‘Urens’ Half-a-century later

November 18, 2012


(Illustration above found here — illustration out front found here).

Last Friday a special announcement: Lawrence of Arabia: 50th Anniversary Edition (1962, Sony, PG, 2-disc Blu-ray, $27; 4-disc Blu-ray collector’s gift set, $96).
Although I most-likely will never buy it, anyone who hasn’t seen the movie should break down and get the whole package — to me the greatest movie ever made, bar none.
And to a crazed, way-too-long movie nut, that’s saying a shitload.

Fudging a few weeks, the original film premiered Dec. 16, 1962, in New York City, but I’d didn’t see until more than a year later as a 15-year-old at an US Air Force theater in southern Japan, where I then resided (my dad was in the DOD’s civil service) and was shown four different times at that location — I saw all four, and at a running time of 227 minutes, one doesn’t have to be Nate Silver to grasp the insane math.
And I’ve seen it a few times on DVD since — the last was a few weeks ago on Crackle (only about a quarter of the film, however), which on my full-screen laptop still played most-marvelous.

After nearly 16 hours of viewing, I naturally developed a ‘Lawrence‘ addiction, reading everything about the guy I could put my hands on, including his writings, ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom,’ and its abridged version, ‘Revolt in the Desert,’ along with Lowell Thomas’ ‘With Lawrence in Arabia‘  — the film carried a fictional newspaper writer, Jackson Bentley (played by Arthur Kennedy), but in reality it was Thomas who was with Lawrence, his reporting made the shy, reticent Lawrence famous.  (Arabs pronounced, Lawrence as ‘Urens‘).
Reportedly, Thomas did like the movie — great film making, but poor in history — Lawrence for his part, called Thomas a “vulgar man.” Read about some of their adventures together here.

Anyway, the movie obviously blew my young shit away.
Years later, Roger Ebert reviewed the movie after a new 70mm theatrical version was released in 1989.
He captured the essence:

I’ve noticed that when people remember “Lawrence of Arabia,” they don’t talk about the plot.
They get a certain look in their eye, as if they are remembering the whole experience and have never quite been able to put it into words.
Although it seems to be a traditional narrative film — like “Bridge on the River Kwai,” which Lean made just before it, or “Doctor Zhivago,” which he made just after — it actually has more in common with such essentially visual epics as Kubrick’s “2001″ or Eisenstein’s “Alexander Nevsky.”
It is spectacle and experience, and its ideas are about things you can see or feel, not things you can say.
Much of its appeal is based on the fact that it does not contain a complex story with a lot of dialogue; we remember the quiet, empty passages, the sun rising across the desert, the intricate lines traced by the wind in the sand.

And I’d forgotten about the movie, or even the pending release of the Blu-Ray version, until this morning and an interview with Omar Sharif in the UK’s Independent.
Sharif played Sherif Ali in ‘Lawrence‘ — seen in the photo above with Peter O’Toole.
Some snips on the movie:

Not least in those trips that he and the Lawrence of Arabia star Peter O’Toole used to take to Beirut, in the short breaks they had once a month when filming in the Jordanian desert.
“We’d drink without stopping for 48 hours … we went hunting girls in every bar, every nightclub,” he declared in The Eternal Male, his unashamedly chauvinistic Seventies autobiography.
Their hard-partying lifestyle almost put a kibosh on the Hollywood premiere, when they were arrested the night before in the company of Lenny Bruce as he shot up with a hypodermic syringe.
“[The producer] Sam Spiegel got us out of jail,” Sharif tells me.
“He arrived with six lawyers. Of course we were completely terrified.”

Despite the rebelliousness and towering ego, Sharif seems extremely malleable when it comes to those he respects. Take the famous — some might say defining — moustache, which wasn’t his idea at all, but David Lean’s.
“I was taken in a plane to the desert to meet David,” he relates, “and as we came in to land we could see him sitting all by himself.
We landed right next to him, but he didn’t move one step.
When I got off the plane, he didn’t say ‘hello’.
He simply walked round me to see my profile.
Finally, he said ‘That’s very good, Omar.
Let’s go to the make-up tent.’
I tried on a moustache, and it was decided I would grow one.
I’ve shaved it off for a couple of films, but otherwise I’ve had it ever since.”

And even though he liked the movie, Sharif figured it would flop: “I think it is a great film, but I am not very good in it. I also never thought anyone would go to see the film – three hours and 40 minutes of desert, and no girls!”

The movie won seven Oscars for 1962, including Best Picture and Best Director.

In the words of a long-ago teenager — it’s just neat.

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