David Lean’s T. E. Lawrence film is a visual adventure boasting some of the most impressive and ingenious staging you’ll ever see. One might be tempted to test Steven Soderbergh’s theory on the removal of sound and color from Raiders of the Lost Ark, an exercise meant to highlight how well Spielberg’s film is staged and framed, although sitting through a soundless black-and-white version of the nearly four-hour Lawrence of Arabia seems an especially colossal task. So, instead, we’ll examine here a few of the visual cues that drive Lawrence the film and inform Lawrence the character, and in so doing might uncover what Lean’s epic has to say about the explorer’s fabled legacy.
One would be remiss to announce a discussion of the visuals of Lawrence of Arabia without beginning at the most famous smash cut of the film, one of the most famous smash cuts of any film:
This is how Lawrence gets to Arabia. Due respect to the Old-West-to-South-America-via-NYC montage of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but in Lawrence the journey to Arabia is not as significant as the journey in Arabia; but Lean’s matching of the two images does more than save time. There’s an ever-so-slight grin that Lawrence gives just before he extinguishes the match, enough to suggest a truth that he knows and we do not. Fire is one of the primary visual symbols of the film, and in retrospect the correlation between Lawrence’s ego and the story told by that single cut is highly revealing.
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We discussed the possibility of defining an “epic” film in our review of Ed Zwick’s Legends of the Fall, concluding that it’s perhaps more of an impossibility due to the wide range of films that fall comfortably under the genre label. Despite this, we at least sought out the notion that the scope of the idea is infinitely more important than the scope of the production budget, and Lawrence of Arabia was one of the more obvious examples of true epic filmmaking in that respect. David Lean’s biographical account of the life of the adventurous T. E. Lawrence stands as one of the greatest films of its kind because the passion of the film lives up to the passion of the man, the scope of the ideas of the film seeming to mirror and amplify the ideas of the British explorer/officer/diplomat.
Lawrence is about to be back on the big screen in a supporting role in Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert, a film masquerading as a worthy companion of sorts to Lawrence of Arabia at least as far as the marketing campaign is concerned. As Herzog’s film progresses past the first quarter, though, it becomes painfully obvious that Queen lies on the other end of the epic spectrum in that it fails on almost every level to convey any passion. Nicole Kidman leads the film as Gertrude Bell, British explorer/writer (/archaeologist/political officer/spy/cartographer) who spent her time across Syria, Asia Minor, and Arabia in the decades following the turn of the century. Kidman is fine in the role — but it’s not her passion that Queen of the Desert lacks. It’s Herzog’s.
Now that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, a.k.a. the “Defining Moment” of the Lord of the Rings saga, is nearly upon us, it’s time to acknowledge that this series has been the longest con in cinema history. Peter Jackson has pulled the wool over our eyes, and it’s about time someone blew the whistle. He’s not the David Lean of fantasy he’s made us all believe him to be. No, Peter Jackson, ladies and gentlemen, is the sick freak behind slapstick zombie horror Braindead.
Dead Alive, as it’s known (or not known) in the States, isn’t even his most deranged work–just wait till you see Meet the Feebles. But it does have the infamous reputation of being the most violent movie ever made. Obviously, Jackson had greedily set out to make a name for himself right from the beginning, though it wasn’t “Lord CG-Crowds” or “Sir Most-Number-of-Endings-Crammed-Into-One-Film” just yet. The fact is, before cannibalizing Lean, Jackson had latched onto the coattails of the Masters of Horror.