View Full Version : David Lean Part II - Master of the film epic

08-31-2007, 10:52 AM
Lean owed a great deal to his comeback career to Alexander Korda. However, Korda's next project, adaptation of Richard Mason's novel, "The Wind cannot read" did not appeal to Lean, especially when his Hollywood connection came calling with a new jungle project from Sam Spiegel. The promise of money along with all its trappings were irresistable to Lean. He jumped at the chance. Coming up, David Lean in widescreen, stereo sound, with a mutinational big star cast... will the small time British film director handle it or fall on his face?

Next: THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) Please allow for some proper research into this film. I will probably post after the holidays. Enjoy your holiday weekend. See you in September. Cinemabon.

09-04-2007, 08:00 AM
post deleted by author. Please see below.

09-04-2007, 03:38 PM
Among my top favorite movies of all time, Dr. Zhivago is an epic movie about an epic movie about an epic person and epic love story all presented on a gigantic epic screen and epic sound system. Like Lawrence of Arabia only three years earlier, both movies cast larger than life visions on a huge landscape and huge cast of historical moments. The presentation of Boris Pasternak's large novel is made visually and musically vivid and sweeping with an added on ending that softens the haunting finale.

09-05-2007, 01:53 PM
post deleted by author

09-12-2007, 11:07 AM
“BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI” (1957) – directed by David Lean

“Are they mad, or am I going mad? Or is it the sun?” Major Clipton, the English doctor (James Donald)

This will be an extensive review (over 3600 words). If you have never seen “Kwai” I would suggest you stop reading now. That will be my only warning, as I will discuss every aspect of this film in minutia.

The Background

In 1952, Pierre Boulle wrote a French novel about the Japanese and the prisoners of war that worked on the Kwai River in Burma (now called Myanmar). The central character in the novel is an English Colonel named Nicholson along with his antagonist, Japanese Colonel Saito. The main thrust of the novel is a graphic description of how badly the Japanese treated the prisoners of war. They called the Kwai River railway, the death road. In 2006, the Japanese government finally acknowledged and apologized to the British government for the atrocities perpetrated on the POW’s.

In 1954, Boulle’s publisher translated the novel to English and released it in England. At the time, Carl Foreman moved to England from Hollywood to avoid further prosecution in America. The House Committee on Un-American Activities banned the writer, putting his name on the notorious blacklist. He found work in England under a variety of pseudonyms. He obtained the book and wrote a temporary first draft screenplay. In London, he ran into Producer Sam Spiegel, a long time friend. Over dinner, Foreman presented Spiegel with the idea of making “Kwai” into a film. He suggested David Lean for directing. Spiegel also knew of Lean’s work and sent Lean the book in Venice, where he was still shooting “Summertime” (see “David Lean – the little films”). Unable to take the time to read the book, his assistant, Norman Spencer read it and briefed David. The two men liked the story and wanted to make the film.

After “Summertime” wrapped, Lean found himself in an awkward position. The ink on his divorce from Ann Todd was barely dry when he discovered he was broke. Needing money, he went to Spiegel, eager to begin a project that took him out of England to avoid having to pay tax and probably alimony, too (although he never made that motivation public). Spiegel invited Lean to New York. The producer secretly brought Carl Foreman there to finish the script. “One of the finest screenplays I have ever read!” Sam declared over the phone.

However, on arrival in New York, Lean hated Foreman’s treatment. He called his friend Norman Spencer and the two men took two weeks to hammer out a different treatment. Lean and Spiegel shook on the deal, signed a contract, and Lean headed off to scout locations. Meanwhile, Spiegel brought in another writer, which Lean promptly rejected. Spiegel then brought in a third writer, Michael Wilson (he penned “High Noon”). Unfortunately, Wilson was also blacklisted and had to work in secret as well. However, he and Lean got along well. Wilson worked right up until they started shooting, producing the final product that appears on the screen. When the picture premiered in New York, however, neither Wilson nor Foreman received screen credit, as the blacklist forced Spiegel’s hand to remove the two men’s names in order to distribute the film. The credits actually stated, “Written by Pierre Boulle” who had nothing to do with the screenplay at all. Only years later, when Lean restored the original negative, did he correct the original negative, giving credit to both Wilson and Foreman.

Lean originally wanted to shoot the film on location in Europe, and sent location scouts to Yugoslavia, which proved a waste of time. However, Art Director, Donald Ashton, grew up in Ceylon and had relatives that owned a tea plantation. He knew of a river that would substitute for Kwai. He suggested the location to Lean and Spiegel relented. He had to move his entire production company half way around the world to shoot the picture on location. This cost Columbia Pictures over 3 million dollars, an exorbitant sum at the time. Spiegel employed a Dutch company and an English engineering firm to build the bridge. Construction of the completed bridge took over eight months. As a bonus, the government of Ceylon donated a retired locomotive and five cars to the production. Lean then came up with the idea of using the train to cross the bridge. They actually changed the design to support the weight of the locomotive, over 35,000 lbs! Lean wrote the changes into the script.

During WWII, the Japanese brutally treated British and other prisoners of war during the construction of the Kwai River railway. They constructed several bridges over the river and none of them resembled the bridge in the film. Factually speaking, the British did not blow any up during the war, nor did that happen in Boulle’s novel. However, after expanding the novel to include new characters and additional motivations, destruction of the bridge seemed a likely finish by everyone. When he saw the finished product, Boulle confessed to Lean he wished he’d written his novel with those plot devices.

When you see all those extras marching along, whistling British tunes, standing at attention, working on the bridge, you are watching the citizens of Ceylon. Spiegel could not get the cooperation of the British military in Ceylon to offer assistance, as military’s often do for filmmakers on location. They did not like the content of the script. Instead, Spiegel’s company combed the countryside trying to find people whose face ‘appeared’ English. If you look very carefully, you will find men of many nationalities. Lean kept his lens focused on the foreground where he carefully placed most of the English secondary actors and usually blurred the background or used long shots in crowd scenes.

“You’re so art house, David,” Carl Foreman complained one day, siding with Spiegel when Lean took four hours to set up one shot. “When you come to these big budget Hollywood films, you have to make some compromises.”
After that, Lean purposely chose locations as far into the jungle as he could to keep away from Spiegel, a man who thought ‘better things can be accomplished through conflict.’ While Spiegel is largely responsible for keeping the studio off David Lean’s back and ‘green-lighting’ his demands, Lean’s artwork is up on that screen, immortalized for all time.

The Story and Production

David Lean opens the film and ends it with the shot of a vulture flying in the sky over the River Kwai. You can derive several meanings from this; that death lurked below, that it should represent peace that comes with death, or that the entire story malingers like a slowly dying corpse. Whatever spin you believe, the next thing we see is the river from on high, the jungle, and then a series of grave makers in the form of bamboo crosses along the railroad tracks, obviously symbolizing the price paid for their existence. The camera slowly dollies along, showing us that not just a few but hundreds perhaps thousands of men died along these tracks as numerous crosses come into view. We hear no sound other than the jungle until a train whistle cries in the distance, building until a fast-moving train passes directly in front of the camera and the title credit flashes across the screen.

Oh, to have seen this in the original cinemascope plastered across a huge screen in 70mm and 6-track stereo sound. Lean already had a reputation for bringing an artistic eye to his films. Every shot in this movie is pure art. While the subject is often gruesome, still Lean carefully composes each shot so that not one frame of film is wasted. Everything we see and hear has meaning. Credit should also be given to Cinematographer Jack Hildyard, as he carefully lit scenes with extremely subtle lighting, such as the sunset shots near the end.

Lean switches to a POV (point of view) camera mounted on the train while the rest of the credits roll. When the train arrives at the end of an unfinished line, the prisoners disembark and walk to the POW encampment. Here is where we see the first major deviation from the novel. Spiegel insisted on using a big name American actor in the film. So Lean and writer Wilson invented Commander Shears, the wise-cracking American usually with some witty sarcastic remark that fits the occasion. Originally, Spiegel and Lean took Cary Grant out to dinner and offered him the part. During the dinner, Lean changed his mind. He could not picture Grant as a haggard POW (too handsome). Spiegel then suggested actor William Holden. Lean and Holden got along well. Holden told Lean he hated acting as a profession, often referring to it as women’s work (dressing up in costumes), just the kind of macho guy that appealed to Lean.

Holden’s agent worked out a sweet deal with Columbia, getting an unheard of one million dollars up front (which kicked up the budget), and a percentage of the gross. Due to the film’s success, Columbia had to go on paying Holden at $50,000 a year, every year of his life. He used the money to buy land in Africa and in many other countries, creating wildlife parks. After his death, the company made a large lump sum settlement with his survivors, as the contract included them, too.

Holden’s character, Cmdr. Shears watches from the prisoner hospital as the British enter camp. Wishing to enter proudly, the British soldiers, led by their commander, Colonel Nicholson, march in whistling the theme to Colonel Bogie. According to research, the tune was originally composed in 1914 on a golf course by Major Fredrick Ricketts. Lean wanted the men singing the tune, a sort of Englishmen’s defiant ‘two-fingered’ salute to the Japanese. However, Spiegel found the lyrics objectionable, so Lean had the men whistle it on location. When Malcolm Arnold heard the rough soundtrack in London, he wrote a supporting march and had the whistling redubbed to match the men’s feet. As a side note, Mitch Miller made a number one recording of the song in the 1950’s, adding to its popularity. I actually doubt that the British or any other unit marched around during WWII whistling away as if marching on hot soil in bare feet was fun. The symbolism of defiance, however, sets up the rest of the film’s relationships.

