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Lawrence of Arabia on September 1st & 4th, 2019

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Adding that if you haven't seen this particular picture in a theater you haven't seen it, no matter how large your TV screen. In fact it actually comes off as slightly less of a movie than it is, because the pacing is off -- Lean gives you several more seconds than you need with a smaller screen to absorb the images, so you're sitting there on the couch wondering why you're still staring at sand dunes.

I've never actually seen the restored version in a theater, so I will catch this if I can. Thanks, pherank.

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18 hours ago, dirac said:

Adding that if you haven't seen this particular picture in a theater you haven't seen it, no matter how large your TV screen. In fact it actually comes off as slightly less of a movie than it is, because the pacing is off -- Lean gives you several more seconds than you need with a smaller screen to absorb the images, so you're sitting there on the couch wondering why you're still staring at sand dunes.

I've never actually seen the restored version in a theater, so I will catch this if I can. Thanks, pherank.

I haven't seen the restored version on the big screen either. Just to see one of the great transition shots in all cinema - Lawrence blowing out the match/sunrise on the Arabian desert - gives me goosebumps thinking about it.  ;)

I had a great time seeing the restored Wizard of Oz on the big screen, so I think this will be equally fun...

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Of course, there's been more than one restoration since the big one in 1988, which Lean and editor Anne V. Coates were still around for. I wonder if this one is the 70mm version? If so, oh boy!

 

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On 8/24/2019 at 10:27 PM, dirac said:

Adding that if you haven't seen this particular picture in a theater you haven't seen it, no matter how large your TV screen. In fact it actually comes off as slightly less of a movie than it is, because the pacing is off -- Lean gives you several more seconds than you need with a smaller screen to absorb the images, so you're sitting there on the couch wondering why you're still staring at sand dunes.

I've never actually seen the restored version in a theater, so I will catch this if I can. Thanks, pherank.

Oh, you're in for a treat.  It was one of the first films I saw all by myself, in the early 70s, and I was just gobsmacked.  My mother used to talk about seeing it when the film was first released.  It has an intermission, which came after a long series of shots of the desert.  My mother went straight out to the concessions counter, and bought the largest orange soda she could get.  And she really disliked fountain drinks.

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My mother went straight out to the concessions counter, and bought the largest orange soda she could get.  And she really disliked fountain drinks

:)

I saw it in a theater before the 1988 restoration and it was a great experience then. It appears this latest iteration has a refurbished soundtrack and will be in the original aspect ratio, with the overture, intermission, and the whole ball of wax. Unsurprising, given that TCM is meticulous about this stuff. I'm getting seriously juiced.

I'm seeing it this weekend. My one concern is that instead of a decently sized auditorium it's going to be screened in one of those tiny rooms common among today's giant multiplexes. In such spaces the screen and sound can be overpowering. You feel like a POW or something.

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I saw the 1988 restoration on a properly large screen in a spacious auditorium. It included the overture and the intermission. That was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my movie-going life, topped, I think, only by seeing Star Wars for the first time, on a big screen in a big auditorium. But the latter was also an experience of collective euphoria. :) If you haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, don't deprive yourself of the opportunity. :wub:

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Posted (edited)

I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia back in the day at film school. It seemed like a big overstuffed armchair of a movie in faux naturalism, with its over the top wide screen landscapes and wide screen acting (with Anthony Quinn's nose looking as though it could fall off at any moment). This was in comparison to the modest New Wave films my friends and I were seeing and even the color A-grade films that those directors had graduated to, like Contempt and Blow Up. (In Contempt, which was filmed in CinemaScope, Fritz Lang says that CinemaScope is only appropriate for snakes and funerals, all the while Godard was having his mischievous ways with it.)

And students in the English dept would recommend instead reading Charles M. Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta, T. E. Lawrence's inspiration ("we may write books on parts of the desert … but here it is all said, and by a great master"). What Lawrence would have thought of this film must spin between the comic and the tragic in our imaginations.

