Reel Retro: Lawrence of Arabia

Reel Retro: Lawrence of Arabia


In true Sunday afternoon silver screen style, AccessReel hosted a weekend screening of the brand spanking new digital print of the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia, an epic rumination on the flamboyant and controversial British military figure Thomas Edward Lawrence; a rather complex fellow who has been labeled as everything from a hero, to a charlatan to a sadist.

Told in a series of flashbacks following an impressive opening sequence portraying Lawrence’s premature death from a motorcycling accident, the flick follows Lawrence as he blazes his way to God-like status in the Arabian desert, leading the Arab revolt against the Turks and disempowering the Ottoman Empire.

The film is largely based on Lawrence’s own memoirs The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which he was reportedly too ashamed to publish officially and only did so for 120 people.  Typically, as soon as Lawrence died the book was, of course, published. Similarly, Lawrence was also offered several film deals starting as early as 1926, all of which he turned down yet his oh-so-kind brother eventually sold the rights to filmmakers after his death.

Having first seen Lawrence of Arabia when I was too young to be watching it, I had very little memory of the film and thus it was like seeing it for the first time. I tell you: they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore! Call me a nostalgist, but this cinematic gem is what movie going is all about! If was effing awesome!

Directed by the late David Lean (who was so much of a perfectionist he spent 100,000 pounds just on a screen test with an actor who ended up turning down the role of Lawrence anyway) the film gives new meaning to the phrase “everything considered”. Lean appears to have painstakingly planned every shot, every sequence, every scene transition, every ray of light….ok you get the picture! The result:  a visual spectacle the likes of which you can only appreciate on the big screen (too bad if you missed it people!! Guess you’ll have to wait a few weeks for the Blu-ray)

Lean sure studied up on his rule of thirds with his shot composition rivaling any current cinematographer wielding the power of greater technology. You’ll notice (or maybe not…) that most of the movement in the film goes from left to right, even this was intentional with the purpose of emphasizing the film as a journey.

It’s also bloody refreshing to see a film with no CGI (just putting that out there!)

I usually find dated films to be too deliberate and obvious in everything from their dialogue to their story arc, however Lawrence plays as a sophisticated and intelligent film with a respectable depth that succeeds at portraying Lawrence, and indeed the British involvement in Arabia, in a seemingly ‘warts and all’ fashion.

As Peter O’Toole’s first leading film role, he does a smashing job (as well as looking absolutely fabulous in his flowing white robes and smoky eyeliner). He reportedly had to sign a seven year contract with producer Sam Spiegel when accepting the role and the film itself was a two year affair.

Admittedly I found the second act lost a little of the momentum and visual splendor of the first, and some of the more dramatic acting is showing its age a little. However, they are small complaints and ultimately the film still blew me away.

My advice: Get your hands on the 50th anniverary Blu-ray set for release mid November, find a friend with a huge TV and sit as close to the set as you can to try to recreate the big screen, remastered experience cos it’s frickin awesome!

Bugger it, I’m going all out: I rate it 4.5 stars