LAWRENCE OF ARABIA: DVD
This film covers the Allies' Mid-eastern campaign during
World War I, as seen through the eyes of the enigmatic T. E.
Lawrence (Peter O'Toole). Cairo, 1917: A bored general staffer,
Lawrence talks his way into a transfer to Arabia. Once in the
desert, he befriends Sherif Ali Ben El Kharish (Omar Sharif) and
draws up plans to aid the Arabs in their rebellion against the
Turks. No one is ever able to discern Lawrence's motives in this
matter: Sherif dismisses him as yet another "desert-loving
Englishman", while his British superiors merely assume that
he's either supremely arrogant or stark-raving mad. Using a
combination of diplomacy and bribery, Lawrence unites the rival
Arab factions of Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) and Auda Abu Tayi
(Anthony Quinn). To implement his strategy of attacking the
seacoast fortress of Aqaba from the rear, Lawrence and his
compatriots must make an arduous trek across the treacherous
Nefud Desert, appropriately nicknamed "The Sun's
Anvil". After successfully completing his mission, Lawrence
becomes an unwitting pawn of the Allies, as represented by
Allenby (Hawkins) and Dryden (Claude Rains). They decide to keep
using Lawrence to secure Arab co-operation against the Imperial
Powers. Though Lawrence is led to believe that the Arabs will be
allowed to chart their own destinies after the war, the Allies
have every intention of slicing up this valuable territory for
their own use. As he continues his guerrilla activities with his
Arab comrades in arms, Lawrence is made an international
celebrity by a newspaper correspondent (Arthur Kennedy). While on
a spying mission to Deraa, Lawrence is captured and tortured by a
sadistic Turkish Bey (Jose Ferrer). It is implied that the Bey's
brutal treatment of him has aroused Lawrence's own repressed
homosexuality: true or not, it is clear that he has undergone a
radical personality change when he makes it back to his own
lines. In the heat of the next battle, a wild-eyed Lawrence
screams "No prisoners!" and fights more ruthlessly than
ever. When peace is declared, Lawrence is declared a victor; but
after he witnesses the chaotic, indecisive Arab peace council in
Damascus, and watches as the greedy Europeans swoop down to pick
up the leavings, he knows he has failed in his original dream to
secure Arab independence.
T. E. Lawrence, an English soldier, is remembered by a bust in St Paul’s
Cathedral. Why? Who was he? What did he really do? David Lean’s film pivots on these
basic questions, questions of character and history. Yet, as we discover in this
extraordinary 2-disc set of the restored, 218 minute original version of Lawrence of
Arabia, this essential question was casually dubbed in during the editing process, put
into the mouth of a distant English soldier who stares across the Suez Canal at a
bedraggled, sand blasted figure in Arab desert robes. Who are you? He shouts. We wonder if
Lawrence himself really knew the answer, but that’s why this is a such a great film;
it doesn’t pretend to know the answer any more than Lawrence, yet we do come to some
understanding of his complexities, his demons, his strengths and his odd charm.
And of course David Lean didn’t really have to articulate the question; the film
explores this character with an intensity that burns in our memory. True, as Steven
Spielberg points out in his comments, if the film were made today Lean would be attacked
for historical and personal inaccuracies. Despite those, however, Lean’s film is a
monumental character study of a British soldier in the first world war who became
something extraordinary. Lean might also be attacked these days for casting Alec Guinness
as Prince Feisal – ethnic and socio-political issues aside, it is, I’m sad to
say, the single flaw in this picture; Guinness simply doesn’t cut it as an Arab.
The DVD transfer of the restored print is almost flawless, and certainly sharper,
deeper and more awesome than the original, thanks to the leaps in technology. In what is
both a sincere tribute to the originally structured film and a practical DVD solution,
disc 1 carries part 1 and disc 2 carries part 2 of the film, the second half being shorter
and thus allowing more room for all the extras. At intermission you get up, take a comfort
break, replenish your food and beverage needs and return to your seats in anticipation.
