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Lawrence of Arabia

An evening pause: I have posted scenes from this film twice (both sadly gone now from youtube), but I think the trailer sells it well. This movie remains one of the greatest made in the history of film. If you haven’t seen it, you must. Though its facts are of course not entirely accurate, its sense of the history, culture, time, and the political machinations going on in Arabia during World War I are spot on. The visuals, acting, and script (by Robert Bolt) are also magnificent.

It also speaks to the Middle East we see today, and helps explain why the Arabs have so far not really done well with the advantages of western technology.

Hat tip Tom Wilson, who says he makes it a point to watch this epic at least once a year.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • GaryMike

    Saw it in a movie theater not too long after its release.

    Too young to put it in context.

    My first exposure to Arabia.

    Still I knew it was an impressive movie.

    (comma lite)

  • pzatchok

    Watch it on the largest screen you can in its original format.

    A great movie.

  • Jeff Wright

    He was the first Charlie Wilson-both help islamic terror more than sleepy Ottomans.

  • ARR

    I loved the movie so I decided to read “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, but that was a real chore. However, one of the greatest adventure books I have ever read is “Arabian Sands” by Wilfred Thesiger. He’s another one of those wandering British fellows who could never stay put and was able to explain it all in a very readable fashion. He spent years living among various tribes throughout the Arab world. After I read it I deployed to Iraq with the Marines. I was never in the cities but instead lived “at the edge of the empire” in a remote outpost along the Syrian border. There was a lot of nothing going on out there. At one point I found myself in a tent drinking some curdled goat’s milk with some shepherds. I looked around and realized that if I had taken a picture you couldn’t tell if it was taken in 2007 or 1707. It is a different way of life in that part of the world.

  • Scott M.

    I was fortunate to see a re-release of this as well as Kubrick’s “Spartacus” on the last Cinerama screen in the Denver area.

  • Phil Berardelli

    I was privileged to attend the premier of the 25th anniversary restored version at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C., with David Lean, Omar Sharif and the great cinematographer Freddie Young in attendance. Its grandeur was enhanced by the brand-new 70mm print. It’s one of the few films that demands to be seen on an enormous screen. Otherwise, its impact can’t be diminished.

    Bob, if you’ll permit me, here’s what I wrote about it in my first favorite movie compilation:

    Two reasons why this movie should only be seen on theater-sized screens – and the largest of those, at that: 1) It is arguably the greatest movie ever made and therefore demands the effort and patience of viewing it in a theater, and 2) There are scenes where the landscape is so vast that the objects of attention literally shrink to invisibility unless the image is big enough. But those are technicalities. The main reason is if you don’t see it large, you can’t appreciate how visually overwhelming it is. This is not only David Lean’s masterpiece, it’s a moviemaking masterpiece for all time. In the entire history of the cinema, nothing else has ever matched its sweep and scope. If you have seen some of the computer-generated epics of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and then see this, my guess is those later features will suddenly pale into insignificance, because every bit of scenery and panorama (except for one, very brief shot) in Lawrence of Arabia is real. As Orson Welles did with Citizen Kane, Lean launched the dreams and careers of a new generation of moviemakers with this monumental work. He and his crew spent two years in the deserts of Jordan, Morocco and elsewhere shooting Lawrence, and their patience and skills show magnificently. It’s based on the true story of Thomas Edward (“T.E.”) Lawrence, a well-educated commoner serving with the British Army in Cairo during World War I. Fluent in Arabic, he is sent to the Arabian Desert to assess the status of the Arab revolt against the Turks (who were allied with Germany in the war). There, through a series of twists, which are brilliantly dramatized by Lean and screenwriter Robert Bolt – and breathtakingly depicted by cinematographer Freddie Young – Lawrence conquers a Turkish stronghold at the Red Sea port of Aqaba. From that point on, he ascends into legend and, as some historians think, descends into madness.
    There are so many memorable scenes and stunning images it would be futile to try to list them all. Instead, be patient. Wait for the opportunity to view Lawrence of Arabia in a movie theater with a big, wide screen, a state-of-the-art sound system and preferably 70-millimeter projection. Then, you can appreciate shots where the desert’s vastness swallows a caravan crossing it; where a gun belt dropped at the lower left corner of the screen is countered by its former wearer heading off at the upper right; where that individual, walking in the early morning, casts a shadow nearly a hundred feet long; where a man stands at the base of a cliff face so large you can barely see him; where a man on a camel approaches from a mile away on a desert path barely visible but unmistakable; and where an army of mounted Arabs heading off to battle is dwarfed by massive rocky cliffs. There are many more, equally dramatic moments. With Peter O’Toole in his incomparable debut in the title role – which represents yet another slight by the motion picture academy, because he did not win Best Actor – and Omar Sharif making a striking debut of his own (nominated for Best Supporting Actor but likewise not winning); Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn as totally believable Arab sheikhs; Jack Hawkins as the gruff but pragmatic British general, Allenby; Claude Rains in a minor but witty turn as a crafty diplomat, and Arthur Kennedy standing in for real-life journalist Lowell Thomas as a world-weary reporter. Maurice Jarre’s thunderous score – his first of four collaborations with Lean – brings the whole effort to perfection.
    [Trivia notes: 1) For the scene in which Omar Sharif seems to appear out of a mirage, approaching on a camel, Lean brought in truckload after truckload of sand of a slightly different color than the surrounding desert to draw the viewer’s attention to the figure in the distance. 2) Many film buffs – me included – consider the scene where Lawrence blows out a lit match to be the greatest transitional device in all of cinema. It’s breathtaking! 3) Soon after the movie’s release, the geniuses at Columbia Pictures decided its 222-minute running time was too long, so they ordered two cut-downs for subsequent showings. As the years passed, some of the audio recordings of the dialogue were lost. So in 1987, for the movie’s 25th anniversary, when film archivist Robert A. Harris restored Lawrence to its original length, the process required O’Toole, Guinness and others to re-record some of their performances. If you have a keen ear, you’ll be able to tell where the new material was placed – and if your eye is keen as well you’ll notice several places where film inserts could not be matched. 4) In the scene where the soldier on a motorcycle yells across the Suez Canal, “Who are you? Who are you?” the voice is Lean’s. 5) For all of Lean’s attention to detail, his brilliant portrait of T.E. Lawrence and the Arab revolt omitted one important historical figure who played a major role in the events – and she’s a woman! Gertrude Bell was a British scholar who actually spent more time with the Arabs than did Lawrence, and she was even more of a fervent defender. She was highly instrumental in constructing the landscape of the new Middle East after the war. In fact, she’s been called “The Woman Who Made Iraq.” There’s even a famous photo of her sitting between Lawrence and Winston Churchill at a postwar conference in Cairo]

  • Phil Berardelli:

    Very nice, but paragraphs, my man, paragraphs.

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