Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
May 29, 2021 12:32 PM - Subscribe

An English junior officer in World War I Cairo is able to arrange his being sent to observe the Arabs in their rising against the Ottoman Empire. The British have their reasons for aiding the Arabs. The Arabs have their reasons for rising up against the Ottomans. And the English junior officer has his own reason for going into the desert. "Fun."

"Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 British epic historical drama film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence and his 1926 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It was directed by David Lean and produced by Sam Spiegel, through his British company Horizon Pictures, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. The film stars Peter O'Toole as Lawrence with Alec Guinness playing Prince Faisal. The film also stars Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, and Arthur Kennedy. The screenplay was written by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. "

Wikipedia always has more. It is Spielberg's favorite film and the one that inspired him to be a filmmaker. It inspired Herbert for Dune and Lucas for Star Wars. According to the article, LoA also served as one of the inspirations for Scott's Prometheus, Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road, and Disney's Frozen.

From Ebert's Great Movies review: What a bold, mad act of genius it was, to make “Lawrence of Arabia,” or even think that it could be made. In the words years later of one of its stars, Omar Sharif: “If you are the man with the money and somebody comes to you and says he wants to make a film that's four hours long, with no stars, and no women, and no love story, and not much action either, and he wants to spend a huge amount of money to go film it in the desert--what would you say?”

Poster's thoughts:
If you read the Wiki article and other stuff easily found on the web, you'll get a better idea of the themes of the movie than I could provide here. I saw this movie for the first time when I was grown up. I had known about it forever, but it was always the great Lawrence of Arabia and I just never had the discipline to sit down and actually watch it. Then one day the stars aligned: I had time and it was on TCM. Whoa! I've only seen the movie all the way through once or twice since then, but I always stop to watch the final scenes if I see them on. It's a very sad ending on many levels. Lawrence went to the desert and had his "fun." But then it was time to go home.

posted by Fukiyama (21 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I watched this about 20 years ago, toward the end of my “see all the classics” phase. This was on VHS, on an unspectacular picture tube tv, but I found it captivating the whole way through. I’ve never rewatched it though, I’ve been holding out for the chance to see it in a theater on 70 millimeter.
posted by skewed at 12:59 PM on May 29, 2021

Definitely one of the few films that absolutely must be seen in its original presentation in a theater. Honestly, if you took away the vast visual impact of the photography, it’s actually just kind of an okay film. The photography is the real star here.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:02 PM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've seen the 70mm version that was restored in the 80s, and the 4K version that was done about 10 years ago. The 4K is astonishing, it's probably a better image than the original 70mm since they were able to repair issues in the original negative, for instance, emulsion cracks caused by the desert heat.

See it on the biggest screen you possibly can.
posted by daveje at 2:36 PM on May 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

This movie made me interested in the "revolt in the desert" as a teenager and so now I know that its presentation of everything from the history to the personalities isn't exactly accurate - but goddamn if it doesn't remain as entrancing and magnetic as the first time I saw it. Incredible landscapes, immersive acting, a story that investigates my favorite themes: can we ever call another culture home? What can you be loyal to without destroying yourself? I rewatch it every few years and it seems fresh every single time.

(And like hell there's no love story: "We thought we were being very daring at the time: Lawrence and Ali...")
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:08 PM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Always glad I saw it at the Brattle, even if they can't handle 70 mm. It is something. Omar Sharif's charisma cannot be contained in lesser formats!

Could've done without Alec Guinness in brownface, though. (Although honestly the resemblance of the facial features, at least from the pictures I've seen, is remarkable, and it's certainly not a disparaging role.)
posted by praemunire at 4:14 PM on May 29, 2021

I've never seen it on a big screen, but I've always marveled at how it was a great adventure movie while also being a very serious movie about power and loyalty and identity.
posted by acrasis at 5:09 PM on May 29, 2021

This is one of my all-time go-to-whenever classics. I have been fortunate to see it on the big screen three times, once at the Ziegfeld in NYC, once at the Union Square for the 4K restoration. The romance between Lawrence and Ali feels more heartbreaking with every viewing. The last shot of Anthony Quinn’s Auda striding into the shadows is one of those visuals I never tire of. The utter lack of women is also remarkable.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:51 PM on May 29, 2021