From the very start of this movie, we see that Lean allows the camera to linger on Alec Guinness (although he got third billing); he is the real star of the picture, not Holden or Hawkins. Though professionally, the two men did not get along, and frequently argued on the set, Guinness finally relented to all of Lean’s suggestions, allowing him to shoot the picture as he deemed fit.

The process of casting for Nicholson presented many problems, as they wanted a big name star for the role. Lean actually wanted his friend Charles Laughton until his assistants argued that Nicholson could hardly be fat, living on rations in the jungle. Lean then asked Noel Coward, whom many considered too old and too ill for the part. They next spoke to Ralph Richardson and Ronald Coleman (also considered too old). The last person on the list was Alec Guinness, whom Lean disliked since they last worked on “Oliver Twist.” (Many blamed Guinness for its commercial failure in the states and abroad outside England)

Spiegel set up the meeting, at which Guinness asked Lean…
G: “What sort of man is Nicholson?”
L: “He’s sort of a bore, an upper class Englishman…”
G: “You want me to play a bore? No, thanks!”

Guinness nearly walked out. However, on meeting him, Lean saw how Guinness not only physically looked the part, but could probably pull it off. He convinced Alec to stay. On seeing the final product, Guinness later recanted his criticism of Lean and stated “how wrong I was and how right you were.” Guinness went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor that year.

With the British troops lined up in front of Colonel Saito’s quarters, silent film star Sessue Hayakawa emerges as the stone faced and usually angry commander of the POW camp. He immediately informs the men that their sole purpose is to work on the railroad. “Be happy in your work!” he declares with all its intended insincerity, echoed in the hospital by Holden, having heard it many times before the British arrive. When Colonel Nicholson protests that according to the Geneva Convention, “Officers do not work alongside enlisted men,” the sparks fly. The two men, entrenched in their beliefs, clash. Saito sends Nicholson to the ‘hot box’ where he stays for several days, coming close to death. Meanwhile, work on Saito’s precious railroad grinds to halt as the soldiers perform sabotage out of protest. Forced to reason with the stubborn British commander, Saito ‘generously’ forgives Nicholson and sets him free with the proviso that he and his officers do not have to do manual labor. The corps rushes out and surrounds Nicholson. They carry him off on their shoulders, cheering loudly. Saito can only watch with envy, as his men would never do that for him.

Here is Hayakawa’s best scene, where, out of frustration, he pounds his head, and falls over on the bed sobbing. Lean did take after take, forcing the 68-year-old actor to repeat the emotional shot. When the rushes came back, Lean was furious with the result. He confronted Sessue on the set. “YOU wasted all this film! YOU wasted our time and money! YOU are responsible for making us reshoot this scene!” he yelled at the poor man, wagging his finger in his face. When the cameras rolled on the retake, Hayakawa actually cried real tears, fearful he would loose his job and wanting so desperately to make the shot count.

Lean had a reputation for doing what it took to get an actor to deliver a shot. Guinness knew that better than anyone. Lean never mixed with actors off the set either. Yet in the end, one cannot argue with the product on the screen. Guinness and Hayakawa did a wonderful job bringing those to characters to life. Whether they should be grateful to Lean, or he to them, is a matter of conjecture.

The other person that is a complete deviation from the novel is the British commander Major Warden played by Jack Hawkins, who actually had second billing over Guinness. Hawkins character mirrors Nicholson’s and becomes its antithesis in the final moments of the film when the two men’s visions end in total destruction, for this is why they had to blow up the bridge. The addition of the Hawkin’s character makes it almost necessary, since every time someone else mentions him in third person, they speak of how he blew up this and that as a demolitions expert. By this time, we know the ending is a foregone conclusion. When Cmdr. Shears escapes the Japanese camp, and ends up at the hospital in Ceylon, he finds out that he has only run into another English officer wanting to control his destiny. His ruse of disguising himself as an officer backfires and gets him ‘volunteered’ for a return mission to destroy the bridge. The ultimate irony is that Hawkins character is equally enthusiastic about destroying the bridge as Guinness character is about building it. They are headed for a show down where neither man can win.

After this brief interlude, the film runs on two parallel paths. One story follows the commandos through the jungle. Columbia, fearful of having an all-male cast, insisted Lean included female liter bearers, and pretty ones at that, probably the most incredulous part of the film. Jumping in from a low flying plane, one commando dies in the trees on the way down from parachuting. Hawkins is shot in the foot during a skirmish with the Japanese, when one of his men hesitates killing a very young and innocent-looking soldier. When all is said and done, we know that this journey is probably a one-way mission for these men, no matter how optimistic they sound, their uplifting tones seem hollow in the face of reality, sacrificing themselves for the greater good. Warden (Hawkins) and Shears (Holden) along with the young naïve officer finally arrive at the bridge. On the night before the troop train rendezvous, Holden and the other young officer accompanying them, move under the bridge to set their charges below the water line (since they are using plastic explosives, what we now call C-4, the water does not affect it).

Meanwhile back at the camp, the men are putting on a show. Whether this would actually be permitted remains to be seen (Joshua Logan did the same thing in “South Pacific.” What is it with military men wanting to dress up like women, anyway?); the ‘show’ provides relief for the men and a counterpoint to the tension under the bridge. Also during the ‘show,’ we watch Saito prepare for seppuku. We must assume he is ashamed that the British have overshadowed him and his men’s efforts to build the bridge. He writes out a scroll, cuts off a lock of his hair, and then plans to perform the act as the train crosses the bridge in the morning. In what later appears to be a continuity error, Nicholson calls for Saito to ‘cut this line!’ in order to save the bridge. By instinct, he reaches for his seppuku blade, which he earlier put in his breast jacket, only to discover too late that he transferred it to his lower pocket. Many critics site he should have simply used the ceremonial sword at his side that he used earlier to open the bridge. The delay gives the young commando time to kill Saito.

At any rate, on the morning of its unveiling, it is Nicholson who discovers the wires under the bridge, and Nicholson, despite being told by British agents to blow up the bridge at the last second, calls for help from the Japanese. Some critics argue that this is the only moment in the film where any action occurs. I would counter-argue that this is not an action picture at all. Lean uses dramatic tension to tell the story. The blowing of the bridge at the end is actually anticlimactic. Nicholson, wounded when Major Warden starts peppering that side of the river with percussion bombs from the ridge above, accidentally falls on the plunger just as the train crosses the bridge. Guinness and Lean argued over how this should be done until Lean stated that he did not wish Guinness to purposely push the plunger down. “Stare up at the sky, twist and fall over,” he directed. Ultimately, the editor turned director uses a series of shots to complete the scene.

Blowing up the bridge took Lean and his crew several days to set up. He used five cameras (they had to hand-build two of them from ‘scratch’ parts) running slightly faster than normal speed. On the first take, one of the operators ran away from the bridge without putting on his signal light. Lean called off the shot but not in time to stop the train, which roared over the bridge and nearly cascaded into the countryside on the other side (the tracks ended there!). Only a generator truck parked across the tracks saved the train from disaster.

After a few days delay, they backed the train up and started over. Lean wanted one big explosion. However, Sam Spiegel insisted on a series of explosions for dramatic effect, the one time when Spiegel’s advice turned out to be the better judgment. On the second take, Property Master Eddie Fowlie, who befriended Lean during the shoot, drove the train this time, jumping off at the last moment just as the train ran onto the bridge. With all the lights green, they ignited the charges and brought down the massive structure. Hildyard suggested a helicopter shot to tie in Lean’s theme with the vultures at the end, just as Major Tipton stumbles in muttering, “Madness… madness… madness.”

Before the premiere in New York, Spiegel and Lean invited film critics to a showing at 10 in the morning. Disgusted with how critics invariably arrive late, Spiegel and Lean stood in the lobby and locked the doors precisely at 10, denying entry to any critic that tried to sneak in later. He stated that, “the critics that arrived on time generally gave the film a favorable review.”

The movie had tremendous box office success as the highest grossing film of the year. Nominated for eight Oscars, only Hayakawa did not win, unfortunately. “Bridge over the River Kwai,” won Best Picture of the Year and gave Sam Spiegel his second Oscar after he won for “On the waterfront.” Lean and Guinness took home Oscar and Golden Globe prizes for directing and acting. Lean won the DGA award. Guinness also won the Golden Laurel and NY Critics Circle. Jack Hildyard, editor Peter Taylor, and author Pierre Boulle also took home the gold. Later, the Academy posthumously awarded Wilson and Foreman in correcting the previous error. Strangely, Malcolm Arnold won for best score, though the film has a total of only about twenty minutes or so of music. Arnold had to expand the score to create an album, which completely sold out in 1957 due to its popularity.

In passing mention, except for the opening and closing shot against the sky, the DVD print, taken from the 70mm negative, is completely restored and flawless. I ordered the special edition, which includes several humorous stories from Eddie Fowlie. He describes how they got the shot where thousands of fruit bats fly into the air. They were ecstatic when the sky filled with flying fruit bats. Fowlie states that’s when the mood changed; “We turned the cameras up and got several good shots of them flying around… however, the (rifle) shots scared them and they started pissin, sending down yellow rain all over us! You didn’t see that in the movie!”