An art director I knew later, Eugene Lourie – who did the art direction on Renoir's The River and Chaplin's Limelight – told me that he worked on an early film with Peter O'Toole just after O'Toole had some plastic surgery done. On the first day of shooting all of the crew pretended not to recognize him and kept looking at their watches and wondering aloud when the real Peter O'Toole was going to show up.

Edited by Quiggin

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1 hour ago, Quiggin said:

I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia back in the day at film school. It seemed like a big overstuffed armchair of a movie in faux naturalism, with its over the top wide screen landscapes and wide screen acting (with Anthony Quinn's nose looking as though it could fall off at any moment). This was in comparison to the modest New Wave films my friends and I were seeing and even the color A-grade films that those directors had graduated to, like Contempt and Blow Up. (In Contempt, which was filmed in CinemaScope, Fritz Lang says that CinemaScope is only appropriate for snakes and funerals, all the while Godard was having his mischievous ways with it.)

I'm sure this is all true, but it was still an epic event for me. 

6 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

... topped, I think, only by seeing Star Wars for the first time, on a big screen in a big auditorium. But the latter was also an experience of collective euphoria. :)

Bingo.  I went with friends, a couple weeks after it opened, and we really had no idea what it would be like.  We were stunned.

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10 hours ago, sandik said:

I'm sure this is all true, but it was still an epic event for me.

It just goes to show you how off base back in the day judgment can be, while acknowledging what the New Wavers were reacting against. The film school cognoscenti might have had a point if the picture had been Doctor Zhivago  -- and even Zhivago for all its flaws looks better in retrospect, if only because they really don't make them like that any more.

Politically speaking, the picture is certainly confused, in part because Lean wanted to de-emphasize politics in a highly political story (which put him at odds with his original screenwriter, Michael Wilson). "The thinking man's epic" isn't quite an oxymoron, but it is hard to combine the sensual delights and kinetic excitement of spectacle with the political and moral complexities of empire. Lawrence, who embodied many of those complexities, would no doubt have had mixed feelings - but they would have been mixed.

Lawrence was shot in Panavision by the celebrated cinematographer Freddie Young.

O'Toole's looks were indeed remodeled a bit. He was originally brunet, with a rather wild shock of hair, went blond and straight for Lawrence and stayed that way. His nose also had an extra bit of length nipped off. (He was always a striking man, he just became striking in a more conventional way.)

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4 hours ago, dirac said:

It just goes to show you how off base back in the day judgment can be, while acknowledging what the New Wavers were reacting against.

I don't think what serious film audiences liked then – just as serious ballet audiences appreciated Agon and The Four Temperaments in their time – was so off base in retrospect. After all George Lucas made American Graffiti from the bones of Fellini's I Vitelloni, Martin Scorcese was influenced by 8 1/2, and Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, which was previewed at film school for student opinionswas inspired by Godard's Breathless, which for years was hugely influential. Lawrence of Arabia in its time seemed like a big old fashioned, conservatively constructed but fun, entertainment film.

Panavision is less wide than mail-box-slot CinemaScope (great "envelope pushing" examples of which were Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player and Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well). The most pleasing aspect ratio seemed to be semi-wide screen 1.6, the classic golden mean ratio of 5:8, in which most European movies were filmed. In the US they would inevitably be projected in the wider and less attractive – neither this nor that – ratio of 1.85, voiding all the cameraman's careful choices.

Here's Scorcese's (I can't forget the old spelling) list of Criterion Film favorites, Lourie's The River among them, and his reasons:

http://www.openculture.com/2016/05/martin-scorsese-names-his-top-10-films-in-the-criterion-collection.html

Edited by Quiggin

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We all have our favorites, and we all have our bugaboos. But if they consistently get in the way of appreciating an art form, and film is a very complex art form, then there's a problem.

The stage makeup issue (readily apparent on the Bluray version) is quite literally a superficial one. There are people who claim to not be able to appreciate Buster Keaton's The General because Keaton's character is a Southerner. There are people who won't watch The Planet of the Apes because the apes' upper lips don't move - "it ruins the effect!" Whatever. Does anyone actually believe Dustin Hoffman as a Beverly Hills prince (and college track star!) in The Graduate? Once you become aware of things like cinematography, lighting, special effects, staging and costumes, script writing, acting, direction and the host of little things that make a production work, or not, then individual flaws are relatively easy to dismiss as what they are: little flaws.

