Lawrence of Arabia

Director: David Lean
Year Released: 1962
Rating: 4.0

[Note: I was asked to write this for the film's 50th anniversary.]

In a recent panel of filmmakers none other than Quentin Tarantino, when asked about the shift from film to digital technology, said - in essence - 'this isn't what I signed up for.'  If pristine moviemaking shot on actual film in 70mm by a gifted cinematographer (in this case, Freddie Young) is what Mr. Tarantino is referring to, then yes, the man (once again) has a valid point.  They simply do not make movies that look and feel like David Lean's powerful 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia any more, mostly because they're slowly phasing out the equipment that allows movies to look like this.  The appearance of Lawrence is almost as important as the thematic content of Lawrence, and it's easy to see how the combination of the two elements has produced a motion picture classic.

It's been said that the locations of Lawrence are just as important as the principle players of Lawrence, which is not to be taken as a slight.  Shot in Morocco, Spain and Jordan, it features some of the most lovingly captured imagery of the shifting, mysterious desert as any film in recent memory (The English Patient wasn't too bad, either).  With his flowing white robe, glowing eyes and penchant for getting whipped in the arse, Peter O'Toole captures the Prince of Our Disorder with supreme majesty, an incredible degree of bravery and just a touch of sexual perversity (Sir Noël Coward famously told O'Toole, "If you'd been any prettier, it would have been Florence of Arabia").  The supporting cast - consisting of Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quayle and a surprising absence of notable women - is solid and steady, but O'Toole and the desert and the sun are what remain in the memory.

In a year where 'they' got it mostly right, this was appropriately nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven of them: the three that lost, O'Toole, Sharif as Sherif Ali and Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson for the screenplay, all seem in hindsight like they were robbed, but particularly so for O'Toole, who lost to Gregory Peck's equally impressive Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (any other year he'd be a lock).  Still, it won Best Picture (and Young won for Cinematography) and is still considered one of the best movies of the '60's, if not of all-time.  While I can say I've "watched" Lawrence of Arabia several times - on a large Toshiba flat-screen - I still haven't fully "seen" Lawrence of Arabia.  To "fully see" Lawrence of Arabia, you probably need a time machine.  Sorry, Quentin.