The sad irony to this story, and perhaps war itself, is that no one wins. Even Cmdr. Shears, who makes more sense in his plea for life than his obsessed British counterparts, must ultimately die in this tragic fateful ending. The war marches on, engulfing every character in the end, including Major Warden, who will probably not survive his wound on his way out of the jungle. We are left with the objective voice of the doctor, the lone voice of reason, the man who questioned Nicholson’s motives from the start. He echoes his earlier sentiment in the conclusion, “Madness!” Then the vultures move in to pick the bones clean.

oscar jubis
09-16-2007, 06:48 PM
Very thorough and well-written. A pleasure to read. Thanks.

09-22-2007, 09:13 PM
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) – directed by David Lean

“Wisdom has built her house; she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” Book of Proverbs

“Lawrence of Arabia” is probably one of the greatest artistic achievements in film of all time, based on the merits of Lean’s direction, Freddie Young’s cinematography, and Maurice Jarre’s score. Whatever flaws it may have historically, with character, or the flow of the story, the film is a stunning visual and auditory masterpiece, the pinnacle of Lean’s endeavors into the art of cinema.

The Background

Lean based his epic film on the autobiographical recall of Thomas Edward Lawrence, nicknamed ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ by American news journalist, Lowell Thomas, from Lawrence’ book entitled; “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” The title of the book is actually a mistake. When Lawrence started a project in college based on several religious texts, he referred to that book by this title, and then did not complete the project. Later when penning his recall of the Arab revolt (1916-1918), he used the title changing his justification. From the time of his archeological digs, through his secretive work for the British Arab Bureau until the end of the war, Lawrence took meticulous notes and drawings. These were the foundation of his autobiographical work, which originally ran over 400,000 words. Unfortunately, in a moment of absent-mindedness, he left all of his papers at the Reading Railway Station. He never found the missing manuscript. He later attempted to recall as many details as he could to write a new edition at approximately 335, 000 words known as the “Oxford” edition (worth over a million dollars today). He dedicated the book to S.A. with the following poem:

“I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands, and wrote my will across the sky in stars; To gain you freedom, the seven pillared worthy house, that your eyes might be shining for me when I came.”

When asked by friends and scholars, he told them he made S.A. up and actually referred to a village. However, many researchers have concluded that Lawrence dedicated his book to Selim Ahmed, a fourteen-year-old Arab boy serving as Lawrence’s aid during one of his archeological tours to the Middle East.

After an illustrious college education where he achieved high honors, Lawrence pursued a career in archeology. He attended many digs in Jordon, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine (Israel) gaining scholarly recognition. During one of his visits, he met and befriended a young Arab teenager, Selim. Lawrence and the young man traveled and then lived together for over a year. Selim helped Lawrence with his Arabic and Lawrence educated the young man in the arts and humanities, also teaching him to speak English. He even brought Selim with him to London on one of his trips back home. Their relationship is one that scholars cannot agree on to this day. Lawrence did write that Selim posed nude for a sculpture, which he called a ‘Greco-Roman’ gargoyle that he placed on the roof of their villa after its completion. Whether innocent or not, they were very close until the start of the war, when Lawrence left for first England, and then returned to Cairo working for the British military. He never saw Selim again. The Arab teen (whom Lawrence called Dahoum or ‘dark one’) died in 1918 of typhus while Lawrence served in the British Army Intelligence Unit. Upon returning to Selim’s hometown and discovering his death, Lawrence left the Middle East never to return. In a related development, Lawrence accused Turkish commander, General Hajim Bey, of capturing, then whipping and sodomizing him during the conflict. The man in question led a normal blameless life without a hint of scandal after the war, leading most biographers to doubt this claim. Lawrence later used this as an excuse for his private beatings, which he arranged with other soldiers when he anonymously enlisted after the war.

The history

During the First World War, the British Army determined that it was in their interest to support the Arab revolt against the Turk-Ottoman Empire, supporters of Germany. They called upon Lawrence, with his vast knowledge of the area and his ability to speak fluent Arabic, to enlist. Lawrence befriended Prince Faisal, also employing another Arab friend, Auda Abu Tayi. Auda was not the money hungry Arab depicted in the film, rather interested as Faisal was in advancing Arab interests. Historically speaking, Sherif Ali never existed. He is a composite of several people from the book. Lawrence, along with Faisal and Auda devised the plan to attack Aquba. At the end of the war, Lawrence helped Faisal to set up the government in Damascus (which held until 1922). He later accompanied the Prince to the peace talks in Paris. The 33-year-old Prince was fond of pulling practical jokes on others according to Lawrence, very different from the reserved and dignified role created by Guinness. Nor did the real Prince Faisal speak fluent English (he did not know a word of it). Lawrence also worked closely with his friend, General Allenby, whom the young intelligence officer affectionately regarded as a father figure. Unlike the film, Lawrence kept Allenby appraised of all his moves in the desert. Allenby’s family so resented the remark at the beginning of the film “I didn’t know him well” that they filed a lawsuit against the movie company, as did Auda’s family (which lasted for ten years). After Lawrence’ death, General Allenby toured England giving lectures about their close relationship, adding to the Lawrence legend by heaping praise on the man. During the Arab revolt, the British military promoted Lawrence to Major. After the war, they promoted him again to Lt. Colonel for his contributions to the military campaign. He accepted several decorations, but refused an offer of Knighthood from the government.

American Lowell Thomas journeyed to the Middle East and followed Lawrence’s exploits at the end of the war, after Lawrence had already established notoriety (though only a brief ten days, unlike the film in which Bentley follows Lawrence all over the desert). He amassed a great deal of information on the Englishman, befriending Lawrence, and helping to build up his image in the press. Thomas later toured England and America with the edited footage (“With Lawrence in Arabia”) that often featured pictures of Lawrence in the white robes of the Sherif of Mecca (Prince Faisal’s house) astride a camel. Nearly all of these shots were contrivances. Lawrence was a shy man. He avoided publicity, and did not like having his picture taken. Thomas said, “Lawrence is a man who backed into the limelight.” After the war, Lawrence tried twice to re-enlist in the Air Force anonymously, using a false name. He claimed the strain from writing the book drove him to madness. He also tried to have his bunkmates beat him, which went on for a prolonged period until word got out to some of the officers. This led to Lawrence’s expulsion, though he returned using another assumed name to resume the practice by other soldiers. Lawrence died on May 19, 1935 after languishing in a hospital for six days with severe injuries, the result of suffering a fall during a motorcycle accident.

The Production

David Lean wanted to make a film of “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” for years. He first approached Alexander Korda with the idea before his film, “Summertime.” However, that project fell flat as Korda also attempted a project earlier. When Spiegel finished production on “Bridge over the River Kwai,” he asked Lean if he had anything else in mind. Lean mentioned “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and Spiegel went to work, hiring Michael Wilson, who penned “Kwai,” to the task of writing the screenplay. Lean did not like the script Wilson presented, as the writer focused on the historical details more than a dramatic story. He turned to playwright Robert Bolt, enjoying success from his recent West End play, “A man for all seasons.” Lean convinced Bolt into changing “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” from a history lesson into “Lawrence of Arabia.” Bolt set the central character as a man in search of his identity, the driving force behind Lawrence. This dramatic license changed the novel from a dry presentation of facts into a story filled with dramatic tension, a Lean trait in all of his films. Bolt later wrote two additional screenplays for Lean, “Doctor Zhivago” and “Ryan’s Daughter.” Though nominated for “Lawrence,” he and Lean refused to give credit to Michael Wilson, not corrected until the restoration in 1995 by director Steven Spielberg.

Shooting began on May 15, 1961 and wrapped over a year later on October 20, 1962. Lean shot the principle photography in Jordon with the cooperation of King Hussein (he met his future wife on the set), an affable amiable man, friendly toward both England and the United States. He often visited the set and provided Spiegel’s company with many amenities. The Jordanian government supplied the production with planes to transport personnel and equipment to remote locations. Jordanian scouts provided Lean with some of the spectacular views seen in the film. Prior to shooting, Lean screened John Ford’s “The Searchers” to get ideas on how to photograph the sparse landscape.

Originally, Spiegel insisted on hiring Marlon Brando to play Lawrence. They even threw a party in New York and invited the press. However, Brando signed with other projects at the time and could not break his commitments. They next turned to Albert Finney. He just finished working with Lawrence Olivier in “The Entertainer” to critical acclaim. Spiegel’s company built sets and made a full costumed screen test, which impressed everyone. For some reason, Finney refused the part (he won the Oscar the following year for “Tom Jones”). However, Lean kept Lawrence Olivier on to play Prince Faisal. Lean finally stumbled on Peter O’Toole to play T.E. Lawrence. He just finished a season with the Shakespeare Memorial Company playing Shylock in the “Merchant of Venice.” Lean wanted an unknown despite Spiegel’s protests. They next signed Anthony Quinn, nearly fired the first day, when he showed up on the set dressed and made-up as Auda only to have Lean shout out when he saw the disguised actor, “Fire Quinn and hire this Auda fellow... he looks the part!”

When Lawrence Olivier unexpectedly quit the production, Lean felt forced to sign Alec Guinness, again a last choice as the two did not agree. Spiegel then cast Horst Buchholz to play Sherif Ali, having come from the successful “The Magnificent Seven.” However, his screen tests proved to be disastrous. They tried two other German actors when Lean asked Spiegel to find an English-speaking Arab actor. He looked no further than Egypt, requesting an interview with one of its leading stars, Omar Sharif (his real name Michel Shahoub). After extensive screen tests, Lean invited Sharif to the set and proceeded to create the star’s distinguishing characteristic trademark, first putting a beard on him and then a mustache, which the actor has sported ever since.

