Lawrence of Arabia
I think I mentioned in last week's Idea of a
University that all this reading about desert warfare I'm having to do sent me off to watch Lawrence of Arabia, therefore, a review of it was something that seemed like a good idea just as I contemplated sitting down to write my essay.
Now, this film is said to be one of Steven Spielberg's favourites (in fact, he pretty much says so himself in the 'Conversation With' on the DVD), but don't let that put you off. There is nothing sentimental about this film: it's passionate, yes, and most definitely beautiful to look at, but sentiment – not a chance, not when your hero is as complicated as T.E Lawrence.
David Lean is one of the greatest directors ever, and Lawrence is his masterpiece. Filmed primarily in the desert it made stars, and matinee idols of Peter O'Toole (Lawrence) and Omar Sharif (Ali). The film tells the story of T.E Lawrence, a British liaison officer to the
Arabs in World War One. It traverses the period from Lawrence's first entry into the desert; through his entanglement in the events of the Arab revolt up to the capture of Damascus in 1918. This DVD holds the film as it was originally intended – it places the passages that were filleted from the original cinema release back in their proper places, and sparkles up the visuals and sound. Revamped in at the end of the 1980s it was approved by David Lean.
Lawrence of Arabia makes no pretence at being historically accurate – indeed the script, by Robert Bolt, is primarily based on Lawrence's own memoirs, 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom', which is more autobiography than history. Lawrence is the heart of this film, and O'Toole carries the film spectacularly. The action of the film focuses on three main events and their effect upon Lawrence: the attack on Akaba, Lawrence's capture in Deraa, and the progress to Damascus. It is in this that the genius of the film is revealed, as Lean is not afraid to show us the imperfections of his 'hero', Lawrence travelling from an elegant British officer in love with the Desert, to an Anglo-Arab, reluctant hero and showman with confused morals. If The Bridge on the River Kwai showed that Lean dared to question the British army officer, it is in this film that this, and his desire to show humanity in all its forms reaches its culmination.
The film has everything you could possibly want in a movie (well, apart from women): the score, by the then obscure Maurice Jarre is now one of the most famous around, the photography, unsurprisingly, is stunning, and 'that cut' from Lawrence's match to the sunrise in the desert is worth every superlative that Spielberg can heap upon it. And as for the cast, well, it contains not only O'Toole and Sharif (who went on to become Dr Zhivago), but also Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Jose Ferrer (in a 5 minute slot in Deraa) and the almost incomparable Claude Rains, who, as the politician
Dryden steals every scene he's in with his gentleness and iron will.
So without further ado, Go, Watch, Marvel, Watch it again (you know you want to – the director Bryan Singer has said it's one of the films he has to watch at least once a year.)
This DVD may not feature the world's longest list of extras, but they are really good for all that. There's no director's commentary, due to the death of David Lean before the DVD was put together, instead you get Steven Spielberg telling you how when he first showed Lean the revamped 'Lawrence' he got a live commentary all through it, just so you can be incredibly jealous. Actually – the conversation with Spielberg really isn't that bad, I just happen not to really like the guys films (well, the serious ones anyway), and he's quite enlightening on the process of restoring the film. It's just over 10 minutes long, and he discusses the film's effect upon him when he first saw it – as a teenager – and it's classic status.
The DVD-Rom extras in this set are fantastic – The Archives of Arabia. For each chapter of the film (56 in all) there is a small passage about the filming of the chapter, and a selection of behind the scenes photos to accompany it, each with their own caption. It's almost like a director's commentary in itself, as many details about the making as you could wish, but without the waffle and self-congratulatory tendencies.
Then there is a fascinating 'Making Of' documentary, filmed before Lean's death. It is an hour long, and almost everybody involved in the film comes back to talk about it. The shoot was apparently incredibly long and hugely difficult with problems ranging from keeping the sand looking pristine (they created brush-type instruments to smooth away any tracks between takes) to making sure that the camera actually worked properly during the heat of the desert. There are also four other featurettes, entitled: The Camels are Cast, In Search of Lawrence, Romance in Arabia, and The Making of a Classic. All pre-date the 'Making Of', and all are shorter, but no less interesting for it.
On the first disc (did I mention that the film covers two discs? No? Oh well, it does) there is also a map of the area in which the events of the film take place, and a timeline, so you can scan through and discover what happened where, and set the film in it's historical
context. In addition to all this there are also theatrical trailers, and snippets from the advertising campaign and American premiere, plus the standard filmographies. All in all a pretty impressive package – and not really a bit of it waste if you want to know more about
Lawrence of Arabia.