I was recently lucky enough to see Lawrence of Arabia restored in 4K in a theater and it made me realize how wonderful the movie is. And now, just about a week later Amazon has put the restored Blu Ray on sale for a mere $10. I suppose this was written.
So, of course, I bought it right away. If you haven’t yet watched it or own it, it’s totally worth it. So I’m going to take this opportunity to opine about why I love the film so much and why you should give it a shot if you haven’t already.It’s Inspired Many Filmmakers Since
This is the film that’s inspired thousands of filmmakers. For instance, Steven Spielberg told AFI that he watches this film in the pre-production of every single one of his movies. So basically, Spielberg doesn’t make a movie without first revisiting Lawrence of Arabia and drawing inspiration from it.
Just look at the joy on Spielberg’s face as he’s discussing Lawrence of Arabia:
Not only that, but it’s inspired heavy thought from other filmmakers. Just take a look at Martin Scorsese work his way through Lawrence. Look how engaged he gets.
So really, if you want to know what makes some of your favorite filmmakers tick – watching, and owning, Lawrence of Arabia is a good gateway. I say owning because Scorsese is right: you really need multiple views to fully digest this epic of a movie.It Could Never Be Made Now
There’s no way Lawrence of Arabia could be made today. It’s impossible. The film contained hundreds upon hundreds of extras. It had armies of horses and camels. And keep in mind the film released in 1962, so everything is real and tangible. Today, this film would be so chock-full of CG that it may lose its soul.
But David Lean’s film has a real quality to it. It feels huge. It feels like a giant adventure. It’s not like you’re seeing a CG background where it feels like you’re only going as far as a computer can take you. It’s pure craft.
And really, we all know this film would be made into a trilogy.It’s A Brave Film
Would any movie today cast a relative unknown, like Peter O’Toole was at the time, and make him the lead in a movie that was already a huge gamble? On top of that the film is told in flashback. As Scorsese says, the first thing you see is a shot of a guy cleaning a motorcycle. The desert is nowhere in sight!
So you spend the first five minutes of the film watching a guy you don’t know drive faster and faster and eventually get killed. Then you go into the movie. There aren’t many modern filmmakers that would do that. Not only wouldn’t they hire a relative unknown, but they wouldn’t kill off the main character early in the film.
It also never holds your hand. It lets you discern things for yourself subtly. There’s a great scene in the film where Lawrence, having been tortured by the Turks while leading the Arabs, returns to the British stronghold. As we see him talking to his commanding officers he turns and there’s blood seeping out of the back of his shirt. It’s not done in a bold way either, it’s almost matter-of-fact.
Nowadays, that shot would have someone call attention to the blood. Either the filmmaker would focus on it with a certain camera angle or a character would yell out “you’re bleeding!” But Lean doesn’t hammer the point into the audience, he lets them realize it. It’s not until that certain sequence is over that someone quietly tells Lawrence that he’s bleeding.It’s Filled With Magic Filmmaking
There’s a reason why Spielberg gets giddy when talking about the sequences in this movie. It’s directed damn well. It’s acted damn well. It’s got an amazing score. The sets are fantastic. The make-up is great. I’m running out of ways to praise this movie. Oh, the cinematography is superb.
At this point, I’ll just talk about some of my favorite sequences that’ll illustrate what I’m talking about.
Near the beginning of the film, Lawrence finds out his mission: he has to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal’s fight against the Turks. Right after he gets the order he brings out a match to do his famous match trick. What he does, or what he did before that point, was that he would extinguish the flame with his fingers. In this instance he takes out the match and simply blows it out.
AND BOOM. The film cuts to a red Arabian sunset. It’s instant and glorious. It shifts the film from one setting to another with a common element. A flame extinguished and then rekindled by the burning sun. It’s a sight to behold, so behold the video below.
And then there’s the scene where Lawrence meets Faisal and the two discuss the way, England and everything else. The vast majority of the discussion takes place in one take. It’s a discussion that does something different. Instead of cross cutting between the two close-ups of the people talking, they’re always in the same frame together.
Instead of cross cutting, Lean just uses depth of field to keep things visually interesting. He also doesn’t distract from a conversation that highlights many of the themes of the film. It’s simply Alec Guinness’ Faisal walking away from the camera (no man needs nothing!) and then walking toward it.
It’s brilliant and subtle.
The third scene I loved I wasn’t able to find, but Gasim falls from his horse as Lawrence and the gang are traversing the Nefud Desert. So Lawrence goes back to get him before the sun rises. What follows is nothing but Gasim and him walking along terrified as the sun starts rising. Lean will make you absolutely hate the sun. It becomes a foreboding villain that threatens to be as deadly as anything from a slasher horror film.
And then there’s this. When Lawrence and his guide end up at a well. In the distance, they see a black figure. There’s no sound. There’s no score. We just see Lawrence and his guide stare at this black hooded figure slowly coming toward them. A tension builds and just consumes you.So What Are You Waiting For?
There’s so much more to this movie I haven’t discussed. It’s political undertones, the brilliance of its storytelling, O’Toole’s fantastic break through and more.
Agh, I can’t help it. Quickly on the storytelling, or at least the purpose the opening serves: much like Citizen Kane, the film starts out as an exploration of what people consider a great man. We see people, at Lawrence’s funeral, mourn him and call him great but they don’t really know why. So we, the audience, are then thrown into his world and find that Lawrence was a bored jokester who was trying to push himself, but he eventually found a purpose and a way to push himself until he couldn’t push in that direction any further. He did great things, but in his eyes it was never enough and he kept pushing further. Especially after a burden of expectation to be great was pushed on him.
So really, do yourself a favor and pick up Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a fantastic bargain. Bonus, if you click the photo below you can help support Swiftfilm.