Sharif stated that “Lean looked you over like a hawk… his keen eye pierced you from every angle, as if he were seeing shots in his head. Lean never liked actors and never enjoyed their company as he considered them egotistical. On this picture, the staff created a bar where we would invariably visit at the end of a long day’s shoot. David always joined us there for a drink, something he never did before or since.” Sharif also stated that; “Alec Guinness came to my tent and we shared tea for nearly two hours. The next day when he started shooting his scenes, Peter said to me, ‘Hey, Fred (he called Sharif, Fred) he’s doing you!’ Guinness studied my voice and mannerisms to create his version of Faisal.” Sharif continues; “David [Lean] couldn’t stand Sam [Spiegel]. Sam was the kind of man you could love to hate. He was a good man but he enjoyed conflict. David used to pick locations as far from humanity he could find to avoid having Spiegel on the set. He used to telegraph David every day, telling him how bad the rushes were. I asked David if this upset him. He told me he got used to it. I came to trust David Lean and knew that if he were in charge of a project, it would probably be a successful one.”

Quick notes:

Eddie Fowler returned as a production assistant for Lean. When his special effects man quit in a fit of frustration, Lean happily hired Fowler on the spot for the job. Eddie created the ‘quicksand’ effect for the scene during the sandstorm, creating a box with a diaphragm where he knelt underneath and “pulled the lad down as David called out numbers.” Shooting the sun directly would not translate to film. The ‘sun’ shot is actually a painting. To create the shimmering effect for the well scene, special effects ‘painted’ out the skyline to blur the horizon. Sharif, frightened he would make a mistake on his first day of shooting, stayed up half the night practicing his scenes at the well. Jordanian scouts purposely took Lean’s assistants to find large dunes and flat areas for Lean’s particular tastes. Years later during the restoration, Steven Spielberg addressed the question in everyone’s mind; how did you do take two in a desert and keep the sand so pristine? Again, production assistants created a variety of ‘sand-smoothers’ at the end of long poles. Then Lean would shut the production down for the day and they would return in the morning and start over. When the production began to run over schedule and budget, Spiegel protested, trying to get Lean out of Jordon.

Modern Aqaba would not do for the film’s main battle sequence. Assistants discovered a dry riverbed in Spain along the coast, where the Spiegel production company created a town by putting up 200 façades, including a phony gun at the end of a long sweeping shot. Extras charged up the valley toward the Turkish stronghold, only to have the star, Peter O’Toole fall from his camel. The extras would have trampled him to death if Peter’s camel had not stood over the actor protecting him. When shooting finished, Lean returned to England, and started by cutting the second half of the film first. He later brought in young French composer Maurice Jarre to write some original music for the score. Lean first used military marching music, the same composer he used from “Kwai.” However at a partial screening of the film, he received such terrible feedback, he went to Jarre and asked him to expand his score. Jarre actually ended up directing most of the score, despite the film credit, as he could time his own cues more accurately. The result transformed Lean’s film into a sweeping and breathtaking epic. Jarre’s score is nothing short of miraculous in providing an underpinning to the screen’s image with a majestic and boisterous song, celebrating the beauty within Lean’s framed yet moving canvas.

Lean and his editor worked right up to the premiere only finishing the film days before its debut. The film premiered in London, projected in the widescreen process 70mm gauged, SuperPanavision 70, an anamorphic 70mm process, with 6-track stereo sound. Nothing compares to a frame area this size except IMAX for clarity and projecting huge images. The original road show print ran at 222 minutes (3 hours and 42 minutes!). Theater owners protested, only able to show the film twice a day. Lean then cut nearly twenty minutes for the 35mm release. Later, Columbia executives cut an additional 20 minutes for television. Later prints included these cuts. Not until 1999, when Spielberg, Scorsese and others spearheaded the restoration, did they finally restore the film to nearly its former glory. O’Toole and others returned dubbing the soundtrack in places. The DVD print (I have the cloth bound special edition with gold letters) is perfect and flawless, with no artifact at all. The special features, while sparse, do have a wonderful behind the scenes doc that includes many funny anecdotes by Fowler, Sharif, and O’Toole with a few brief comments by David Lean. He did not do a director’s commentary. The Steven Spielberg interview is simply the director heaping praise on Lean with little info on the project. The 8-page pamphlet is vague and misleading.

The Film, story and comment, Part 1

“Lawrence of Arabia” is one of those movies that do not require absolute accuracy for us to admire Lean’s artistic style of presentation. Watching the film several times, I began to get a sense of Lean having arrived at a project during the peak moment of his creative talent, with the best support team he could have at the time. For some filmmakers, this moment arrives early in their career, for others at the middle or the end. From the opening shots of Lawrence riding his motorbike on that fateful last day, Lean gives us the sense Lawrence’ enjoyed flirting with danger in a reckless manner. Lean next takes us to the steps of St. Paul’s in London, Lawrence funeral, where a reporter badgers a few of the main characters with questions as they descend the steps. Next, the film segues to Cairo during the war (WWI), where a very bored Lawrence impresses his fellow junior officers with his ability to tolerate pain, before a message calls him before the general.

Claude Rains, as Mr. Dryden from the Arab Bureau, needs Lawrence expertise in the desert to ‘appreciate’ the situation. In the infamous cut, he blows out a match and the image jump cuts, transporting us to a sunrise in the desert. As the music swells, we see sand blown into sinuous shapes with two tiny dots that represent men in the distance. Lawrence then impresses his guide with his knowledge of all things Arabic, including customs of dress. Sherif Ali, riding up through shimmering waves of heat, a lone black figure on a camel, shoots the guide as a man that violated his well. Spielberg and others describe this shot as their favorite, as Lean holds the image for a long time on the screen.

After their brief introduction, Sherif Ali departs Lawrence when the later refuses to accompany him. “So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, will they be a little people, a silly people, cruel and barbarous,” Lawrence yells after the man, words that later come back to haunt him inside Prince Faisal’s tent. Lawrence finally finds the encampment only to have British regular, Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle) head him off and try to keep him controlled. Through Lawrence’s intervention, he convinces Prince Faisal to lend him 50 men to approach Aqaba from the desert, a suicide mission, but one in which they eventually triumph. Crossing the ‘sun’s anvil’ turns out to be the hardest part of the trip. When one of the men, Gazim, falls from his camel, Lawrence rides out to save him. Lean draws out the dramatic tension in this scene (although we know Lawrence survives to the end of the picture!) by showing us the terrible heat in the desert by various shots of the dried parched earth, dust-filled tornados, and music cues that emphasize the unforgiving nature of the place. Lawrence argues with Ali by stating, “Nothing is written.”

When Lawrence and Sherif Ali ride out from the desert, they meet brigand Auda Abu Tayi. They nearly end in a feud when Lawrence intervenes and inspires Auda to invite them to dine at Wadi Rhumm. In a spectacular scene, Lawrence and Auda (played so well by Quinn) spar with words only to end on Lawrence’s key speech… The camera slowly dollies in on the two men and ends on Auda alone.

“Friends, we have been wrong, Auda will not go to Aqaba for the Turks (“No!”) or gold (“No!”) … he will go, because it is his pleasure.” To which Quinn replies, “Thy mother mated with a scorpion!”

That night, a fight erupts in the ranks of the men. One man murders another man, threatening a blood feud between tribes. As the men face off, Lawrence steps between, promising he will carry out the law to satisfy both sides. Unfortunately for him, the victim he must shoot, Gazim, is the same man he saved from the desert. As a man torn between his morals and his duty, O’Toole beautifully expresses Lawrence agonizing decision. Gazim makes his own execution easier by confessing to the murder. Lawrence then empties the pistol into the unlucky man. After the execution, Auda learns of Gazim’s relationship to Lawrence and casually drops, “Then it was written…” (Later in Allenby’s office, Lawrence drastically confesses, “There was something about [the execution] I didn’t like… I enjoyed it!”)

After the Arabs confront the Turks in Aqaba, Lean finishes the charge with his camera on high, swinging to the right as it follows men on horseback charging up the city streets in one continuous pan, only to end on the ‘fixed’ gun pointed toward the sea. Desperate to convince the generals at headquarters in Cairo, Lawrence sets out to cross the Sinai to Egypt with his two young companions, only to lose one in a fierce sandstorm. He finally makes it to the Suez canal and then to Cairo, where he meets General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) for the first time. Impressed with his ability to ‘use initiative,’ he promotes and sends Lawrence back to the desert with guns and gold to ‘carry on the good work.’ However, we see Mr. Dryden warn the general, “If you give them artillery, you’ll never get it back.” Lean ends the first half of the film with Dryden, Allenby and Brighton walking away from the camera contemplating Lawrence affect on the war.

The film, part 2

Lean opens the second half of the movie with the character Bentley, an American newspaperman loosely based on Lowell Thomas, interviewing Prince Faisal. Bentley serves two purposes in the film. He brings a level of objectivity when commenting on things he observes. He also brings a certain level of cynicism and sarcasm, which we’ve come to expect from news reporters. Prince Faisal then lays the groundwork for what has happened during the intermission, as if time has elapsed. Faisal also makes the distinction that the Arabs are the principle players behind the uprising, not the British; at least, that is his slant he tries to impress upon Bentley. “My father started this war against the Turks, not the British.”

