By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
In his late 20s T.E. Lawrence has already traveled the world, and has developed eccentricities which make him a bit of a black sheep in the British Army. Lawrence longs for adventure, and lobbies his commander to allow him to travel to Arabia, in order to organize the Beduin tribes into an army to fight the Turkish Army, and assist operations there. Lawrence gets his wish.
Upon arriving in the Middle East, Lawrence gradually wins over the confidence of Bedouin tribesmen through his confidence and daring, finally winning their respect after taking a small force far across the desert to attack the Turkish stronghold at Aqaba (in present day Jordan). Lawrence uses this victory to obtain British supplies and support, and grows a large army. All the while, Lawrence becomes increasingly affected, and begins questioning the motives of his actions, and the motives of his British commanders.
Director David Lean created many films in his career which are considered masterpieces of cinema (Doctor Zhivago and The Bridge on the River Kwai being prominent examples). Lawrence of Arabia belongs in a category all its own, the kind of iconic classic which approaches perfection from nearly every angle. The first, and most obvious accomplishment of the film is the visuals. Lean, alongside cinematographer F.A. Young, would reportedly wait days to shoot the right sunrise, or sunset. They labored for hours to frame each shot for maximum affect. Shot on 70mm cameras, the film’s vivid colors and incredibly detailed shots of the desert set a standard of perfection which has rarely been matched, and never beaten.
Peter O’Toole was a newcomer to cinema upon being cast as Lawrence. His Shakespearean background, combined with his deeply emotive baby-blue eyes, help to create in Lawrence a character whose love of natural beauty and calm demeanor clashes violently with a deeply disturbed inner demon. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Lawrence attempts to resign from his position not because of the killing he has done, but because he found himself enjoying it. O’Toole was nominated eight separate times for Best Actor at the Academy awards, this being the first (losing to Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird). Though he never won, his uncanny knack for combining subtle emotion with theatrical energy earned a prominent place in the annals of film history.
The supporting actors read less like a cast list, and more like a list of award winners and nominees. Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, José Ferrer, and Claude Rains all deliver fantastically in their given roles. Omar Sharif, then a little-known Egyptian performer, would win a Golden Globe for his role, and be nominated for best Supporting actor. He would go on to star in Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, winning yet another Golden Globe. As Prince Faisal, Alec Guinness reportedly studied Sharif’s accent to be believable, and was deeply committed to the dignity of his character. As Auda Abu Tayi, Anthony Quinn descended so deeply into his role that he was often confused for being an Arab extra while on set.
No discussion of Lawrence of Arabia can be complete without discussing the award-winning score by Maurice Jarre. The music of Lawrence perfectly sets the film’s tone, with big sweeping strings complementing the desert landscapes and pounding bass drums and blazing horns used during the battle scenes. Listen below for a taste:
Lawrence of Arabia tops the “Best of” lists of so many critics for a reason. It is simply one of the most gorgeously shot, wonderfully acted, fascinating stories ever told on film. Do yourself a favor, watch it in full HD.
Take a Drink: whenever Lawrence is referred to as “Aurens”
Take a Drink: for every wide-angle shot of someone moving from left to right across the screen
Take a Drink: anytime the Turks are mentioned
Drink a Shot: for the “torture” scene, and double it for the implied rape…