Disliking CinemaScope, Cinerama and that type of thing is a different sort of issue from makeup and costume, but there's always something to be learned from the viewing experience. I can't help but be reminded of the time, long ago, my mother and I went to see the re-release of Abel Gance's Napoleon in Polyvision with a tryptich of screens - it wasn't easy to watch that way, but the film was fascinating and emotionally stirring. It may have only been the film's finale that got the special treatment - it's been too long for me to remember the details.

The "Greatest Films of All Time" lists continue to change as the decades wear on. It always depends on who you talk to. The interesting thing is how much variation there is between knowledgeable people (such as film directors, or critics) in the films that they admire most:
https://www.slashfilm.com/quentin-tarantino-martin-scorsese-woody-allen-francis-ford-coppola-michael-mann-list-movies/
(scroll down a bit to see the director lists)

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5 hours ago, dirac said:

O'Toole's looks were indeed remodeled a bit. He was originally brunet, with a rather wild shock of hair, went blond and straight for Lawrence and stayed that way. His nose also had an extra bit of length nipped off. (He was always a striking man, he just became striking in a more conventional way.)

My Favorite Year ran and ran here, almost as long as a year.  O'Toole may have had some conventional instincts, but he could calibrate them for a part.

 

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1 hour ago, sandik said:

My Favorite Year ran and ran here, almost as long as a year.  O'Toole may have had some conventional instincts, but he could calibrate them for a part.

Whatever O’Toole was, it wasn’t conventional (except perhaps for his views on woman’s place – Sian Phillips wrote of his colossal freakout when she told him she wasn’t a virgin).

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Well………… C.B. DeMille in CinemaScope is conventional good fun. I would call Lean’s style of storytelling traditional without the negative connotation of “conventional” -- I only wish more directors could tell a story like Lean -- but I’d not call Lawrence fun except for a few bits here and there (that magnificent Arabian stallion), and the passion and torment of O’Toole’s Lawrence aren’t fun at all ( he compensates for all the deficiencies in the film’s conception of the character). Which is not to say that there aren’t elements of dear old C.B. in Lawrence – there are.

Scorsese, with Spielberg, has helped with Lawrence reconstructions and transfers:

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How sweet the balm of history. Like its half-mad hero, Lawrence of Arabia defied the odds and won -- seven Oscars, to be exact. And like T.E. Lawrence, the Oxford-bred English lieutenant who led a Bedouin revolt against the colonial Turks, David Lean's film has grown in legend. Critics revere it as the cinema's greatest epic, and a young generation of filmmakers fondly cite its achievement and impact. "To me it is one of the most beautiful films ever made," says Martin Scorsese, whose Last Temptation of Christ was a Lawrence on the cheap.

I always thought Bonnie and Clyde owed most to Shoot the Piano Player. Breathless makes sense too, though. Truffaut was slated to direct B&C – that’s an interesting What If…..

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Saw it yesterday and it was great. The room was as anticipated too small but the screen and sound were not overpowering. It was in 70 mm and the images were stunning. The ending is still confused and a certain imperial ethnic condescension is hard to miss, but it doesn't wreck the picture. 

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Does anyone actually believe Dustin Hoffman as a Beverly Hills prince (and college track star!) in The Graduate?

Well, he made it work. :) Redford, who turned it down (Nichols said that Redford was turned down, but I'm inclined to doubt that), would have been perfect.

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1 hour ago, dirac said:

Saw it yesterday and it was great. The room was as anticipated too small but the screen and sound were not overpowering. It was in 70 mm and the images were stunning. The ending is still confused and a certain imperial ethnic condescension is hard to miss, but it doesn't wreck the picture. 

Well, he made it work. :) Redford, who turned it down (Nichols said that Redford was turned down, but I'm inclined to doubt that), would have been perfect.