We then take up with Lawrence back at work in the desert, carrying out guerilla warfare by sabotaging the Turk’s system of rail lines. Ali, Brighton, Auda, and now Bentley are with him, including Doud, acting as an assistant. The Arabs literally rip a train to shreds with a hail of bullets. As the men cheer Lawrence, he jumps atop the cars and prances along to their shouts of praise, Jarre’s music now a parody of the earlier theme. Here we see Lean’s beginning transformation from Lawrence the man to the legend. Bentley asks before he departs, “What attracted you to the desert?” Lawrence replies with aplomb, “It is very clean.” Bentley is obviously very dirty in the next shot, however, Lawrence, resting on the fender of a vehicle in repose, seems almost pristine in comparison. Auda runs into the shot with Ali and Brighton, first bragging he made a bargain with obtaining a clock, then sighing he must find something honorable before he leaves. Brighton finds this continual desertion disturbing as their numbers dwindle (“…at least, until next season,” Ali reminds him).

On the next attack, a single stark white horse rides in an open car. This will most certainly be Auda’s ticket home as his honorable possession. Brighton again complains in an exchange with Auda that ends with nearly all of Lawrence army going home. The end of this campaign is punctuated by a scene with Allenby and Brighton back in Cairo, summing up how their opinion of Lawrence is less than enthusiastic.

The next part of the film is based on Lawrence’s assertions that Turkish General Bey captured him, beat him severely, had his men sodomize him, and then released him without knowing they had taken the famous Lawrence of Arabia prisoner. José Ferrer brings Bey to life as a subtle pervert coughing his way to orgasm as he watches his men beat the resistance out of Lawrence. Bolt and Lean agreed this was the one essential part of the film that gave motivation to Lawrence’s brutality seen later. Although Lawrence did not participate in the infamous slaughter of Turks, he did not object to the Arabs taking their revenge, and did not stop them. The film takes license in portraying Lawrence sadistically during the massacre that follows, when he was actually the opposite, more fascinated by masochism.

The rest of the film is rather pedantic. Lawrence takes his Arab army and flanks Allenby all the way to Damascus arriving first and taking over the city. The scene at the hospital, where Lawrence is appalled at the filthy conditions, actually happened though differently. In life, Lawrence was responsible for cleaning up the hospital. Ironically, in the film, a medical man arrives, we do not know if he is a doctor or not. He starts screaming, “Outrageous!” and then slaps a man he believes is a just a laughing Arab but is in fact Lawrence reacting to the absurd. If you recall, at the beginning of the film, the same man takes exception to Bentley’s remark comparing Lawrence to P.T. Barnum, defending Lawrence, “I had to privilege to shake his hand… once.” He does not realize he actually slapped his face.

The film ends back in Allenby’s office, with Prince Faisal cutting deals with Dryden over what’s to become of the Middle East. Faisal compares Lawrence to a double edge sword, “We are both glad to be rid of him.” (Again, historically, the opposite was true, as Lawrence helped Faisal in Paris after the war). Upset over the hypocrisy, Brighton leaves the office to say goodbye, only to find Lawrence has already left. His last image is nearly invisible as we only see a partial face through the dirty glass of a windshield, the man in search of his identity already fading before the growing legend. At 222 minutes, this is Lean’s longest film and at over 4,600 words my longest review… nearly done.

In closing, “Lawrence of Arabia” is a monumental achievement, a film impossible to make today, as CGI would only lessen the impact of real men on real horses and camels galloping through the desert. Lean’s movie struck a chord of discontent in the British government and in politics, as being both helpful and yet eternally corrupt. William Wyler once stated; “a film is only as strong as its supporting cast.” The supporting cast of this film is clearly outstanding, in some instances giving probably the best performances of their careers. Peter O’Toole never had a meatier part, yet never won the Oscar despite being to bat seven times. He seems nearly too pretty for the role with his deep blue eyes and blonde hair. Noel Coward once said to O’Toole, “If you’d been any prettier, they’d have called it Florence of Arabia.”

I believe Omar Sharif summed up the quandary of this film best: “If you tried today to sell the idea of making a film with an all male cast, almost no action, mostly shots of men riding camels in the desert, you’d find very little money to make such a film.” Lean brought us to the desert and handed us art when we arrived. For that gift, we can always remember David Lean with appreciation and affection.

09-28-2007, 10:03 PM
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) – directed by David Lean

“We can’t have [Zhivago] sitting around at desks, writing poetry, reading poetry… that would be such a bore. He must be a witness to life, the observer, watching everything around him, and then bring that experience… that inspiration to his writing;” David Lean explaining the role to first Robert Bolt when writing the screenplay, and then later to Omar Sharif.

To emphasize his tribute to art, Lean opens “Doctor Zhivago” with a series of paintings and the harmonious love melody of Maurice Jarre. What he thought would be his crowning achievement in cinema turned out to be a heartbreaking disappointment to David Lean, sending him from the director’s chair nearly for good… all based on what others said; a shame, really. For today, “Doctor Zhivago” is not held with the same contempt critics heaped upon the movie four decades ago. To my mind, Zhivago is merely one more canvas to illustrate the artistry that is David Lean. While every film has its weaknesses, I believe that Zhivago will stand the test of time as one of his very best films, and I intend to prove why.

The Background

Boris Pasternak barely survived the Russian revolution of 1917. Born in 1890, Pasternak started showing up on lists shortly after Stalin took power (“Cross the fool off the list!” he reportedly said). The communist government should have rooted out the young Jewish poet, and sent him off to a gulag, except that he recanted his former life, and embraced the new system, as much as any poet could in those days. Pasternak survived because of his wits and his willingness to bend under the yoke of Stalin, not easy for a poet. He worked for the state translating Shakespeare to Russian. How this came to be a steady job is not clear in his biography. Evidently, Shakespeare was in demand during this time. Living in the country, Pasternak took a young wife and after a few children took a mistress. The peculiar nature of his life became the focus of his novel. He simply changed the names and the circumstances, yet the characters and setting of the novel he drew largely from his own past experiences. He did not set out to write a book decrying the weaknesses of communism and the inadequacies of the socialist state. However by placing the setting of the story during the Russian revolution, he did just that. His romance novel turned its eye inward on the Russian way of life using a critical tone. When he finally finished his manuscript in 1956, a local publisher refused to print the novel based on several passages (such as the desertions during the First World War, the cannibalism of the children, and so on). Pasternak had friends and relatives read the novel. Only when an Italian publisher smuggled a copy out of Russia, did Pasternak’s story receive a wider audience. Upon reviewing the work, he won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, but could not collect the prize, prevented by the Soviets from doing so. In fact, they forced him to send a telegram denouncing the awards. He died two years later, in 1960, unaware how much the public outside Russia adored his work.

The novel is based upon mysticism expressed by Yuri’s examination of life as a poet (Pasternak’s profession). Even in medical school, his professor attempts to correct his thinking when Zhivago states that the bacteria are beautiful. “Those ‘beautiful’ bacteria do ugly things to people,” he tells him. Zhivago wants to experience life and yearns to explore his world as both physician and as a poet, as if he can have the best of both worlds. Instead, life turns into a series of harsh lessons when Zhivago must work on the frontlines during the war and see how cruel humanity can be. The novel is filled with a variety of characters, which eventually Lean pares down to keep his film shorter than “Lawrence” length. He invents the narration and introduction of the daughter (not in the book) to inform us that Zhivago will eventually meet Laura and this young girl will be the result, in effect spoiling what becomes the surprise in the novel when they meet later. Lean changed many roles such as Strelnikov, who in the book commits suicide (also handled in the narration), while eliminating many other characters. This angered many critics at the time as most of them, having read the novel, compared it to the film. They felt the film’s simplicity ignored the passion found in the novel. I believe this is an unfair comparison. The book is so long and so complex, making it into a film or even a television series with an enormous budget is practically impossible. Lean’s task was to take on this project and do the best job with the material he knew to do.

Italian producer, Carlo Ponti, purchased the film rights for his wife Sophia Loren, so she could play the leading part of Laura. He approached MGM to help finance the film. They said they would if he had someone like David Lean at the helm to direct. To match the scale of the film, Ponti then called on David Lean, asked him to read the book and get back to him. Lean said he would direct the film if Robert Bolt could write the screenplay. Ponti agreed and Lean then proceeded to cast the film. When Omar Sharif caught wind that David Lean would direct “Doctor Zhivago,” he asked his agent to approach Lean with the idea of playing Pasha. “He doesn’t want you to play Pasha,” his agent told the disappointed Sharif over the phone while in the meeting with Lean, “he wants you to play the title role!” Lean called upon Omar Sharif immediately to prepare for the part of Zhivago, giving him a direction that any actor would consider a nightmare scenario. “I want you to do nothing for the first half of the film, emote nothing on screen. You are the observer,” he told him. Reluctantly, Sharif accepted this direction, trusting Lean. He stated difficulty on the set when Lean often corrected him to simply ‘stare’ at nothing. However, after the production got underway, Lean balked at the idea of using Loren for Laura. “She doesn’t resemble Laura,” Lean insisted, “she’s too tall.” Ponti caved and allowed Lean to cast British actress Julie Christie, having enjoyed her performance with Tom Courtenay in “Billy Liar.” Lean cast Courtenay as Pasha opposite Christie as the gentile man balanced perfectly against the overt and opportunistic Viktor. Ponti tried to cast Albert Finney asYevgraf. Lean balked at the idea, still upset over his refusal to perform as Lawrence. Lean turned to his ‘good luck charm’ Alec Guinness. Although the two men did not get along and often argued, Guinness now trusted Lean enough to take his direction. Lean first wanted Marlon Brando, then James Mason as Viktor Komarovsky. The studio cast contract player Rod Steiger, the only American in the cast, as Viktor. That left the one principle of Tanya yet to be cast.

