Lawrence of Arabia

(UK 1962)

Roger Ebert’s comments sum up my experience:

“I’ve noticed that when people remember Lawrence of Arabia, they don’t talk about the details of the plot. They get a certain look in their eye, as if they are remembering the whole experience, and have never quite been able to put it into words.”

(http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-lawrence-of-arabia-1962).

Lawrence of Arabia is an epic if ever there ever was one: a biopic of a bygone era’s famous and handsome man—author T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole)—on a wartime adventure to accomplish an important but impossible task in a rugged, foreign land. His first meeting with Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) does not go well, creating a certain tension that appears to stand in the way. The drama! Lawrence even has an English accent. Uniquely, though, this is a rather low-key epic: most of the set is a vast, sprawling desert, and it’s the little events that produce big results.

Director David Lean infused a major gay subtext. O’Toole is strikingly beautiful; in fact, Noel Coward observed that if O’Toole had been any prettier, the film would have to be called Florence of Arabia (http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-25393557). O’Toole plays Lawrence with a distinct diva component. There’s a hint of something more than an employment arrangement between Lawrence and some servants and an Arab soldier or two. There’s also a weird scene where Lawrence is captured by muscled Turks and brought shirtless before an older, smarmy Bey (José Ferrer) with obvious designs on him; when Lawrence spurns his advances, the Bey has him beaten with whips. Lawrence doesn’t seem too bothered by the beating. The palace looks like a tawdry bathhouse.

What will probably stay with me above all else is F.A. Young’s cinematography, which is arresting and haunting. I definitely want a camel now that I’ve seen this.

In 1991, the United States Library of Congress deemed Lawrence of Arabia “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

(Music Box) A

Music Box Theatre 70mm Festival

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