Lawrence Of Arabia [Re-Release]

1962

Directed by David Lean – Written by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins and Alec Guinness

Long, majestic and stunning are words normally associated with this film but the one that suits it best is epic. Epic because there had been no films like this before and very few like it since.  It’s a sprawling story anchored by a terrific performance by Peter O’Toole as the titular Lawrence. Through him we see and feel everything that happens throughout the course of the film.

The visuals are sumptuous and visionary, with the horizon visible in nearly every shot we are ever aware of how vast their world is. The editing is strangely influenced by French new wave in its match cuts (quite literally at one point) for a classic Hollywood piece of cinema but it adds to the feeling that something exciting is happening with this film. When watching, bear in mind that there is nothing quite like this, Gone With The Wind (1939), Intolerance (1916) and Spartacus (1960) may have been epic but not in this sense. We follow Lawrence through everything, rarely detracting from him, death and isolation is everywhere as we watch a man spiral downwards towards his hell without much hope of a saving grace. Sanity snaps on Lawrence’s face with a yell of ‘No prisoners’ and with that no hope is left for him.

Going back to O’Toole’s performance we see that Lawrence is a complex man that is a good and honest at the best of times but at the worst he is egotistical and manipulative. He knows he is powerful but also conflicted as we see from every nuance and tick that comes painfully across his face. The suggestions of sado-machismo from within lead to all sort of homosexual queries as a man with two young servant boys at his disposal as well as an army of men can raise questions but in the end they are mainly left alone.

A small problem I find in this film is the unnecessary opening set in England after the main story, which depicts in the opening minutes Lawrence dying in a motorcycle accident. It feels rather uneasy placed there as the audience does not need to see or really know this as it wasn’t directly involved in the desert where he made his name. There has been criticism also about the way Lawrence was portrayed from the real one but that should be regarded irrelevant as with any film based on true events artistic licence will stop it becoming an entirely factual and faithful execution of it for the sake of being entertaining.

This is an epic piece of cinema that will continue to inspire filmmaking today to great extent with its combination of classic Hollywood style with added elements of the much newer and artier French new wave techniques. Majestic in every sense of the word from shot composition, music and performance it gives a sense of real adventure and danger. The camp, homosexual undertones may seem odd today but it will always be worth watching despite the very long runtime.

9/10

– Jack Tapley

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