Lawrence of Arabia
SteelCity99 - wrote on 04/21/18
To describe the epic grandiosity of a landmark visual feast like David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia is not an easy task. More than being an absolute masterpiece in the entire history of moviemaking, wonderfully reaching a superior category of cinema in the process, the absolute and definitive work of art of David Lean is a cinematographic phenomenon. Moreover, it is a spectacle of giant humanistic proportions and a faithfully developed essay about one of the most inspirational and flamboyant personalities that played a giant role in the modification of the course that human history had during the times of World War I. It is also an examination on the very foundations of modern humanity. It adopts different faces throughout, from presenting a self-reflexive approach to drawing though-provoking topics that go from the persistence of the spirit to the unification of personal qualities in order to explode them in an unbelievable sequence of benign actions. With Lawrence of Arabia, the popularity of the director was propelled to such a height that worldwide audiences could witness it, but the description of its glory does not end there. It is an unforgettable and emotionally compelling experience of heartwarming humanism and a nearly-matchless brilliance.
The film, simulating the opening narrative structure of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), opens with the death of the protagonist Thomas Edward Lawrence at the age of 47 in a motorcycle accident in London. From there, a magical flashback to the city of El Cairo in the year of 1916 is made, when he was an intelligence officer. He is order to leave in order to make a detailed research of the progress of the Arab revolt against the Turks. For two years, he ultimately decides to unify several Arab tribes in order to execute several attacks against the Ottoman Turks during World War I and to fight for their independence. The film received 11 Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color, Best Cinematography, Color, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Score - Substantially Original, Best Sound, Best Director and Best Picture, winning the last 7 Oscars. The Best Costume Design nomination is not officially reported since someone forgot to submit Phyllis Dalton's name for consideration. Director David Lean won the Silver Ribbon for Best Director - Foreign Film at the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists of 1964.
Lawrence of Arabia is a magisterially composed analysis of the human condition, but most of its inspirational effect may be utterly derived from the fact that it is a biopic. Master David Lean follows the cinematographic footsteps he had left since the making of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), footsteps that famous actor Richard Attenborough would track for directing Gandhi (1982). Consequently, it is much more than an epic film. It is a faithfully honest and spiritually memorable biographical portrait which considerably extended length of almost four hours is vanished in time because of its visual mastery. Being one of the last films in history to use the original 70mm format, cinema returns to its nostalgic roots. Also, a perfect balance between action sequences, sentimentalist issues, character development and historical detail is created, avoiding a pretentious grandiloquence that could have led the film to a highly disappointing outcome. However, it is its implicit and easily obtained talent the one that derived the plot from Hollywood melodrama and typical clichés of storytelling that had always been present even in the remarkable Golden Age.
Lawrence of Arabia is plagued with early and soon-to-be giant Hollywood stars, from introducing Peter O'Toole in his most multilayered and important leading role as the revolutionary T.E. Lawrence to the outstandingly idealistic and neutral representation of Prince Feisal by Sir Alec Guinness. Anthony Quinn as Auda Abu Tayi and Omar Shariff, an actor whose popularity would be strengthened because of his leading role in Lean's next film named Doctor Zhivago (1965), as Lawrence's Arab companion are extraordinary. The cinematography has always been the most relevant and occasionally symbolic technical aspect throughout the art of filmmaking. Naturally, the film's description cannot omit the legendary, astounding and jaw-dropping effect of the perfectly executed cinematography by Freddie Young, becoming one of the best photographic efforts ever committed to celluloid. The whole magical and historical atmosphere is constructed with the significant aid of the unforgettable musical score composed by Maurice Jarre and is deliciously decorated with a groundbreaking art direction and a varied costume design. During the action sequences, the expertness in sound effects and well calculated editing play their roles, as if they were trying to maximize the glorious proportions of the story through the creation of realistic revolution and terror.
T.E. Lawrence is an icon, a symbol of defensive resistance and liberal ideals. To portray his personality transformation from being a surveillance officer to becoming an influential warrior was a necessary means. Through O'Toole's unparalleled performance, we realize that he is morally forced to challenge his corresponding authoritative figures while considering the idea of equality regarding all races. His decisions may not be the brightest possible, but the immovable ground he stepped on the whole time consolidated and solidified the straightforwardness of his personality. His overall and predominant attitude is orchestrated through the portrayal of his organization of guerrillas, camel attacks, desert raids and the memorable train-wrecking. With important acquaintances, the visible terror of the weak and vulnerable Arabs and the noticeable ambition of the Turks are the elements that unleash an unstoppable chain of events that Lawrence would never forget in his life. After being subject to a heavy controversy, he then decides to seek for discreet anonymity in the process of empathizing with the possibility of reconstructing his life. Once again, we face an ironic contradiction in both the beginning and the ending of the film. It is highly implied the fact that life has a certain and specific purpose regardless of its relevance, until an omniscient God decides to take it away.
Undoubtedly, Lawrence of Arabia is one of the best films of all time, especially since it was strictly based in Lawrence's writings. It is one of those fully-developed masterworks that are worth of being called "epic". David Lean built a hypnotic and effective slow pace that paid the necessary attention to detail, like simulating the pace of life itself. Years pass in front of our eyes, new personalities start to appear, the priorities of the protagonist are challenged and latterly modified and World War I comes to an end, just to introduce us to a shocking struggle for human independence. Epic in scope and glorious in its attempts, it is among the most ambitious and cherished British productions ever made, and just like this singular character of history achieved a great status of admiration and respect after being labeled as a hero, an insane young man, a sadist and a charlatan, the director permanently gained worldwide popularity and the remembrance of both personal admirers and avid fan critics.