Moving on to a much more dramatic setting, and a much longer film ! It took me a whole day to watch Lawrence of Arabia, released in 1962. 3 hours and 37 minutes split equally in three different parts. Ranked Number 5 Greatest Movies of All Times by the American Film Institute, the film stars Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif (Dr Zhivago), personal favourite Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan in Star Wars, Dr Zhivago), Anthony Quinn, and a multitude of other actors whom I did not know before but include Jack Hawkins, Arthur Kennedy and Claude Rains. Director is David Lean (Dr Zhivago) who got an Oscar for Best Director, producer is Sam Spiegel. Of note, the exceptional music by Maurice Jarre.
All in all, the film got 7 Academy Awards: Sam Spiegel for Best Picture, David Lean for Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Maurice Jarre for Best Substantially Original Score, Best Film Editing and Best Sound.
Story is based on the life of T.E. Lawrence and his experiences in Arabia during WW I, and is loosely based on Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He is sent to Arabia to help the Arab revolt against the Turks. Highly centered around the man himself, the film is about his hatred yet attraction the the violent inherent in war, finding his own identity, and reconciling his allegiance between native Britain and newfound Arab desert tribes.
First things firt, the music can be recognized after three tones, it is sweeping and grand. Like some other movies around that time it starts with about 7 minutes of music and, something I love, there is an intermission – kind of makes sense, almost 4 hours is a long way to go.
I love these kind of movies, I do. I liked Omar Sharif a lot, much more than in Dr Zhivago, his role as a tough warrior suited him much better, I thought. And I’ll admit, he was deeply attractive as Sherif Ali. His character evolves a lot as the movie progresses, much more than any other characters.
Of course, always happy to see Alec Guinness, decidedly not Arabic but playing the part well, giving the character of Prince Feisai power and wisdom.
I had more issues with Peter O’Toole and the evolution of his character. I cannot judge on whether this is historically accurate, but I am having difficulties comprehending it. First, I found him way too pretty and effeminate – not sure about the real TE Lawrence, but this was disturbing to me to see a 1960s Brad Pitt play a master of war strategy. Too blond, too pretty. Even more disturbing was the evolution of his character – admittedly the movie is about one ordinary man becoming extraordinary, but at some points it gets completely over the top, reminders of the Bible and Jesus, with talks of walking on water, leading the people. Some scenes, some shots, such as Lawrence going back to the desert to save Gasim, are filmed, designed to give this impression of miracles, of something exceptionnal. That where things evolves and Ali becomes deferent to Lawrence, after being patronizing at first :
Sherif Ali: Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it
But then to me it is just too much :
T.E. Lawrence: I'm not hurt at all. Didn't you know? They can only kill me with a golden bullet.T.E. Lawrence: The best of them won't come for money; they'll come for me.
I much preferred the first part of the movie, with the crossing of the desert that left me hooked, the second part was more political and again, as I said before, I found it too much : Lawrence is portrayed as a charismatic leader, almost prophet, to the point of megalomania. He also gives an impression of someone lost, with no regards for his own safety, taking risks as if to punish himself for something. All in all, I found his character puzzling, but not very likeable.
Club Secretary: I say, Lawrence. You are a clown!T.E. Lawrence: Ah, well, we can't all be lion tamers.
Sherif Ali: There is the railway. And that is the desert. From here until we reach the other side, no water but what we carry with us. For the camels, no water at all. If the camels die, we die. And in twenty days they will start to die.T.E. Lawrence: There's no time to waste, then, is there?
William Potter: Ooh! It damn well 'urts!T.E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.Officer: What's the trick then?T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
That said, beautiful sceneries and great filming, this remains a must, but I am not as enthusiastic about it as most people.