Like Ali, I fear Lawrence. I fear the power of art to change us, to challenge our preconceptions. Every time I see this film I learn a little more, discover something new. When I was 13 I didn't understand much, but this film helped me to see that I wanted more, knew more, than my peers. I can't rate it more highly than that.
Lawrence became an inspirational warlord whose neutral presence amongst the Arab tribes, lead by Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn, amongst others, served to glue together shifting and uneasy alliances. As well as wrestling with himself, with his own demons, and with the cruel desert environment, the Englishman was also faced with culture clashes which pitted not only the imperialists against the indigenous populations, but also the mercenary practices of the Arab guerillas against the discipline of the British army. In the end, Lawrence himself does not know which side he is on, nor which party he belongs to. Set against a backdrop of the Arabian desert, the nomadic allies under Lawrence's direction, attack and disrupt the Turks' efforts to maintain control of the territory, whilst the elephant - the British army and its heavy guns under General Jack Hawkins - pushes ever deeper into the area: not until his job is done does Lawrence learn that the French and British governments have carved up the middle-east between them and that the battle-lines for the 21st century are already being drawn.
Scripted by the inimitable Robert Bolt and directed by David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia is one of those films without a weakness, despite drawing complaints for its near four hour length. The dialogue, cinematography, soundtrack and especially direction are superlative; likewise the supporting actors. But it is O'Toole at his charismatic best who steals the show in his starring debut; he never looked back. It may take an effort to watch this movie, but is well worth the ride and will, by the bye, provide some insight into the fractious and volatile world of Arab politics.
One of the best films ever made.
The next time was on laserdisc (remember those?) almost 10 years ago and I was hooked. I finally got it - the conflict, the performances, the music, the dialogue - all mesmerising.
But it was only in 2002, when I saw the 40th-anniversary reissue on 70mm that I was completely blown away seeing the scale, the enormity of Lean's accomplishment. There were scenes that gave me goosepimples (the opening credits, the cut from the matchstick to the desert sunrise, "nothing is written" - others too numerous to mention).
The point of this rather rambling review is this - a movie that can evoke such passion in its admirers stands by itself, beyond reviews or criticism. If you haven't seen it yet I envy you, because you get to experience it for the first time.
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.
Lean, a man devoted to the art, gives "Lawrence of Arabia" its spectacular values... He unifies the sand and the sun to flame out the silver screen... Maurice Jarre's terrific music escorts the appearance and disappearance of the sun below the horizon in the sleepy desert...
"Lawrence of Arabia" is a prodigious labor, a masterful mixture of fact and artistry, a masterpiece of intimate moment and spectacular largesse, a film that literally excites the senses... In a visual sense, Lean combines a sure sense of place with an approach to the action that he borrows from an unlikely sourceJohn Ford Lean turns his vast desert canvas into another Monument Valley, and when his Bedouins ride across it, they are not far removed from Ford's cavalry In many of the early scenes, the stately gait of the camel's walk gives the film a slower pace, and this is precisely what Lean is trying to achieve Lean even manages to surpass Ford with his understanding of the relationship between his characters and the landscape; how the desert changes those who go into it
The film is the story of a solitary adventurer who always knew he was different, but in Arabia he discovers that his proportions are heroic... Perhaps this is the secret of Lawrence of the legends that at the bottom of all the violent action is a protagonist about whom one cares... A puzzling personality whom one glimpses but never fully understands... Throuhout the picture one has a sense of a man discovering his own unique dimensions...
Lawrence's mission, largely his own creation, is to unite the feuding Bedouin tribes under the leadership of Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness), and to keep the British politicians, as personified by Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains), from putting the Arabs under their colonial thumb after World War I is over It is accomplished through a semi-episodic series of battles and raids where Lawrence is sometimes accompanied by Ali (Omar Sharif) and Sheik Auda (Anthony Quinn), and equally difficult bureaucratic struggles he faces with Gen. Allenby (Jack Hawkins).
