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Lawrence of Arabia

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA



UK, 1962


Director: David Lean

Production: Horizon Pictures; color, Super-Panavision 35mm; running time: 222 minutes. Director's cut released 1989.


Producer: Sam Spiegel; screenplay: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson; photography: Freddie Young; second unit photography: Nicolas Roeg, Skeets Kelly, Peter Newbrook; editor: Anne V. Oates; assistant director: Roy Stevens; production designer: John Box; art directors: John Stoll, John Box; music: Maurice Jarre; sound editor: Winston Ryder; sound recording: Paddy Cunningham.

Cast: Peter O'Toole (Lawrence); Omar Sharif (Sherif Ali); Anthony Quinn (Auda Abu Tayi); Alec Guinness (Prince Feisal); Jack Hawkins (General Allenby); Jose Ferrer (Turkish Bey); Anthony Quayle (Colonel Brighton); Claude Rains (Mr. Dryden); Arthur Kennedy (Jackson Bentley); Donald Wolfit (General Murray).


Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Photography, Best Score, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, 1962.

Publications


Books:

Pratley, G., The Cinema of David Lean, New York, 1974.

Silver, Alain, and James Ursini, David Lean and His Films, New York, 1974.

Anderegg, M.A., David Lean, Boston 1984.

Wapshott, Nicholas, Peter O'Toole: A Biography, New York, 1984.

Silverman, S.M., David Lean, New York, 1989, 1992.

Morris, R.L., and Lawrence Raskin, Lawrence of Arabia: The 30thAnniversary Pictorial History, New York, 1992.

Hodson, Joel C., Lawrence of Arabia & American Culture: TheMaking of a Transatlantic Legend, Westport, 1995.

Brownlow, Kevin, David Lean, New York, 1997.

Caton, Steven C., Lawrence of Arabia: A Film's Anthropology, Berkeley, 1999.


Articles:

Barra, A., "The Incredible Shrinking Epic," in American Film (Washington D.C.), March 1989.

Frumkes. R., "The Restoration of Lawrence of Arabia," in Films inReview (New York), April and May 1989.

Solman, G., "Uncertain Glory," in Film Comment (New York), May-June 1993.

Caron, A., in Séquences (Montreal), June 1989.

Combs, R., in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), June 1989.

Benayoun, R., "The Long Last Cut," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1989.

Gauthier, G., in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1989.

Crowdus, G., in Cineaste (New York), 1989.

Bohne, L., "Leaning toward the Past," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Fall 1990.


* * *

Lawrence of Arabia has been described as a "thinking man's epic." The film has all the ingredients of a classic adventure yarn. Typically in epics, these ingredients are showcased to the detriment of character and plot in order to keep the action rolling. But in David Lean's epic, the title character and the political machinations surrounding his exploits take center stage; what's more, he remains an enigma even as the final credits fade to black.

Like the vast, arid landscape that, in the words of Alec Guinness's Prince Feisel, proves such a mystical allure for this latest in a line of "desert-loving Englishmen," the mystery of Lawrence's character is never quite fathomed. There is no Rosebud here. Even his rape at the hands of the Turks, which Lawrence described in his memoirs as the key assault on "the citadel of my integrity" and which may or may not have revealed to him a latent homosexuality, explains nothing.

The film overwhelms with its images of the desert and men at war, but the uncompromising genius of Lean's direction, Robert Bolt's screenplay and Peter O'Toole's starmaking performance as the obscure British map maker who becomes a national hero only to flee back to obscurity is that the focus always remains on the quest for Lawrence himself. You never stop thinking about and trying to understand him even though the quest ultimately proves unsuccessful, for the filmmakers and for us, just as it did for Lawrence himself. Our final image of the man as he is driven from the scene of his wartime triumphs to a yearned-for life of invisibility is through the windshield of a jeep, the dust-streaked glass obscuring his face. Even the film's initial advertising art (subsequently changed) showing Lawrence in arab head gear, his face in shadow, cued audiences to the puzzle without a solution they were in for. One can't even imagine a film—certainly not an epic one—like this being made today, where it is insisted upon that whatever we know or need to know about a given film's main character(s) is spelled out fully, usually in the first ten minutes.

