"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Lawrence of Arabia

tn_lawrenceofarabiaHave you guys heard of this one? Pretty good. Newcomer Peter O’Toole plays T.E. Lawrence, or just “Awrence” to his friends, a goofball English soldier stationed in Cairo on Doing Jack Shit duty during WWI. He annoys his superior officers with his Jar Jar style clumsiness and just plain oddness (“it looks insubordinate but it isn’t, really,” is how he explains his sloppy salute). So they send him with a guide out to the desert “to appreciate the situation.” And he really does appreciate it. Throughout the course of this nearly 4-hour epic the strength of his personality brings him from nobody grunt sent out on a G14 classified in the desert to unlikely leader of a massive Arab revolt against the Turks.

Until now I hadn’t seen LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. (Don’t worry, I’ve seen TREE OF LIFE, I’m pretty cultured.) I’ve actually been wanting to see this for years, but I kept missing its showings in the 70mm Film Festival they have every year at the Cinerama. Then I’d consider renting it on DVD and think “But… 70mm! It’ll be back. I know it will!” This year I finally got tired of that cycle and made sure not to miss it.

mp_lawrenceofarabiaLAWRENCE was made for 70mm just like AVATAR was made for 3D or POLYESTER was made for smellovision. It takes advantage of the giant screen with shots showing the characters from far away, a little dot in front of a sunset or in a screenful of sand. As the movie goes on it has more and more scenes showing hundreds of men on camels or horses. How the fuck did they organize all those people and get them to do the right thing at the right time? It’s a kind of massive undertaking that will probly never be tried again because of the computers. I’m sure RED CLIFF was a huge pain in the ass to do too, but they had some tools to make it easier.

From those enormous shots it’ll cut to a closeup and O’Toole has these blue eyes that pop out of the giant screen. You can see why he stuck out among Arabs even in a movie where it’s mostly white people playing Arabs. For example Alex Guiness plays Prince Feisal. They didn’t have Tony Shalhoub to do those roles yet.

Another weird thing: in a cast of thousands I swear there are almost no women. No wives, no princesses, nothing. I actually couldn’t remember seeing any women at all, even in the crowd shots, but somebody said there were some dead women in a village that got attacked. So, no reason to fret, ladies. There’s some representation there.

Maybe it’s for the best that they aren’t in there. I doubt the women were treated very well during these events. Might make the characters less sympathetic if you saw that.

The story remains relevant in a whole bunch of ways. I guess colonialism and the clash between east and west are never gonna become dated topics, are they? This story has westerners genuinely trying to bring “freedom” to the Arab world, while their governments have more cynical motives for their involvement. The government looks at the Arabs as “savages,” misjudges how to deal with them militarily, and gets stuck in a conflict that keeps on going. Even the non-violent, pure-motived Lawrence gets his hands (and other parts) bloody.

The tribes don’t get along, and the Westerners just can’t understand the conflicts. Lawrence tries to get them to work it out basically by saying “Come on fellas, be reasonable,” but (as we continue to find out) it’s not that simple.

There’s a great jump after the intermission, almost like it’s a 2-part movie like RED CLIFF or KILL BILL. Before the break he’s ready to go back to the desert and start a rebellion, after the break he’s in the thick of it, travelling with a small army that reveres him, leading them in attacks on trains.

It’s an uncomfortable spot for the modern viewer. On one hand I like this character, and watching a character you like plant a bomb for a sneak attack on the bad guys is inherently exciting. On the other hand I can’t put it out of my head that this is alot like militants in Iraq and Afghanistan setting IEDs on the roads to attack American soldiers. Does that make us the Turks? Does it make them freedom fighters? Is there a chance some of them have seen this movie, or know of it, that it’s played some part in the creation of the image they see of themselves as heroes?

We – and by “we” I guess I really mean “I” – tend to think of everything as having gone to idiocracy, nobody has an attention span anymore or cares about shit that didn’t get invented this morning during breakfast. But here is the Cinerama – a huge theater with a balcony – completely sold out for a showing of a long ass 50 year old movie, not only on film but on an old type of film that was never the standard. Nice to see LAWRENCE getting that kind of love, and on a Friday night no less. There might still be some life in re-releases and revivals. If it’s done right it can work.

Also the music is good in my opinion. They should bring back overtures. I dig a good overture.




This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 at 2:06 am and is filed under Reviews, War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “Lawrence of Arabia”

  1. Didn’t the guy who drowned in the quick sand have a wife? (I just saw this see a few weeks ago on TV. Wanted to watch the full movie, but forgot it was on.)