I can't put it better than everyone else has. I would like to mention José Ferrer. His brief performance is minute-for-minute one of the best.
posted by Stuka at 6:07 PM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hooo. So I've seen this on the big screen (8+?-) numerous times (thank you revival & art house cinema in my sprawling teen years) saw the restored footage version back in the 90's, it was very choppy and uneven. Looking forward to the 4k version, hope there will be a wide screen for it when I can.
Yes. It's highly problematic in its depiction of a white savior, of a native people that need help throwing off the shackles of oppression from...other people...only to be taken over, divided, by more white people. It is very good to watch this film and immediately learn up about the colonial carving up of the lands, it's all still playing out now.
It is a gorgeous film. It takes its time in a more European way than epic films of similar length from that time. It makes me understand the fascination with 'other' places, and finding yourself within those places.
Much superb acting, big roles for long stretches, complications. It is a shame that no one thought to, or wanted to, weave any type of female point of view, but then I suppose we'd have had some terrible pasted-in love story. So it is at least slightly faithful to T.E. Lawrence book.
It's grand.
posted by winesong at 7:29 PM on May 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

I saw it at LACMA's Bing theater (RIP) in the 90s and there were at least 30 people lining up at the drinking fountain at intermission
posted by brujita at 7:55 PM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Saw it in 70mm at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore in the 90s. They had it there for several months as I recall, and I went back at least three times. Beautiful; I’ve always cited it as my favorite film ever since.

Years later, I got to be an extra, Morris dancing, in a decidedly lesser Peter O’Toole film. He was a very genial guy and happy to chat with everyone on set.
posted by transient at 4:14 AM on May 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

This movie is the only true filmed version of Moby Dick: a merciless ocean (of sand in this case), a crew of only men, a lot of historic/scientific facts that turn out to be wrong (and a lot of sausage-making you cringe at seeing), problematic stuff about race due to its era but also some really well-intentioned stuff, and a heartwrenching tale you'd have to be made of stone not to resonate with. Also much longer than the plot would seem to warrant.
posted by rikschell at 5:24 AM on May 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

> "Years later, I got to be an extra, Morris dancing, in a decidedly lesser Peter O’Toole film."

(Purely out of curiosity -- Rock My World / Global Heresy?)
posted by kyrademon at 9:42 AM on May 30, 2021

The utter lack of women is also remarkable.

Toward the end we see a truckload of nurses disembarking. No speaking roles, though.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:24 PM on May 30, 2021

We also get a shot of the women riding behind the men, fully veiled.
posted by Crystal Fox at 12:15 AM on May 31, 2021

Rock My World / Global Heresy?

posted by transient at 1:09 AM on May 31, 2021

This was shown on my PBS affiliate on Saturday night. Never saw it before, but figured it was way past time.

I watched the first 45 minutes and then had to take care of some other stuff, so I hit the "record" button so I can finish later.

But those 45 minutes - WOW. I finally understand why it is so loved by so many people. Epic, indeed.
posted by davidmsc at 7:30 AM on June 1, 2021

Highly recommend this biography for anyone who's looking to dig in more into both Lawrence's life and his actions in WW I, which takes up a lot of the book.
posted by curious nu at 9:01 PM on June 1, 2021

I was also fortunate to see the 70mm version at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco; an excellent match of movie and theater.
posted by JDC8 at 10:26 PM on June 2, 2021

The ululating from the hills as our heroes head to Aqaba is the only time we hear women's voices.

As for behind the scenes:

I don't recall the name of the theatre I first saw Lawrence at but it was its grand opening week after being restored, which went well with showing the grand reveal of the newly restored ('90s) footage. It was the first time I understood why some films really should be seen on the big screen. I loved it enough that I bought it on DVD when it finally came out in a letterboxed version, though.

At least it's accordant that a work knowingly centering a "saviour" with a progressively twisted relationship to beauty and truth should have its own many flaws in how it tells its story of the feats for which he is elevated. I don't think it's a film that instills confidence in a grand history as portrayed by colonizers, rulers, adventurer's tales, or newspapermen.

In addition to being gorgeous and heartbreaking and wry.
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 9:23 PM on June 3, 2021

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