All the conventional elements of the genre are at peaks of excellence here: The stretch desert with its white golden sands; peril, anywhere and everywhere; dangerfor Lawrence of Arabia is a film about guerrilla warfare; prowessLawrence crosses Sinai on foot; physical tortureLawrence in the hands of the Turkish bey; impossible mission Lawrence takes the seaport of Jordan from behind; ruthlessnessLawrence shouting 'take no prisoners' leading his men to put to death a Turkish column...
Every component is here, everything one needs for a great adventure film, many spectacular sequences, each of them so perfect: Lean cuts to the sun again and again, turning it into a character; the scene in Feisal's tent when Lawrence first talks with the king; Lawrence striding on top of a captured train, parading before rows of cheering Arabs; the scene between Lawrence and Ferrer illuminating Lawrence's strange perversity, a mixture of masochism and repressed homosexuality; the scene when a Beduin prince appears on his camel, an exceedingly long take in which a strange figure is first resolved out of waves of heat and then, as he approaches, becomes a frightening threat to Lawrence's escort at the desert well...
The photography, the script and the acting are so superb that "Lawrence of Arabia" becomes a lavish epic winner of 7 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Directing, Color, Cinematography, Sound, Muscial Score and Film Editing...
Over the years, Lawrence remained among my DVD collection, and I can't say I actually watched it since that first time, when, by the way, I didn't really like it. But "time does things to movies", and when I watched it again last year, I found my eyes to be weeping at the end. It instantly became one of my favorite movies.
Since then I learned a lot about the history of cinema, and I also learned a great deal about the movies of Sir David Lean. I found my self watching films like "Brief Encounter", "The Bridge on the River Kwai", "Doctor Zhivago", "Ryan's Daughter", and the underrated, "A passage to India". Lean became one of my favorite directors, and, just a few months ago, I decided to watch Lawrence with some friends. Although I had seen it a couple of times before, this time it was a different experience altogether: from the starting credits, to the blowing of the match, the crossing of the Nefud dessert, finding Gassim and bringing him back to the camp, the invasion of Aqaba, his torture and rape (?), Lawrence's laugh after the slap by the "outrageaous" guy, his being left alone, to the final gaze to the motorcycle. I sensed something when I watched that film, which leaves my with the undoubted feeling that "Lawrence of Arabia" is the greatest film ever made. For me, this is it. Ever since '62, it's been a downfall. No other film has managed to reach Lawrence in its poetic greatness. Few do come very close (Vertigo for instance).
If we are to classify the two complete different cinematic styles, it would be those of Hitchcock and Ford. Hitch was a very "confined" director. He captured his movies from the point of view of one character. His movies took place, most of the time, in closed spaces. In a sense, Hitchcock's films were a journey in people's emotions and a study in people's characters. On the other hand, Ford was an open director. He wasn't confined to one character, or one location, his films where actual journeys. His basis was mostly on theme, and his main ability was to amaze with his imagery. Thus, these are the two different shooting styles....Well, Lean combines both.
Which is basically why his best film, Lawrence, is the best film of all times. But not only in terms of style. Also, in terms of content. The intelligent script written by Robert Bolt, the powerhouse performances by O'Toole and Shariff (a shame they didn't get the statuette), but also, the ultimately heroic yet tragic figure of T.E. Lawrence, contribute in making this the most visually and emotionally sweeping film of the last 111 years.
Such a shame that Lean retired for 14 years after "Ryan's Daughter", there's no way to know where he would have gotten.
Ignore David Lean's painterly technique, the way he fills the screen like a canvas. Ignore Freddie Young's stunning cinematography in fulfillment of Lean's vision. Ignore the fabulous score by Maurice Jarre. Ignore the stupendous cast. Ignore the topnotch script.
What we have, beyond all this, is an absolutely gripping and psychologically perplexing character study of a uniquely enigmatic individual that keeps us on the edge of our seats for the full length of the movie. "Lawrence", at over 200 minutes, goes by faster than many a movie of half its length, due to Lean's brilliant pacing and direction, and superb acting all around. To make a comparison in the world of music, this movie, like Mahler's 8th symphony, is a universe contained within itself.
