Friday, October 5, 2012

How is a Hero Broken (Lawrence of Arabia, 1962)

#20-- Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
This was my third viewing of Lawrence, the second this year.  I was glad to have it so fresh in my mind when finally having the opportunity to see it in IMAX yesterday.  It was already one of my favorite films, and while it's placement in my top 100 can only go up a bit (it's at #20 right now), this viewing certainly increases my appreciation of it.

There is certainly a benefit to seeing certain films writ large. A movie like My Dinner with Andre isn't important how you see it.  You want to watch it, not just listen-- it is a movie-- but the format isn't really important.  But a movie like Tree of Life, the format makes a bit of a difference.  Even with that, a blu-ray with a largish screen would do.  Not so Lawrence of Arabia.

Should it be seen this small?
 Last time I watched LoA, was on my laptop.  I can sit really close, but it still is not the same experience.  When a movie is almost four hours, you find that you want every scene to be justified.  When Lean spends minutes just looking at the desert, I wondered why he bothered to do this.  Why spend time on this?  I need to go to the bathroom.  A minute on a whirlwind.  Why?  I have better things to do.

With the full projection and the film restored after 50 years it all becomes clear.  We are supposed to love the desert like Lawrence does.  At the very least, we are to understand why he adores it so.  On a small screen it is difficult to understand, but on the large screen, the details display the beauty and the majesty of the desert that couldn't possibly be captured on my laptop.

Another thing that was astonishing to me is the use of empty space.  Here we have the largest screen made, and four fifths of it is filled with sky in many shots.  At the bottom of the screen is a sliver of desert or of a rising sun.  And it is amazing how well it works.  Almost an abstract piece that speaks to the heart of beauty although little is there.

*  *  *
I had a slightly different experience this time than previously.  The focus has always been for me see Lawrence as a leader.  A hero, yes, but a leader in general.  How all the pieces are there to make a perfect leader: charisma, arrogance, stepping into danger, trying what others say cannot be done, a love of other cultures, intelligence, moral strength, willpower and a broad education.  It is amazing and inspiring. 

This time, I noted especially the last third of the movie which speaks to the breaking of a leader.  Two of Lawrence’s great pillars of strength had to be broken—his arrogance and his willpower.  Eventually, put yourself in stressful situations and every human body will break—either the physical health or the mental health will go.  Lawrence was out on the edge so often that he had to break.  And the generals had to keep pushing him out there until his leadership was effected and he began making bad choices.  Great leaders burn out.

Lawrence of Arabia is a film that is an analysis of charismatic leadership, from the rise to the fall.  The film needed the length to present such a complex presentation, possibly the most thorough character analysis presented on film.  And O’Toole is perfect in every scene, constantly adding the small inventive touches that makes for a real character.  If Lawrence weren’t such a unique man, it would seem over-the-top, but he was, and it was all appropriate.

I have read a couple biographies of Lawrence, and I know that the Lean film is one simplistic interpretation of a life that has much that no one actually knows.  Much of what is in the film is guesswork.  But it is brilliant guesswork, and this film is the Lawrence that will be passed on through the ages.  He shall always be the brilliant glory-hound with bright blue eyes.  And so should it be.

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