  2. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    October 19th, 2011 at 2:30 am

    This was a surprise review. I like those recommendations…

  3. This was from when widescreen films really was widescreen, and they didn’t give a shit that it should fit on tv. But in the last 30 years they have done any thing to make a film easier to convert to tv and fullscreen, so they started to center all the action, so you could easy cut of the sides to make it fit a TV, and because of this films started to relay more on more on close shots and rapid editing. Lawrence of Arabia is great old school classic film making with a lot of long shot and takes that last longer then the average 3-5 seconds that is too day.

  4. unfortunately this is yet another classic film I have not seen, I’m super jealous Vern, the best I can hope for is a blu ray, which has not even been released yet

    and unfortunately we pretty much are the Turks (or maybe the Russians) and in a twisted way, they are kinda freedoms fighters (or at least they think they are), it was a bad idea to invade that area in the first place, in retrospect it seems absurd to think that we could have “westernized” the middle east

    shit, I bet the middle east will still be a war torn place even centuries from NOW

  5. If only 70mm could make a comeback. I doubt that will ever happen, since it’s such an expensive option, but it’s kinda cool that guys like Nolan and Malick are shooting at least parts of their films in this format.

    I think the last film to be fully shot in 70mm was Branagh’s Hamlet. Would love to see that on the BIG screen. Unfortunately the IMAX cinema in my neck of the woods closed a few years ago after people got tired of paying expensive ticket prices for 40 minute long fish documentaries.

  6. Rudolf Klein-Rogge

    October 19th, 2011 at 4:38 am

    Ghost: Good point. I’ve started to become increasingly more annoyed at people using the scope format and composing as if they were shooting in 16:9 or Academy. John Carpenter is among the few contemporary filmmakers using the scope format for what it’s worth. Just another reason to love Carpenter.

  7. It embarrasses me to admit I have never seen this movie. I could have PVR’d it off TCM many times, but each time I go to hit record, I think of how I’ll never have time to watch it and how it will sit there like most of the Liz Taylor marathon and The Cabinet of Dr Califari that I recorded. Then I watch two Fast and Furious movies back-to-back. I am so part of the problem.

    I know that this doesn’t mean I am not a film lover. You can enjoy all sorts of movies and films, and I do love my classics and silents dearly. I mean, yesterday I yelled, “Score!” really loudly in the middle of a crowded bookstore when I found a hardcover book on influential directors on sale for two bucks. I think I embarrassed my kids, and they’re only two and four.

  8. I love this movie! Nice call on the music too. I’d love to see Vern review more of the classics. Doctor Zhivago, obviously, is another great Lean epic that really fills up a screen.

  9. ANoniMouse: CALIGARI is so facinating. The expressionistic technique of the film is like a key that unlocks the logic of so many films that came after it.

    And it’s only 70 minutes.

  10. I love this film. It is my father’s favorite movie. I have never seen it more times than I can count, but never on 70mm. I bet it was amazing. Before my cable provider stop carrying (my favorite channel) the HDNet Movie channel I was lucky enough to catch their broadcast of the remastered HD version of LofA and it was incredible. Even if the story or subject matter does not appeal to you, if you are a fan of cinema you owe it to yourself to see this film and see it in a theater if possible.

  11. Vern, A long time ago you asked folks for their lists of the Badass films of the Cinema (Loose Cannon blog post: https://outlawvern.com/2010/05/20/the-loose-canon/#comments ) and I included LAWRENCE OF ARABIA as one of my choices (in amongst SEVEN SAMURAI and GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY). It generated a little bit of controversy. I still hold that Lawrence himself was a pretty badass character in a somewhat unorthodox fashion. So here is my chance for vindication. Do you now consider LAWRENCE one of the Badass Films of Cinema? I need to know.

  12. ANoniMouse – Please don’t put off seeing the CABINET OF DR CALIGARI. It truly is one of the great films. Jareth is correct. You will witness the genesis of so many recognizable film conventions. Make it a double feature with the 1930s FRANKENSTEIN this Halloween. They will crack your mind open.

  13. Vern, how long is this film playing in Seattle? I might consider coming down from BC to see it. A rare treat to witness this in 70mm.

  14. “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”

    Before Dalton was around to explain this philosophy, there was T.E. Lawrence.