Lean noticed a beautiful young girl on the cover of a magazine one day and liked the face. She was the toast of Paris, her coming out, with her face on several magazines at the time. When he discovered it was Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, Geraldine, the idea of casting her appealed to him. He brought her in for a screen test. He liked it so much, he sent her parents a letter praising the 19-year-old. Chaplin’s demure performance as the dutiful wife appears in sharp contrast to Christie’s passionate Laura. With Bolt’s finished screenplay, reducing the 700 plus page book down to a 248 page script, and the cast set, Lean returned to Spain where he shot parts of “Lawrence of Arabia.” Ponti’s production crew built a two-block replica of Moscow just outside of Madrid, along with covering the finished product with synthetic snow.

The Production

Due to budget concerns from the failing MGM, David Lean could not shoot the film in the large format he had for “Lawrence.” Instead, he opted for using Panavision cameras and shooting with 35mm color stock, later transferred to MGM color processing, giving the film its deep rich colors. Lean initially had problems from the first day shooting inside Yugoslavia. According to production designer, John Box, “It just didn’t feel right.” They shot winter scenes in Finland and Canada before settling on Spain as the place for most of the principle shooting schedule. Lean suggested that Bolt make Yevgraf the narrator, opening and closing the film, solving transitions between scene changes, also allowing writer and director to make major cuts in the complex novel before filming started. (“The novel’s list of characters reads like a table of contents,” Omar Sharif stated, “the audience could not keep track of them.”) Lean hired Nicholas Roeg as cinematographer, having worked as 2nd unit director on “Lawrence.” The two men clashed immediately on how to light sets. “I want all the blood to look beautiful and all the beautiful actresses to look ugly,” Lean told him. Roeg finally walked away from the film, and Lean called on Freddie Young to take his place. Young and Lean got along together well, and crafted the great work of art we now see.

This film was Julie Christie’s third in just a year, “Darling” not yet released. She had difficulty with some scenes, such as her reactions to Komarovsky. Steiger often improvised on the set, which did not sit well with Lean. While Steiger and Lean did not get along well, at least according to Steiger, Rod managed to deliver the level of performance that Lean needed for the role, turning out to be one of the strongest actors in the film. Steiger offered a suggestion to Lean on how to do the carriage ride where Viktor violates Laura for the first time. On the next take, without Christie’s knowledge, Steiger shoved his tongue down her throat. The effect left the actress feeling violated, just what Lean wanted, for that is the take they used in the film. She never forgave Lean or Steiger for the stunt. In another scene, Christie complained about the red dress she had to wear and refused to put it on. Dress designer Phyllis Dalton ran to production designer John Box explaining the predicament. He found Julie, as she tried to avoid him, and spoke to her. “After all,” he said, “You did not pick out the dress, Komarovsky did. It is not your taste but his.” Finally convinced, she put the dress on. Her look of disgust is genuine. Unfortunately for us, the Julie Christie look is what spoils the film for future generations, as the Christie-style hair places us in the 1960’s and not in 1917. Freddie Young took the time to light and photograph Ms. Christie so carefully, that her ‘hair’ is prominent in many shots. When interviewed for the DVD extras, Phyllis Dalton and Omar Sharif pointed out the obvious in regards to Christie. For his own part, Sharif would not make the same mistake. He felt his Egyptian features would not make him appear Russian. He had his front hairline waxed (literally ripped out!), a wig made, and a head binder put on that widened his eyes. He had to wear this day after day for months, which caused permanent scarring on the sides of his head.

To create the “ice palace” in Varykino, production assistant and special effects artist Eddie Fowlie spattered the set with hot bee’s wax. Production designer John Box followed behind him with cold ice water, transforming the set into a wondrous wintery mix, similar to an ice cave. Geraldine Chaplin states, “We showed up on the set every week to find the same set transformed into one of the four seasons. They even went so far as to individually paint the leaves of the tree yellow to represent fall!” In another scene, Eddie Fowlie had fishing line attached to the pedals of a fake sunflower, pulling on them, cued by Lean to make the sunflowers appear to weep.

Lean spent eight weeks in post production carefully going over the edit. Shot in 35mm Panavision (2.35 to 1), Lean then transferred the road show prints, which included an overture, to 70mm for the large screen venues, such as New York, Chicago, London, etc. The film premiered in London and then New York in the winter of 1965 in time for Academy consideration. When Lean heard about the numerous negative reviews, he started to read them. At the premiere, Chaplin tried to cheer the director up, “the film is a success with the public,” she told him. However, the extremely critical nitpicking by critics such as New York Times’ Bosley Crowther and many others destroyed Lean’s buoyancy and ate away at his love of directing. He bitterly spat, “I’ll never direct another film again.” Five years later, he directed “Ryan’s Daughter,” loosely based on “Madame Bouvary.” If anything nailed his opinion on not directing, that experience finished his enthusiasm. He only made one film after that, which I will not include in this examination of his work. This will be the last film in my series.

The film

“Doctor Zhivago” opens with the familiar strains of the “Laura” love theme, composed by Frenchman, Maurice Jarre. On three different occasions, Lean rejected Jarre’s score for a variety of reasons. He told him to “go away to the mountains with your girlfriend… have a good time… at the end of that, look her in the eyes, and while thinking about her, write the music [for the film].” Jarre did as Lean asked, and he produced one of the most recognizable themes in film history. The opening credits fill the screen with color, suggesting the changing seasons and the passage of time. One of the principle critical complaints common to Zhivago is that Lean tried to compress too much time, glossing over history too briefly. My counter-argument is that Lean had to incorporate that aspect of the novel the best he could under the circumstances (limited budget, time considerations, scope of the picture). If he had incorporated more of the novel’s details, the film would have run over four hours, and Lean learned that longer isn’t necessarily better when he made “Lawrence.” Distributors yelled at him to shorten the length of “Lawrence” right after the premiere.

Moments after the credits disappear, we confront the stern image of Alec Guinness as Yevgraf, Yuri’s half-brother, in search of his niece (the narration device invented by Lean and Bolt is not from the novel). Using the construction engineer as the audience, we are told that Yuri Zhivago was a great poet, especially known for his ‘Laura’ poems. “The Laura?” the engineer asks, almost breathless. In walks a young girl, in her late teens or early twenties, with large blue eyes and blonde hair, worn in the same fashion as Christie does throughout the film. When Yevgraf opens the book to her picture, the similarities are striking. Later in the film, we learn he has been searching to find the girl for a very long time. The young woman is confused. She cannot recall how she came to lose her mother. Yevgraf then transitions using the sentence, “[Your father] lost his mother about the same time you lost yours…”

The camera next takes in vast landscapes, giant mountains that dwarf people into insignificant specs (Lean did this with sand dunes in “Lawrence”). This turns out to be a funeral procession. Behind the waxen figure of a woman, a young boy with large eyes walks along, distracted by insignificant sounds, as if his mind easily wandered. This would be Yuri, and he has the mind of the poet, noticing all the small details that make up our lives. The high-pitched vocals we hear and soaring minor tones are typical of Russian folk songs, often found in the music of Borodin, Tchaikovsky, and other Russian composers; perfect for a funeral. As the body is lowered to the ground and the priest mutters the last rights, Yuri seems more taken with the rustling leaves overhead than the thought he will never see his mother again. He does not weep. His attention is only brought back when the lid is hammered on and her body is lowered into the ground. Even later, when Lean brings us back to her body in the ground, Yuri is still not moved. He simply stares out the window at a tapping branch against the window. Ralph Richardson’s very British characterizations nearly spoil the film as he is supposed to be the only Russian family Yuri has left. Here we are introduced to Tanya, who will later become Yuri’s wife. The wide-eyed boy’s similarity to Omar Sharif is no accident, as Lean cast Sharif’s son for the part.

The film jumps in time to decades later. Yuri is a grown man. Having completed college, he is finishing medical school. Here is where his mentor points out that bacteria do ugly things to people, though Zhivago can only admire their simplicity in form and function. Next, Sharif runs for a trolley moving through the large set created outside Madrid. This is where Yuri and Laura first come together, yet totally ignore one another. Lean uses a device here with the trolley as a metaphor (also not in the novel) where the two destinies rub against each other and create a ‘spark’ on the trolley wires, certainly no coincidence. Later, at the end, it is the same trolley that keeps the two apart. We see that Yuri lives in a very nice upper middleclass apartment in Moscow, very nicely furnished, created as part of the set by John Box allowing Lean’s camera to photograph out the window in several shots as the poet witnesses life passing by below.

Laura, on the other hand, lives in a working class neighborhood. We first meet Pasha, her fiancé that she tells policeman is her brother to keep him from being arrested. We can see that Pasha (Tom Courtenay) is a mild and weak character at this moment, an intellectual, interested in a revolution that will bring peace, brotherhood and equality. “Our march will prove we are united,” he says. His naiveté is manifested by his untarnished idealism. Next Laura runs to her home, in what appears to be a very common brick building. Her mother is a seamstress, with other women working for her in her shop. When we first meet Komarovsky, he is supine, sipping some brandy perhaps or wine, reading a paper, casually smoking a cigar, and does not notice the pretty young thing returning from school. In the DVD commentary, Steiger states that a man would have to be blind not to notice Julie Christie. However, Lean uses this as part of the seduction. Until now, he has only sparingly used the color red… the star over the factory entrance, the color of the balalaika. The Moscow street is so drab, the shots are practically in black and white. However, when Laura and Komarovsky enter the restaurant as a couple, due the mother’s illness and her inability to attend, red is the dominant color of the scene, portending all that is about to take place. The walls are awash with red as if Lean is telling us, something bad, not good, is about to take place.