Yeah, the small theater feels a bit disrespectful. Such is life, for the 'classics'. By ending, I assume you mean the last scene when Lawrence is being transported in a staff car, and they pass a group of Bedouins on camel, and then a motorcycle passes Lawrence's car (to presumably unite with the opening scene of Lawrence riding his motorcycle). Much of the film shines a light on Imperialism (be it British, French, or Turkish), but I love the quiet, minimal scenes and introspective interludes. Stillness is an important element in the film, and that's not typical of 'epics'.

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When I think back on David Lean's films, stillness is typical of his film "epics," as is character development. 

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As with great dancers, it takes a lot of skill to do "nothing."

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 was referring more to the political (and psychological) muddle at the end. The movie doesn’t make a convincing link between Lawrence’s prison trauma and the evolution of the character.  The condescension lies in the scenes around the big table in Damascus, with the clear implication of “these natives can’t govern themselves.”  These aren’t fatal flaws but they’re a problem.

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1 hour ago, dirac said:

 was referring more to the political (and psychological) muddle at the end. The movie doesn’t make a convincing link between Lawrence’s prison trauma and the evolution of the character.  The condescension lies in the scenes around the big table in Damascus, with the clear implication of “these natives can’t govern themselves.”  These aren’t fatal flaws but they’re a problem.

I don't think Lean was in agreement with these attitudes - he just lays them bare. There isn't a "side" that isn't problematic. But maybe that's what you have issue with? That Lean doesn't know how to go about suggesting solutions? He definitely doesn't go there. Lawrences "development" (or dissolution) is central to this situation. In his case, he attempts to do good by the Arabs, who will be given their freedom, "because I'm going to give it to them". But Lawrence is never really in a position to control events on that scale. And neither are the diplomats and politicians (but they don't really know that). Thus the 1st World War, the Arab Revolt, etc.

Europe and the Middle East are both in a terrible and violent muddle at the time depicted, but Lean seemingly answers that with the idea of a man of significance 'emerging out of the nothingness' (this visual metaphor occurs in a number of the desert scenes). That would be Lawrence, the bastard son whose fate is 'unwritten', but it could be any individual. At least I think that's what Lean is suggesting.

Imperialism, as shown by Lean, is largely a Man's Man's Man's World. Which leads us to a glaring absence: there's very little place for females in this world. We see few women in the film - I only remember seeing women in the scene at Auda's tent and tribal dinner, and the great scene of the women's war calls from the hillsides when the men ride off to fight.

I wonder how the British felt about Lean's depiction of Imperialism, back in 1960 - 1962 when the film was written. Winston Churchill was still alive at that point, and was maybe 5 years out of office at the time the film project began. The British Empire was certainly in collapse, but how many people saw that as a negative in 1960?

Edited by pherank

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The Arab Council remained in existence for some years. It is shown in the film as collapsing in a matter of weeks -- I think that’s the period of time suggested -- because the Arabs can’t put aside their tribal differences and don’t understand how a modern city works. That is what I mean by condescension. (The movie also suggests rather unfairly that Allenby is content to watch the city fall apart in order to accomplish his political objectives.)

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5 hours ago, dirac said:

The Arab Council remained in existence for some years. It is shown in the film as collapsing in a matter of weeks -- I think that’s the period of time suggested -- because the Arabs can’t put aside their tribal differences and don’t understand how a modern city works. That is what I mean by condescension. (The movie also suggests rather unfairly that Allenby is content to watch the city fall apart in order to accomplish his political objectives.)

Agreed. LoA is traditional Hollywood (or Pinewood Studios) in that respect - they take an event/story from real life and completely rewrite it to suit studio/producer/director's purposes. Allenby in the film isn't all that much like Allenby in reality (neither is Lawrence, Faisal, etc.) At least people who knew the actual characters complained a great deal about the treatment. But the film characters are all composites and metaphors once the film team is through with them. Thus the "art of cinema". I find Quentin Tarantino's rewrites of history to be even harder to take, but where to draw the line for the sake of dramatic storytelling and 'entertainment'? It really seems Hollywood's main focus is to create fables from life - never to try and reproduce actual events, but to make them mythic.

Edited by pherank

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