Lawrence of Arabia appeared at a time when the British cinema that produced it and Lean were taking a decidedly different turn. Lean began his career as an editor then director of small, mostly black and white, dramas about English life drawn from the works of Charles Dickens and Noel Coward. He established himself a master of the epic with The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the superlative World War II adventure film that won a slew of Oscars, including one for him as Best Director.

He began preparing Lawrence in 1960 when the foundering British film industry was being reshaped by a younger generation of filmmakers who scorned Lean's classically trained approach to narrative moviemaking and fondness for large scale canvases and subjects. They preferred to train their cameras not on vast landscapes and enigmatic heroes but on working class anti-heroes and the dreariness of British lower class life. Their small, black and white "kitchen sink" dramas, not Lean's behemoth tales of romantic characters swept up in the turbulence of historical events, were the future of British films, they maintained.

After the success of Lawrence, which took longer to make than it took the events the film chronicled to take place, Lean continued to invite scorn by making epics. When Lawrence was restored for re-release in 1989, he explained why. He'd envisioned a future when the astronomical costs of making such movies would eventually become prohibitive, so he made them while he had the chance. But there was more to it. As the curtains opened on the giant 70mm screen at the London premiere of the restored Lawrence, the ailing director, speaking on audio tape, invited the audience to sit back and experience "what the movies used to be"—i.e. something that could not be experienced the same way except at the movies.

His younger colleagues' "kitchen sink" dramas and even his own earlier films in a similar vein could be shown on television with no loss in emotional effect. But not the epic, and certainly not Lawrence. For him a film like Lawrence of Arabia was what cinema in the post-TV era was all about: a grand opportunity for larger than life adventure, in both the making of it and the seeing of it, that should be seized upon if for no other reason than the unlikelihood of it ever coming our way again.

—John McCarty

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Lawrence of Arabia

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Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia: see Lawrence, T. E.

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Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia ★★★★ 1962 (PG)

Exceptional biography of T.E. Lawrence, a British military “observer” who strategically aids the Bedouins battle the Turks during WWI. Lawrence, played masterfully by O'Toole in his first major film, is a hero consumed more by a need to reject British tradition than to save the Arab population. He takes on Arab costume and a larger-than-life persona. Stunning photography of the desert in all its harsh reality. Blacklisted co-writer Wilson had his screen credit restored by the Writers Guild of America in 1995. Laser edition contains 20 minutes of restored footage and a short documentary about the making of the film. Available in letterboxed format. 221m/C VHS, DVD . GB Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, Jose Ferrer, Michel Ray, Norman Rossington, John Ruddock, Donald Wolfit; D: David Lean; W: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson; C: Frederick A. (Freddie) Young; M: Maurice Jarre. Oscars ‘62: Art Dir./Set Dec., Color, Color Cinematog., Director (Lean), Film Editing, Picture, Sound, Orig. Score; AFI ‘98: Top 100; British Acad. ‘62: Actor (O'Toole), Film, Screenplay; Directors Guild ‘62: Director (Lean); Golden Globes ‘63: Director (Lean), Film—Drama, Support. Actor (Sharif); Natl. Bd. of Review ‘62: Director (Lean), Natl. Film Reg. ‘91.

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Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) remains one of the most epic, literate, and beautiful films ever made. It brought instant stardom for actors Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif; O'Toole in particular drew praise for his skillful depiction of Lawrence, a complex, unheroic hero, beset by inner demons and motivated by a heady mixture of noble purpose, self-aggrandizement, compassion, brutality, and a large dollop of abnormal psychology.

The film is based on the exploits of British scholar and military officer Thomas Edward Lawrence. Born in North Wales in 1888 and educated at Oxford, Lawrence took a walking tour of Syria and Palestine to gather material for a thesis. His living among the Arabs and learning their language, dialects, and customs would prove invaluable to the British Intelligence Service with the outbreak of World War I.