  15. I first saw Lawrence of Arabia some years ago when I didn’t own a television set and had to watch it on my laptop computer. I still enjoyed the film, but I felt like I was missing out. I would love to see this film during a revival showing. I still remember seeing Ikiru on the big screen and being absolutely enthralled. There’s still nothing that beats the theatergoing experience, for me anyhow.

  16. I too saw it at the 70mm fest last week, good to hear you were there Vern!

    It was my first time seeing it, and man is that one damn impressive movie.
    Especially the crazy shots with damn near 10000 people on horseback charging through the desert, it just boggles the mind. Really sad that movies like this don’t get made anymore, Red Cliff is probably the closest modern equivalent, and honestly, Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm makes Red Cliff look small-scale by comparison.

    This makes me super glad that Nolan is filming most of Dark Knight Rises in Imax though, I suspect it will look completely incredible.

  17. Vern on the classics is my favorite part of this websight.
    It’d be cool if the movie industry really pushed big screen formats like 70mm and IMAX as a means to offer something that piracy and increased home theater quality cannot.
    I’ve seen this movie twice, first as a kid with the intent of finding an action-y movie that my parents would let me watch (where it served fairly well, though I was desirous of more swashbuckling, Indiana Jones stuff), and later more thinking about its place in cinema, blah blah blah. Both times, the train sabotage scene really satisfied. And the kid suffocating in quicksand made me afraid of quicksand. And seeing Obi-Wan in brownface was a little weird. It’s the most enjoyable David Lean for me.

  18. Glad to see you get around to this. I have a soft spot for those vast David Lean epics (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is my favorite), but it’s funny that, of all the wide landscapes and crowd-control spectacles that are talked about when it comes to LAWRENCE, I most remember that torture sequence with Jose Ferrer, which is as opposite in scale as it gets from dancing on a huge dead train in the desert. That whole scene has such a weird vibe to it — more than the obvious homosexual vibe, a curious employer/employee relationship going on — that it’s tough for me to forget; it feels as endless as the “big” shots, even though it doesn’t last very long.

    What other entries typically show up in the 70mm Film Festival? I note that you saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY that way; good choice. In that format, there’s absolutely no need of hallucinogenic substances to make you have an out-of-body experience at the movies.

  19. Mattman Begins – They have about 10 different movies they show at 70mm fest every year. Don’t remember all of them off the top of my head, but I know they showed this, 2001, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, and a few musicals (I’m not big on musicals)

  20. holy shit, I can’t imagine what seeing 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY would be like in 70mm, that would make you feel like you’re literally tripping wouldn’t it?

    that is now on my bucket list

  21. Hmm, I’m suspicious, Vern. This review is short, and mostly about where you saw it, the size of the print, Iraq, etc. … All signs point to “I think I should like this, and was able to convince myself well enough that I did.” But it didn’t really connect. Not the way, say, an Isaac Florentine DTV does.

    I understand. I also like the SEVEN SAMURAI, and SPARTACUS, and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. But they’re some work to watch, which is to say, a little boring. Same with Beethoven, listening-wise.

    Pretension is pretending, and the lack of pretending is a main reason I come to this site. Just because you are the highbrow end of badass cinema studies doesn’t mean you have to tread lightly over the AFI favorites.

    All of which is to say: I found LAWRENCE slow going, if pretty to look at.

    And super gay.


  22. DocZ – that’s how I felt about Yojimbo, I certainly liked it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t also a bit bored

    pre-70’s films had such a slower and different pace back then, even a wacky comedy like It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is slow paced and long

    that’s part of why I love 2001 so much, yes it’s slow, but it such a particular atmosphere and tone that it doesn’t FEEL slow at all, at least not to me, but of course that was made by the Master, Kubrick

  23. “but it HAS such a particular atmosphere”

  24. DocZ, what is boring about SEVEN SAMURAI & THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY? Also, I am curious as to your age. I am not trying to give you a hard time, and I know you said you liked those movies, but I don’t know how you could call them boring.

  25. Evidently DocZ has not been informed that the end of any wonderful evening requires a little Ludwig Van. Silly yarbles.

    Also, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA might only seem gay to you in comparison to that other film, LAWRENCE OF A LABIA, which I’m told is strenuously heterosexual.

    But seriously, Beethoven’s “Bagatelles” are almost pop songs in their accessibility.

  26. DocZ – Nah, I think it’s more that I didn’t feel like I had a huge amount of new things to say about this movie. If the review is lacking it’s me that’s at fault in this case, because I’ve been trying to write about a ton of horror movies and maybe didn’t put enough concentration into the challenge of reviewing a reviewed-up movie like this. But I did think the current relevance of the movie is maybe something that hasn’t been mentioned in all of the reviews of this movie since many of them were written a long time ago.