Of course, it is an exercise in self-denial and philistinism to watch this movie in anything other than the wide-screen - or "letterbox" - format, due to Lean's complete use of every inch of the wide screen. To watch it otherwise is to miss half of Lean's intention.
To use a hackneyed phrase, they simply don't make 'em like this anymore.
"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+
The cinematography is acknowledged as being some of the the best in any film ever. When Mr Lean wanted to capture a sun rise, he stood in the dark (in a REAL desert) and waited for the sun to REALLY rise (No computerized nonsense in this film). As for the reviewer who thought Lawrence looked like a homosexual because he had a 'effeminate' walk, well ... I can only hope that one day he joins the 21st century; hero's aren't all musclebound apes, leaders aren't all fluffy paragons of virtue, and so what if he did turn out to be homosexual?
If you and you dad like watching a man being whipped before being violated there is, I believe, a wealth of material available to cater for your taste at your local pornography shop.
In my opinion its one of the best films ever made and certainly the best film I've seen based on real events.
Forget the length feel the quality.
David Lean has shown us a man's long, yet never boring (at least for me) journey into the deserts of Arabia. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is an ordinary man that becomes a hero (at least in my eyes) during his extensive tenure in Arabia. He becomes a traveler, a great man, and a leader to the people that he has associated with. Only director David Lean could have given us a movie experience like this.
An assortment of phenomenal actors are collected for this movie and what a cast! Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guiness and so much more portray their characters with intensity and believability. Never have I been so impressed. As Lawrence, Peter O'Toole plays the role of which his name is most associated with and is surprising for me that he made the role his own because before I got a chance to see this movie I imagined a man opposite from someone like Peter O'Toole. Omar Sharif as Ali is one of the most charismatic characters in film history. I will not say anymore about the cast because I'm allowed only 1,000 words to use in my comment.
Will all do respect to classics such as "Gone With The Wind" and even "Bridge on the River Kwai"this is without a doubt the most exciting epic of all time. I highly recommend it!
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.
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.
Omar Sharif and Claude Rains are also deserving of much praise. The music is extraordinary and captures each scene very well. The personal journey of Lawrence is fascinating as well. David Lean's direction is practically flawless and proved that he is still one of the best directors ever. All in all, David Lean's masterpiece is a timeless, must see movie that has not been diminished by time.
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)
Veteran actor in his screen debut Peter O'Toole plays Lawrence. I think O'Toole perfectly captures everything Lawrence was meant to stand for. O'Toole as Lawrence is conceited, young, naive, bull headed, and has great delusions of grandeur which he uses to win over the Arabians. On top of these less than desirable traits Lawrence has incredible charisma and leadership qualities and O'Toole is the same way. At first he seems almost smug and monotone but the more you watch him the more he electrifies the screen and you become enamored with him. I don't know if that's talent of a gift but either way he makes the film what it is. The incredible Sir Alec Guinness plays Prince Feisal, the leader of one faction of the Arabian army who leaves his men to the trust of Lawrence after becoming enamored with him. It's not a big role but when Guinness is on screen he makes it larger than life. Anthony Quinn is the opposite leader Auda abu Tayi whom Lawrence brings together with Feisal's men to take Damascus away from the Turkish army. Quinn is much like Guinness who doesn't need a lot of screen time to make an impression. They are both worthy of royalty. And Omar Sharif is brilliant and intelligent as Sheriff Ali who becomes Lawrence's wing man and friend.
The cast are all brilliant together, the story is of epic proportions and the direction which was Academy Award winning by David Lean is nothing short of brilliance. It might possibly be one of the best directed films I have ever seen. It's simply breath taking. But so much extra is added that I'm just not sure it was necessary. Lawrence becomes so conflicted and ends up leaving them and it just seems to contradict everything he had done. Perhaps I am just being petty about it and I didn't like the ending but nonetheless the last hour and a half was too much for me. Still I don't regret for a minute seeing it and I encourage everyone to see this because even now it's spectacular to watch, imagine how it felt more than 40 years ago. 8.5/10
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.
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 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).