Monday, 5 September 2011

So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people - greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.

No 57 - Lawrence of Arabia
Director - David Lean

I cleared my diary and set myself an evening to sit down with a true gargantuan epic. From the little disclaimer before the film telling me there'd be moments of score with no visual accompaniment, I knew I was going to enjoy the film. This is a director with a vision. A proper true vision.
And he has a freaking awesome score.
"Listen" He seems to say "This score is so fucking amazeballs, that I want you to really get your chops around it before I sully it with beautiful beautiful imagery. Lets just appreciate it first you cinematic heathens."

I am not one to go against Mr Lean. So - before you read this meandering blog post, make sure you listen to the score and get all goosepimply and that.


I have recently read the fabulous book Hellraisers by Robert Sellers and had learnt magnificent stories of amazing drunkardness. All it did was cement Peter O'Toole as a complete legend. I've always thought he was aces. But I've also always thought he was old. Which is a completely idiotic thought to have.... but O'Toole just seems old. He seems a randy old bugger. Like in that weirdly depressing and utterly disturbing film Venus.... So to see him so young and striking kind of threw me off course.

Young O'Toole isn't really a handsome man, but he does have striking eyes, a beautifully soft spoken voice and a caddish charm - all of which is carried across to Lawrence making him somebody which you immediately route for in the stuffiness and stiff upper lip of the British armed forces.

Throughout the film, Lawrence's intentions are never clearly explained.... especially at the beginning it is difficult to see what is motivating him - however, here is the benefit of such a slow and ponderous film playing over 4 hours. As we are surrounded by lavish and insanely beautiful pictures of the desert, we begin to understand Lawrence's feelings. When he finally declares his love for the country, it comes as no surprise. This is man who has taken the harsh and inhospitable world to heart. Who treats the people as equals and who wishes to be treated as an equal by the people. A massive difference from the cries of "Wog" which eminate from the other bigoted soldiers and officers.
Whilst I'm on the topic of casual racism... let me just mention the one aspect which sullied what is an otherwise beautiful and engrossing film:
Alec Guinness shouldn't be all blacked up in order to play an Arab.

I am aware it was common in those days, and there is no denying that Guinness plays the part with passion and creates a rich and detailed character. However, it always snaps me out of the film: whether it is Olivier in Othello or Jean Simmons in Black Narcissus - it just feels a bit icky. Nowadays we can only have it done for jokes. And it only really works if it addresses the joke directly... Kirk Lazarus' dedication to method acting is a great 'blacking up' joke as well as mostly being a massive pisstake of 'The Method' and role immersion.... Eddie Murphy's Mr Wong in Norbit is as horrible and icky as Mickey Rooney's Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's, 40 years earlier.

Right - I got sidetracked there with a little link-heavy rant about racism. The important thing is that this is just a small glitch in a beautiful, rich and truly epic story about (ironically) race relations.

The film isn't afraid to tackle dark topics and manages to paint the Arab nation as a bunch of squabbling violent tribes in a way that doesn't belittle them. The film is about accepting that there are different cultures, and whilst some of these cultures may need an outsider to see them and amend them in order to move things on - we shouldn't just stick OUR cultures on top. That remains as true now, as it did then.

It is a bit too long (I was flagging by the end) but you stay interested and rooting for Lawrence. He is a good man. He is brilliantly played by O'Toole.

A great film.


doug said...

I agree, really a great film. I got to see it in a regular theater where it probably played in 1962 for the 30 year revival. Best 4 hours I ever spent at the movies (they had an intermission) The 50-year is coming up - try to catch it in the theater. The film probably benefitted from the screenplay making Lawrence a little bigger than life; he wasn't really too hot at blowing his own horn, and really disliked the spotlight he found himself in after the war.

doug said...

Oh, yeah: and the lead, of course, has one of the porniest names in film. Offhand, I can only think of the American actor/director Peter Bonerz to rival him.