Sunday, January 5, 2014

1962 - LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is half a great film.

Considering the amount of work and the difficulties in filming in the desert with the 70mm camera back in 1962, this is an amazing film.  However I believe the problem with Lawrence of Arabia has always been the inability of Lean and his writers Michael Wilson and particularly Robert Bolt to get a focus on exactly who or what the character of  T. E. Lawrence was.

I really can't find anything wrong with the first half of this film.  The scenes of Lawrence traveling in the desert in search of Prince Faisal and the rallying of the Arabs to attack the seaport of Aqaba are brilliantly done.  The acting, the scenery, Freddie Young's photography in the middle of the god forsaken desert are about as good as you will see in a film especially an epic like this.  The film ends somewhat satisfactory with Lawrence's return to Cairo.  I would quibble a bit with some of the first half of the film.  Lawrence is presented as if he had never traveled in the desert, the reality was that he was stationed in the middle east during World War I because of his knowledge of that part of the world.  However after the intermission the real problems with Lawrence of Arabia begin.

The second half of the film focuses on the political maneuverings of the British government and the puzzling character of Lawrence himself.  The script does not make it very clear regarding the motivation of the British government is in the middle east.  Clearly it's to have some sort of presence but what exactly?  To me, it sounds like the British and the French want to take over the middle east after World War I.  First they have to deal with Prince Faisal played with the usual "Arab horse trader" cliches by Alec Guiness spouting lots of wise old middle east cliches.   After watching the first half of a film which is essentially an adventure epic, the film stops cold for lots of talk about treaties and agreements which are probably only of interest to middle eastern history majors not the general public.

Then it's on to the utter failure to define exactly what is going on with this T. E Lawrence guy.  The film would like people to believe that he is some sort of intellectual sadist who was also a homosexual masochist with a touch of the exhibitionist in him, really?  Peter O' Toole has a great presence on screen with his deep blue eyes but David Lean has directed him to play the character like some sort of odd creepy weirdo.  The audience is also supposed to believe that Lawrence had the best interests of the Arabic people at heart but by the end of the film they come off as a bunch of clueless morons who need a nutty British officer to tell them what to do.

Lawrence of Arabia is the first of David Lean's super epics along with Doctor Zhivago and Ryan's Daughter. All of these films are visually impressive and well made but they all suffer from script problems which David Lean and his writer Robert Bolt were unable to get a handle on.

228 minutes

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