Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) movie poster

director David Lean
viewed: 12/30/2012 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

One of the most beloved films of all times, I was keen to take the kids to see Lawrence of Arabia at the Castro Theatre, showing from a new digital restoration, that some have called “a revelation”.  It’s got to be said, the infinitesimal details that are made visible in this restoration are amazing.  Cinematographer Freddie Young’s epic vistas of the desert are doubtlessly more stunning than they have ever been, exemplified perhaps, in the scene in which Omar Sharif first appears, a hazy dot in a swimmingly illusory haze of heat, riding into visibility.  The scale of these scenes is profound.

This experience led me to reflect on the first time that I saw Lawrence of Arabia in its entirety.  It was in a film class in college, one of the first films I ever saw on VHS in letterbox format.  On a relatively small television screen.  Like many new to letterboxing, I was slightly appalled at how tiny everything was, but as the film went on, I could see that the breadth of the image was important to keep intact.  Even as a semi-microscopic thing, the film communicated its vastness and epic qualities.  I certainly had never seen it on the big screen, in now way in the detail of the new format.  It’s a tremendous way to enjoy the film.

Of course, it’s also nearly four hours long.  By far the longest film I’ve ever watched with the kids.  I think that part of it was an endurance run for them.

This is, in my opinion, a pinnacle of period, style, and genre.  David Lean accomplished here what filmmakers for decades since have been trying to recapture, those that dare into the realm of the epic.  And it’s all iconic stuff.  From Peter O’Toole’s performance, Young’s cinematography, Maurice Jarre’s musical score, this is classic cinema of the 20th century achieving something tremendous and amazing.

Certainly, anyone can disagree.  But it’s one of those films that most film lovers love.  I guess I’ll have to list myself among them.

The kids were indeed daunted by the length, but it was telling how intently focused they remained throughout the film, even in the parts that are probably a bit more complicated to follow.  How they’ll rank it for their favorites will be for them to decide.  To me, it’s just great cinema.

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