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Saturday, July 26, 2014

AFI Film Review: Lawrence of Arabia

As punishment for my film school sins I’m watching all of the AFI Top 100 films that I haven’t seen. I will be reviewing them and grading them as I watch them.

Grade: B

The most notable thing about Lawrence of Arabia is that it could have been even longer. Though it pushes four hours, it covers a relatively brief period of Lawrence’s life. You would expect such a long movie to cover his childhood, bar mitzvah, confirmation, rumspringa and any other important religious ceremonies. Instead the movie covers Lawrence’s journey from outcast officer to war hero, a journey that consists of him riding through the desert, berating people who can’t get over how similar they are and talking to The Arab formerly known as Alec Guinness. He wins the hearts of men, loyalty of rebels and admiration of the uptight British military. In this respect Lawrence of Arabia is not dissimilar to Van Wilder. The second half of the movie sees Lawrence brought back down to earth from his demigod status, disillusioned with the British army and possibly anally raped.

It’s unfair to say, but I only had one question going into this film: will it justify its running time. It’s hard to concentrate for that long and I found myself being distracted by another tecnhnicality. I’m going to mention this throughout writing about these movies, but I can’t understand why you would cast Alec Guinness to play an Arab or why everyone in the Middle East speaks the king’s English so naturally. It’s petty, and I know Hollywood has changed since Charlton Heston stopped being Mexican, but it still bothers me. On a positive note the film is of course beautiful, looks great, has many great, epic scenes that demonstrate why it is one of Spielberg’s favorites, but I couldn’t help being distracted by the sheer amount of time spent on the allegedly egomaniacal Lawrence, a man who fabricated the autobiography on which the movie was based. Is it a coincidence that a film about Lawrence is indulgent and gratuitous? You could, of course, choose to overlook these two relatively trivial matters and concentrate instead on the cinematography, the production design and Peter O’Toole who is at his best whenever confronted by his compatriots, the final scene of the first half of the film being particularly mesmerizing as he hauls himself into the officers hall, errand boy in tow, regulations be damned!

I can see the merit of the film, and that is important. I wish I could see the film in theaters, intermission included like in the original, because something as grand as Lawrence of Arabia should be experienced en masse and as a spectacle.

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