The peaceful freedom marchers arrive at the restaurant and sing the ‘Internationale,’ the famous worker’s hymn later to become the national anthem of the USSR. Komarovsky’s comment, “No doubt they’ll sing in tune after the revolution!” breaks the tense mood in the room, bringing back joviality. All seems grand, ending the evening on a high note as Viktor and Laura return from the expensive restaurant having flirted with one another all evening. As the marchers turn a corner, a line of dragoons charges with drawn sabers killing people left and right. At the same moment, Viktor accosts Laura in the sleigh, molesting her. Yuri bursts out onto the balcony just as all hell breaks loose on the street below. We hear screams and the sounds of killing, though the camera lingers on the poet’s face. When he finally reaches the street below to help the wounded as a physician, the first image we see is a pool of blood, its red color in stark contrast against the purity of the white snow. The very next shot is Laura’s sweaty face, tussled hair, and guilty expression, as she has probably just spilled a little blood of her own, losing her virginity to Komarovsky. The juxtaposition of the symbolism could not be mistaken for anything else. Lean being an editor placed the two shots concurrent for this specific reason, a point lost on some of the 1960’s audience. Zhivago is nearly arrested in the street for helping out the ‘illegal’ protestors, when Richardson comes to his rescue reminding him that “Tanya is returning tomorrow.”

When we see Geraldine Chaplin for the first time, she is stunning in a bright pink Parisian dress, resplendent with a trim of gray fur. Yuri runs to greet her. As the couple stride from the station, Tanya shares a paper that mentions Yuri’s poetry, the first time since the beginning of the film that Zhivago and poetry are discussed in the same sentence. Meanwhile, in a parallel plot, the tangled web between Laura and Komarovsky grows tighter when he puts her into a whorish red outfit and parades her around in a private dining room. Their relationship is now clearly established as a sexual one, with the older man taking advantage of the seventeen-year-old girl by giving her an ‘adult’ good time. A few scenes later, we see the ‘good’ couple, Yuri and Tanya, side by side, completely bored, not saying a word while Rachmaninov plunks away on the piano in the next room. The plot thickens when Laura’s mother commits suicide after she discovers her daughter’s affair with her own lover. Desperate to avoid a scandal, Viktor sends for a doctor at the house of the private musical concert. Zhivago accompanies his mentor to help out Komarovsky, obviously to repay some sort of favor the attorney must have perform for the older physician. After reviving the mother, the doctor sends Zhivago to find the daughter. In a brilliant scene, the ‘Laura’ theme is quietly introduced as Yuri only sees her hand for the first time. Viktor enters the room with a lamp. Zhivago can now see Laura clearly for the first time. He can also clearly see her overtures to Komarovsky. This is the beginning of a triangle that will play throughout the film until arriving at its stunning conclusion when Komarovsky ironically offers the two clemency for their crimes.

In the scene that follows, Pasha asks Komarovsky for Laura’s hand, probably because he is the family attorney and Laura has no father. Viktor despises the young man’s high ideals. When he points this out and compares Laura to a slut, the two physically fight, with Viktor throwing her on a nearby mattress and taking her. She resists at first, then quickly gives in to the lawyer’s passion. However, the moment he leaves, she realizes that she is in his power. Overwhelmed with self-loathing, she glances over at Pasha’s gun, which he brings earlier when asking for help after the protest (sporting a large scar on his left cheek). Laura decides to take action, probably shooting Viktor, though having never handled a gun. She accidentally runs into Pasha on the street, who then follows her to the restaurant where Komarovsky and oddly enough, Zhivago along with Tanya, are there dining out for the evening. Laura shoots Viktor just as Zhivago and Tanya’s betrothal is announced. Pasha arrives in time to bring her out of the restaurant when Komarovsky wishes to avoid any scandal. “Get her out!” he hoarsely whispers. Tanya stares on with curiosity until she notices Yuri’s face, fixed on Laura as the shaken girl passes. Tanya senses something between them, though she does not indicate it at the time. Back at Laura’s home, Pasha lays into her with righteous indignation, the young woman capitulating to his demands out of guilt and remorse. The scene ends questionably when Pasha places his hand on Laura’s.

In the montage that follows, we see that the two men are married to their intended. Pasha and Laura have a child. Yuri and Tanya have a child. World War I breaks out and the narration returns with Yevgraf joining the military to subvert the effort. The other two men join the military, too. In one of those brilliant Freddie Young/David Lean moments, Pasha’s glasses fall off his face during a charge on the battlefront. The camera stays on the glasses, now lying on the ground, shooting the rest of the scene through lenses abandon in the snow. Lean shows us very briefly the misery and horror of trench warfare in another montage with Guinness speaking over the images. “After two years… the boots wore out,” he says, an indicator that when they didn’t have any shoes, they would desert the line and try to go home. Yuri is now working with a mobile field hospital, following along with a contingency of wounded and deserters fleeing the battlefield. Laura is now a nurse and happens to show up in the same place, helping the good doctor out, innocently at first, since both are married. Later, they begin to feel an attraction to each other. The more they work together, the more the attraction grows. This becomes somewhat of a tease, as neither acts on the impulse.

Another montage and more passage of time; the Czar has fallen, Yuri writes to Tanya. How his letters make it to Moscow is not certain. He must remain in the provisional hospital, orders from the new government. Zhivago, wishing to return home to his family, remains behind with Laura to help the sick and injured. He expresses his love for her, but she tells him they have nothing to be ashamed of when they return, if they keep their distance. However, when we see Laura part, even in a soldier’s coat, she is quite beautiful from the back. Zhivago finally returns to Moscow, only to discover that his home has been converted into a multifamily dwelling run by stone-faced party members. When out stealing firewood, Yevgraf finally meets his half-brother, saving him from the party members bent on their destruction. Yevgraf convinces his brother to leave the city with his wife and child. At the railway station, they crowd into an old cattle car and make their way into Russia’s vast interior, hoping to eventually cross the Ural Mountains. Character actor Klaus Kinski in one of his first screen roles of an English film mesmerizes as the captive forced to perform labor. His maniacal expressions and fierce delivery is a sharp contrast to the compliant and quiet Zhivago, as well as the rest of the ‘cattle.’

Passing through one destroyed village, a survivor woman runs for the train carrying a baby. She leaps to gain a foothold and is nearly swept under the train. Unfortunately, on the day of shooting, the actress did go under the train and suffered severe injuries, spending the next two months in the hospital. In the scene that follows, she explains that ‘Strelnikov’ a feared general of the Red Guard came to her village and killed everyone and everything in it as an example to those who would help their enemy, the White Guard. The train makes an unscheduled stop, and during a pause in which Yuri, Tanya and the others walk up and down along the tracks for exercise, another train, decorated with a wide red banner, roars past. The men cry out, “Strelnikov!” The woman survivor from the village sarcastically states, “Yes, that is Strelnikov.” In the next shot, we see to our surprise, a close up of Tom Courtenay, (we thought killed on the battlefield) once the calm and peaceful Pasha, and now the steely eyed Strelnikov, staring ahead at some distant destination.

So ends the first half of the film – Intermission

When the film opens in the second half, we hear the train growing louder in the darkness until it bursts from a tunnel into the countryside. Instead of a bleak, war-torn landscape, covered with snow and black smoldering buildings, we see tall majestic mountains, green trees, and flowers. This change in color and tone is Lean’s way of saying, the second part of the movie will concentrate on the love story. Once more, the train makes an unscheduled stop, and in a strange twist of fate, a wandering Zhivago stumbles onto the headquarters train of Strelnikov. In Tom Courtenay’s last scene, he discovers that his wife is still alive and living in a small town up ahead. He and Zhivago debate the merits of the revolution, before he lets the doctor go. In the novel, Strelnikov later commits suicide. We learn of his fate from Komarovsky, “no one liked him anyway.”

Arriving at a train station in what must be a change of season or a warmer climate, the party of four disembarks for the countryside known as Varykino, a quaint house in the country permanently boarded up by the revolutionary council. Zhivago and party move into the cottage next door and take up residence. Tanya is now pregnant with her second child. Bored, Zhivago heads into Yuriatin to examine their library when he runs into Laura. This second half of the film is really their love story. As spring erupts, so does their love. Zhivago now commutes back and forth between his wife and his mistress, growing increasingly unhappy at home, yet still protective of the vulnerable Tanya. Deciding to end the affair, Zhivago makes one last trip, only to be kidnapped by partisans roving the forests. They press the doctor into action, taking him away from his family to an unknown and uncertain future. The only evidence he leaves behind is his cap on the road.