As an instrument of record, this DVD is a valuable reminder that digital technology can
help rescue and retain some of the great achievements of cinema. It is vital that films
like this one, of lasting value, and the efforts that went into its making, are not only
restored, but that their whole context is preserved. (Imagine if we could do the same with
the great musicians of 400 years ago who pioneered what today we call classical music.)
The restoration, which managed to locate the missing negative from which first 20
minutes, then 15 more minutes had been cut (both with Lean’s co-operation we learn,
for commercial reasons that are explained in the new Making of documentary) – but the
sound had been lost. So, 25 years after completing the 2 year and 3 month shoot, Peter
O’Toole had to go back and record missing bits of dialogue and sound experts had to
supply the rest.
Complete with Maurice Jarre’s original opening, exit and entr’acte music, the
DVD presents the score with the full benefits of digital reproduction; it is haunting,
lyrical, powerful, complex and satisfying.
This is a film which truly deserves the extensive detailing that the DVD gives us, the
depth of information gleaned from interviews (in 1989) with Lean, and with O’Toole -
and with a contemporary addition from Spielberg. Perhaps most riveting and entertaining
are the anecdotes and factual details recalled by Omar Sharif.
We learn, among other things, that even in the vast, epic shots of the cast on camels
in the distance across empty desert space, David Lean insisted on the real actors, not
allowing body doubles to take their places. Perhaps, muses Sharif, Lean wanted his actors
to really feel the conditions for the sake of veracity.
In the new doco (the four original ones are also good, although the last, ‘In
search of Lawrence’, in black & white, is the least effective) we discover some
of the personal moments that inhabit the film’s history, such as why screenplay
writer Robert Bolt was thrown into prison in London just as he began to write the second
part of the film.
Anthony Quinn recalls his terror during the fearful scene of the charge on camelback
towards Aqaba; he and O’Toole and Shairf were at the forefront of a thousand
"crazy Arabs with sabres" who could see very little in front of them due to the
dust that the camels kicked up at the front. "If we fell," says Quinn,
"we’d be trampled to death…" In one take, O’Toole did in fact
fall, but as Quinn tells it, his camel stood over him as the horde galloped past, perhaps
saving his life.
The endurance, courage and talent required to make Lawrence of Arabia adds poignantly
to our appreciation of this major achievement in cinema. The film won seven Oscars –
including Best Picture; Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif were nominated but didn’t
win. Little wonder that in the history of the Oscars, biopics have won more Best Picture
awards than any other genre. Truth is stranger – and cinematically more compelling
– than fiction.
Andrew L. Urban
Published March 29, 2001
Email this article
You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia
See our SPECIAL PRESENTATION
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) (PG)
CAST: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose
Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy,
DIRECTOR: David Lean
RUNNING TIME: 218 minutes
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Col Tristar Home Ent
DVD RELEASE: March 21, 2001
* Original Widescreen Presentation
* Part One of the Feature – including the Overture.
* ‘Archive of Arabia’ – Behind the Scenes Featurette.
* Picture Disc
* Original Widescreen Presentation
* Part Two of the Feature – including the Entr’actre and Exit Music
* ‘The Making of Lawrence of Arabia’ – a new, 60 minute behind the
scenes documentary on the making of the movie
* Original Movie Trailer
* ‘A Conversation with Steven Spielberg’ – The acclaimed director talks
about his love of the film, his involvement with its restoration and David Lean
* ‘Wind Sand and Star: The Making of A Classic’ – an original behind the
scenes featurette that looks at the difficulties of filming on location.
* ‘In Search of Lawrence’ – Original Behind the Scenes Featurette
* ‘The Camels are Cast’ - Original Behind the Scenes Featurette
* ‘Romance of Arabia’ - Original Behind the Scenes Featurette
* News footage of the film’s 1962 New York premiere
* ‘The Marketing Campaigns’ – looks at the various marketing approaches
and materials used over the years
* ‘Maps: Journey with Lawrence’ – choose one of four journeys through
Arabia with pictures and narration.
* ‘Archives of Arabia’ – Behind the Scenes Featurette.
* Talent profiles
* Picture Disc