Monday, August 24, 2015

Lawrence of Arabia

The Blind Spot is an ongoing series hosted by The Matinee in which bloggers watch and write about movies they've never seen before. For a list of past movies, visit the home site.

Lawrence of Arabia
seen @ The Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria NY

In my writing group, there's this delightful woman named Jennifer who is not only a very good writer, but is a big old movie fan. As you can imagine, we've become pretty good friends. Hitchcock is her particular favorite director, but her tastes are pretty wide-ranging, from what I can tell so far. 

Anyway, I told her that MOMI was showing Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm and asked her if she wanted to see it with me. She declined because it's not one of her favorite movies. She said she thought it was too long (she fell asleep at one point) and she couldn't identify with Peter O'Toole's character. This, as you might imagine, gave me pause, since I've come to respect Jen's opinion on movies. I had never seen Lawrence before, and while I wouldn't say I was pumped up for it, I had expected it to be worthy of a four-hour investment of my time, especially since I was seeing it in 70mm. Still, I bought my ticket and hoped for the best.

I could tell that the MOMI crowd on Saturday night was full of cinephiles. There were a lot of dudes wearing movie-related T-shirts. I overheard a conversation about Marvel movies. There was definitely a feeling of anticipation in the air for this multiple-Oscar-winning epic. People were saying it was a sellout, but there was an empty seat next to me, as well as a few other empty seats scattered around the auditorium - but not many.

Let's start with what I liked about the movie. First of all, O'Toole was robbed. I cannot believe he lost the Best Actor Oscar, not even to someone like Gregory Peck. Granted, they were both iconic performances, but O'Toole had so much more to do, physically and emotionally, and he had the burden of carrying a four-hour movie on his relatively unknown shoulders. 

Seeing it in 70mm made a tremendous difference. All those sweeping vistas of the desert and the mountains were breathtaking. Director David Lean apparently spent two years in pre-production and 14 months shooting the picture in multiple locations, including Jordan, Spain and Morocco. You could almost feel the heat in some of those desert scenes, and I suspect that was Lean's intention.

I knew that Maurice Jarre's score has become pretty famous as well, and while the main theme was certainly repeated often enough, it was certainly stirring. MOMI played Lawrence with the overture and the intermission music, so it was nice to hear it independent of the movie. It has a strong Arabian flavor to it. One can picture the rising of the desert sun as it plays. That said...

... did this movie really need to be four hours long? Jen was definitely right about the length! I didn't fall asleep, but I did a lot of twisting and turning in my seat, trying to stay comfortable and awake. Normally, I have no problem with the seats in MOMI's theater, but sometime around the hour and a half mark, I think, it began to be a chore to sit still. And while there were exciting moments in the film, especially in the first half, there were also long-ass shots of the desert landscape and the sun that slowed the action down for me to the point where I kept anticipating the intermission. 

Was T.E. Lawrence hard to relate to, like Jen said? Well, I more or less understood what he was doing and the stakes involved, but I couldn't quite grok what made him go from a nebbish in the very beginning to a badass soldier busting caps in dudes like he was the Punisher. I liked that we saw him struggle with his feelings about violence, being both attracted to and repulsed by it, and that he goes through what looked kinda like post-traumatic stress at one point, which probably had a lot to do with some of the people he's forced to kill. 

At the same time, it kinda looked like he was getting a big head, thinking that he was the one who was gonna lead the Arab people into freedom all by himself. When you strip away all the spectacle, Lawrence is ultimately one more white-man-saves-the-darkies movie, which Hollywood has and continues to specialize in for generations, but one would think that in devoting four hours to a film about one man's life, I'd be able to pin him down a little better.

It was hard to care a great deal about Lawrence. In Gone With the Wind, another marathon movie with a difficult main character, I could at least get into Scarlett's love affairs if I didn't want to think about the racial politics of the film (not that the racial politics were all that easy to ignore). Lawrence's story was interesting, but it was difficult for me to feel for him as a person, PTSD issues aside. So is he hard to relate to? I'd say yes and no.

So maybe I was better off not seeing Lawrence with Jen. Next time I'll have to think of a comedy instead!

Previous Blind Spot movies:
Gone With the Wind
Charlie Chan in Paris

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