    Actually SEVEN SAMURAI and especially THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY do connect with me. This one did too but yes, to a lesser extent. That much is true.

    And I could be remembering this wrong but I think Isaac Florentine might’ve said in an interview that Lawrence of Arabia and The Good the Bad and the Ugly were his two favorite movies. So maybe he has a 3 hour epic in him.

  27. Has there ever been a DTV “epic,” or anything with a 160 min run time? That I’d like to see.

    Charles, for the record, I called 7SAMURAI and GtB&tU a “little boring.” Which is mostly not boring. But also not the way DIE HARD or MAX MAX 2 are “not at all boring.”

  28. bullet3– HOW THE WEST WAS WON on 70mm!? I didn’t know such a print existed. We used to watch that movie on frozen pizza at the grandparents. It’s hilarious. And long. One image from it I’m regularly reminded of is the civil war surgeon’s assitants scrubbing so much blood off the table that it looks like they poured a couple pitchers of kool-aid there first.

  29. I once read that the real Lawrence was raped. Is that true and do they address it in the movie at all?

  30. The movie touches on it a little, Mr 4545. It definitely has a scene that heavily implies it.

    I adore this movie. The AFI in Silver Spring plays it a few times a year and I’ve seen it three times on the big screen. It’s really something else and I can’t imagine going back to the movie on the small screen.

    It’s such an epic film that I think the character of Lawrence gets lost in it a little. There’s a lot that goes on with this guy, too, but it’s easy to overlook it for all the great shots in the film.

    I would definitely consider him a badass, though. He’s a weird guy who has a feminine or otherworldly look but he becomes addicted to violence and bloodshed. It’s really interesting to see a guy who looks like a crappy soldier turn out to be really good. He’s sort of like Buster Keaton in The General if Buster Keaton meant to kill all those Yankee soldiers instead of accidentally doing so.

    This ranks pretty high on my list of classic epics. Actually, I’m always leery of calling them epics. I just think of them as manly films of manly men doing manly things. This, Bridge Over The River Kwai, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Great Escape, and even a more recent film like Master and Commander (which I think belongs in this group) are all some of my favorites.

  31. Actually, HOW THE WEST WAS WON was showing in Cinerama, a barely-used process where they have 3 separate 35mm projectors for the left, middle and right sections of the same giant curved screen they use for the 70mm showings. I want to see what it looks like, but I don’t remember that movie being very good. I wish they could show THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, because that was the only other narrative movie shot that way, but apparently HOW THE WEST WAS WON and a travelogue called THIS IS CINERAMA are the only ones that have prints remaining in good condition.

  32. That helps explain the weird aspect ratio on VHS.
    And no, that movie is not very good. I remember even as a ten-year-old being very unimpressed with the rear-projected river rafting scene. But it was nice to be watching a movie that allowed me to stay up an extra hour due to its length. And Jimmy Stewart does his all-American thing, and there is an air of tragedy around seeing him as an old man watching the next generation in the heyday of its youth.
    But the right choice was made between this and LAWRENCE.

  33. Here are some links to the trailers for HOW THE WEST WAS WON & THIS IS CINERAMA that you can watch with commentary on the Cinerama technology from Brian Trenchard-Smith.



    They are from the site Trailers From Hell, that is a great website featuring all kinds of trailers with optional commentary from film makers. The site is ran by the one and only Joe Dante, and I can’t recommend it enough. There are a lot of trailers already on the site and the add more every week.

  34. Spartacus is not boring.

  35. Here’s a cool fun fact I found out recently: Toni Gardiner was a British woman who worked as a secretarial assistant on the set of Lawrence of Arabia. When King Hussein of Jordan (where it was filmed) visited the set, as he often did, he met Toni Gardiner and they fell in love and before the movie was even released, she was the Queen of Jordan. She gave birth to two sons, Feisal and Abdullah. Abdullah is the current King of Jordan.

    Also, this: During filming, Peter O’Toole found riding camels to be extremely uncomfortable, so while he was out in a bazaar one day he bought a large piece of foam rubber and folded it up as padding underneath himself. The Bedouins hired as extras saw him do this, and to this day they still put foam rubber on their saddles. All because of Peter O’Toole. They even named him “The Father of the Sponge” in Arabic.

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