The Turks, who were allied with Germany, ruled most of the Middle East with such brutality that the Arabs revolted, and the British sided with the Arabs. Lawrence knew that Britain and France had plans to divide Arabia between them when the war was over, but he felt if he could help the Arabs unite and defeat the Turks, the British would be unable to overlook the Arabs' moral claim to freedom. Lawrence joined forces with Auda abu Tayi, leader of the Howeitat tribe, and together they captured Aqaba without firing a shot, raided Turkish positions, and blew up sections of the Hejaz Railway, vital to the Turks. The Arabs pronounced his name "El Aurens," as if he were already a prince, and he finally succeeded in leading the Arab army, under Prince Feisal, into Damascus.

American journalist Lowell Thomas and his cameraman caught many images of Lawrence in the desert, then toured the world with his illustrated lecture series, making Lawrence an international legend. After the war, Lawrence remained an adviser on Arab affairs until, in 1922, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force as a private under an assumed name. In 1926 he published The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a complex and highly regarded blend of history, autobiography, philospohy, and mythmaking. He was killed in 1935 when the motorcycle he was riding struck a tree.

After the success of The Bridge on the River Kwai, producer Sam Spiegel approached director David Lean with the idea of making a film about Lawrence. After months of researching Lawrence's life, Lean agreed the story could make a fascinating film, provided a good script could be written. The first screenwriter proved unsatisfactory, and when Spiegel happened to attend the new hit play A Man for All Seasons, a historical play about Sir Thomas More and Henry VIII written by Robert Bolt, he hired Bolt for the job. Albert Finney and Marlon Brando were considered for the lead role, but the relatively unknown Peter O'Toole landed the part, and the film was shot in 1961 and 1962 in Jordan, Almeria, Morocco, and England. T. E. Lawrence's brother Arnold Walter Lawrence, who became T. E.'s literary executor upon his death and had permitted Spiegel to make the movie based on Seven Pillars of Wisdom, attended a rough-cut in September 1962. When the film ended, A. W. stood up and shouted at Spiegel, "I should never have trusted you!" He then stormed out of the theater.

In O'Toole's first scene in the film, Lawrence does a trick putting a match out between his fingers. When another soldier tries the same trick, he winces, "Ow! It damn well hurts!" "Certainly it hurts," Lawrence replies. "Well, what's the trick then?" the soldier asks. "The trick," Lawrence answers, "is not minding that it hurts." When Lawrence says he thinks the burning desert is going to be fun, an officer suggests that he has "a funny sense of fun," and there are suggestions that Lawrence enjoys the extreme tests of endurance that the desert provides. Later, to keep peace among the Arab tribes before entering Aqaba, Lawrence is forced to shoot one of them, then later confesses, "I enjoyed it." And before Damascus, Lawrence exhibits maniacal glee as he joins in the slaughter of a column of Turks, shouting, "No prisoners!" and shooting point-blank one Turk with his hands up in surrender. It is easy to see why Lawrence's brother was so incensed but, as later revealed, A. W. may have been angered by the fact that the film was uncomfortably close to the truth.

In a 1986 interview, A. W. finally revealed the terrible family secret buried for so long—T. E. hated the thought of sex and, after immersing himself in medieval literature about characters who quelled sexual longings by enduring beatings, T. E. opted to do the same. A former Tank Corps private admitted to ritually flogging Lawrence, at his request, from 1925 to 1934. A number of historians have hinted at Lawrence's possible homosexuality, and a number of film historians have called the film's homosexual overtones blatant.

Although all of this makes Lawrence of Arabia a far cry from Rambo, it makes for a more thought-provoking epic—heroic exploits may not always stem from the most heroic of motives—filled with great dialogue, great performances, gorgeous cinematography, and a sense of history. The title character's humanness and faults makes the film easier to identify with. Lawrence of Arabia won seven Academy Awards, including best film, actor, director, cinematography (Freddie Young), and musical score (Maurice Jarre).

—Bob Sullivan

Further Reading:

Brownlow, Kevin. David Lean. London, Richard Cohen Books, 1996.

Castelli, Louis P., and Caryn Lynn Cleeland. David Lean: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston, G. K. Hall & Co., 1980.

Silverman, Stephen M. David Lean. New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989.

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