Lawrence of Arabia – 1962

Today I sat down with a large bowl of popcorn to conquer a classic. Lawrence of Arabia.

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I don’t quite know where to start with this. I was totally stunned, in my recent task to watch this years Oscar nominees there was a certain kind of culture shock in moving from these clean, digitized, self-conscious films to a pure story in film. No flashy effects or witty repartee to fill the silences, just rich, sweeping scenery and a considered study of an extraordinary man.

What really amazed me though was how this film has not aged; it can be viewed today with the same wonder as when it was first released. In fact the only jarring moments of realisation I had were during the opening credits. (Namely the existence of full opening credits, as well as Alec Guinness’ name appearing without a “sir” next to it and the shock of seeing a title “introducing” Peter O’Toole). Speaking of Peter O’Toole, I found myself captivated by his performance, one of the most subtle and sensitive performances I think I’ve ever seen.

I was nervous that the film would drag, having just seen Lincoln I knew that one great performance does not a good film make. Yet these fears were promptly dismissed when I realised what had felt like fifteen minutes had in fact been nearly an hour of utterly breathtaking, captivating filmmaking. Boldly filmed with many a sweeping shot of a desert, set of course to a full orchestral score, the film doesn’t stray away from the hyperbolic; yet what other means could you use to tell the story of this man? An understated, minimalist piece would never do the character justice. The cinematography remains dynamic and interesting despite the majority of the film being shot in a desert in various tones of grey and brown. What is so beautiful is that in this film the desert is not “clean” as Lawrence so describes it, it is harsh, grainy gritty and so very real.

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