In the scene that follows, the famous ‘charge across the lake’ appears as dangerous as it looks. Performed by the Spanish Army, several soldiers were hurt during the filming, but not seriously. Zhivago serves the partisans until an opportunity arises that allows his escape. He makes his way back to Yuriatin and into the loving care of Laura, only to find that his ‘father’ (Ralph Richardson), Tanya, and his two children have been exiled to Paris. When Viktor Komarovsky shows up declaring both Laura and Yuri to be in danger, they force him to leave, refusing his help. Concentrating on his love, Yuri suggests they run off to the home of Yuriatin, whose inside resemble a wondrous ice world, frozen in time with dripping ice cycles and frosty panes of glass. Here Zhivago pens his famous Laura poems. After amassing a pile of writing, Komarovsky shows up again, this time accompanied by a guard. He takes Laura away to Mongolia. Upon leaving the train station, she declares she is carrying Yuri’s child.

The film segues back to the beginning. Yevgraf is an aging general, still hoping the young girl he has brought to the office will offer a nugget of information. She finally cries out that her father abandons her in the middle of an attack on their village in Mongolia. Yevgraf knowingly smiles, “Your father would never do that. That was Komarovsky. This is your father,” he points to the picture of Omar Sharif at the front of the poetry book. Yevgraf goes onto to explain that he tried to help his brother get a job at the hospital years later when Yuri returns to Moscow. He sends him on his way. Onboard a trolley, Yuri spots Laura walking up the street. ‘His heart was more like tissue paper,’ Yevgraf sets the scene. Yuri struggles to leave the train. As Laura walks away, oblivious to his presence, Yuri tries to cry out, only to collapse on the street. Yevgraf discovers Laura at his brother’s funeral. He offers to help her find her daughter. However, the search is unsuccessful. He paints a bleak picture for her end… “she died in some labor camp, a number instead of a name, scratched off a list somewhere…”

When the young woman rises to leave with her boyfriend, she slings a balalaika over her shoulder. Yevgraf calls out, “Can you play it?” “Can she play it?” the boyfriend fires back, “Of course, she can… she’s an artist… no one taught her.” “Then it’s a gift,” Yevgraf states, knowing that in the Zhivago family, everyone could play the balalaika, the final clue that this girl must be Yuri and Laura’s daughter. The final rainbow shot of the hydroelectric dam ends the picture with Jarre’s Laura’s Theme swelling over the final credits.

Final thoughts

Every shot in this film whether dominated in blue or red is warm with detail and suffused with balance, tone, quality, and depth. You could turn the sound off and watch “Doctor Zhivago” for its art value alone. I can’t think of a single wasted shot in this movie. If David Lean is remembered for anything, and I believe he will be remembered as one of film’s greatest artists, “Doctor Zhivago” will be high on the list of his greats. This universal love story… this thing of beauty… this moving emotional work of art that flows with timeless imagery into a nonstop outpouring of finely crafted shots, sewn together with a clever plot, and some terrific performances. Rod Steiger is nothing less than brilliant, especially at the end when he brings out the worst of Komarovsky. Julie Christie is so intransigently stunning with her piercing blue eyes, full lips and golden hair. If she isn’t woman perfected, I don’t know what is. Finally we have Omar Sharif, who eventually emotes at the end, falling apart in Laura’s bedroom, a shadow of his former self, he struggles with his aging haggard appearance, trying to strip away the ugliness as he slowly fades to unconsciousness. Lean brought out their best. “Doctor Zhivago” is a triumph in filmmaking, and I only wish David Lean were alive so that, as an artist, I could tell him how much I admire and love his work. I’m certain he would appreciate it.

oscar jubis
10-02-2007, 09:12 AM
I printed your outstanding Lawrence of Arabia essay and I placed it inside its dvd box so I can read it every time I watch the film in the future. Thanks.

10-02-2007, 12:52 PM
No man hath greater honor than recognition. Thanks. ws

11-06-2007, 09:46 AM
When Kubrick was asked who his favorite directors were, he said
Max Ophuls and David Lean.

David Carradine and many many others think Lawrence of Arabia is the greatest film ever made.

Certainly there aren`t any films today that can actually stake a claim on the word `Epic`like Lawrence can.

Thanks for these David Lean threads cinemabon.
Great stuff- just the kind of posts we need.

11-18-2013, 09:25 AM
I watched the 1992 (2-vhs tape) set of Lawrence of Arabia this week, as I like to do once a year.

Your posts on the film are great cinemabon.
I would add that when Lawrence "dramatically confesses" to "enjoying" the execution he seems to be unhinged, a little mad, a little insane.
I don't find him to be the same rational man he was before that event.
My favorite part of the film is when the train is attacked and the horses run free. Lovely stuff.
And some of those "camel riding" shots are amazingly well composed- nice sunrises/sets. Ace cameraman Lean had in Fred Young.

It is what you say it is- one of the greatest artistic achievements in film, stunning, visually and aurally. "The Pinnacle", as you pointed out.
David Lean may have made the best film of all time.
But that is ALWAYS open for debate.
Especially among film buffs.

Chris Knipp
11-25-2013, 08:38 PM
I'm reading your excellent LAWRENCE OF ARABIA essay. It was both a thrill and a disappointment to me when I saw it. I was in the Army studying Arabic at the DLI/WC in Monterey and we went to it hoping to hear some Arabic. The only Arabic was "hut hut hut" to the camels (if you can call that Arabic) and "allahu akbar" shouted when men went into battle. That would never happen today: Hollywood's aversion to foreign languages has faded and English-language films set in Arabic countries are now full of Arabic dialogue, even if it's often in the wrong dialect for the location of the shot.

Anyway, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is indeed an awesome, sweeping, grand film. Those desert landscapes, that music, wow. It has magic. My sister worked as a movie theater usher that summer when it was showing and said she would focus on a different thing with each showing, and lately had focused on how to ride a camel, and so on.

The great thing about LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, well, there are a number of great things, but in terms of the subject, is how it really does convey a sense of Lawrence's arc as a person, from humble (sort of) Arabist to great leader of the war, to the disaster of the post-war conference, to his withdrawal and final oblivion. It's a kind of tragedy. And it's a skillful blend of history and biography, which film doesn't generally do so well. We see Lawrence change and we understand the forces behind the changes even as he remains fundamentally mysterious. And this works because Peter O'Toole is mysterious. Maybe there's nothing inside. But the outside is electric. He glows; he is luminous, which as I was just quoting is what Sidney Poitier said about River Phoenix at the memorial after he died - they had worked together on LITTLE NIKITA - that he was "luminous." It's a magical quality that great instinctive actors may sometimes have.

Auda Abu Taya', the character played by Anthony Quin, was a very colorful figure in real life. I love the story about how when he became enraged at the English, he took out his false teeth, which were English made, threw them on the ground, and smashed them with his foot. That gives you an idea of the man. Nuts, but heroic.

It's imaginable perhaps to have had Albert Finney as Lawrence. Physically he might have looked more like Lawrence. Alec Guinness resembled him even more but would not have the grandeur Lean sought, which of course was possessed in spaded by O'Toole -- it's one of the most riveting performances in cinema, and he makes Lawrence far more epic and grand than the actual man was. I think this film may have started me on a fascination with Lawrence though it might have happened anyway. I began reading books about him and dipped into his books and thought a lot about his life. I was later to live in the Arab world myself. I've still never waded through THE SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM, but I have read other books that summarize the material contained therein in less flowery language. He is a fascinating figure, the way he became reclusive and disappeared into an assumed identity, unusual. Various biographies provide a lot of insight into his character but it remains mysterious. Some of the information you cite about his masochism, pedophilia, etc. is somewhat speculative.

I actually could not stand DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. It's saccharine. Corny. I side with the writer on BOOKFORUM who describes the novel as "s blend of mysticism and erotic kitsch." The movie made the novel way more popular. Julie Cristie is a powerful actress. Sure, epic too, but those other aspects ruin it for me. That constantly repeated "Lara's theme" is part of the corniness. Enough, already. I like Omar Sharif though. I have come to like him more since. He is sweet in little roles, particularly MONSIEUR IBRAHIM [ET LES FLEURS DU CORAN] which itself is a very sweet movie, and he is still a remarkably handsome man. Playboy life, bridge, horses, gambling, the French Riviera. Omar Sharif has actually been in some notable Egyptian films, which have not been seen in the US by the general audience. He's currently in a French-Moroccan movie called ROCK THE CASBAH which I've heard from somebody in a position to know is not very good.

Peter O'Toole is destroyed by cigarettes and drink. He also appears to have been a person very uneasy in his skin. But of course, that's an actorly failing. But he's still a good acor, if a bit hammy. A recent good senior role was in Roger Mitchell's VENUS. The script is by a good writer (if uneven), Hanif Kureishi. Not crazy about his script for LE WEEK-END (nyff 2013) but his MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE is one of my favorite screenplays ever. And let's not forget O'Toole plays Tiberius in that camp classic, CALIGULA. Along with Guilgud and others you might not expect, considering the utter contempt in which this movie is generally held. A lot could be said about CALIGULA, and may have been, for all I know; I have not researched or even Google-searched it. I have watched it a number of times. How bad could a movie be that has Malcolm McDowell of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in its leading role? CALIGULA offends every possible rule of good taste. What's not to like?

11-25-2013, 11:37 PM
Call it the curse of Lawrence - O'toole played the role of his life - basically downhill from there - nominated eight times and never won. Albert Finney, turned down the role of Lawrence for Tom Jones, nominated five times - never won. Both great actors. Both great Lawrences. O'toole epitomized the well-schooled English fop who discovers a sadistic/masochistic side to his personality and enjoys the way it gets him off. I doubt he ever said to Allenby, "I enjoyed it." That would have been insubordination. However, Lawrence - through his actions that got back to Allenby - eventually communicated that to his superior officer and Allenby tolerated that side of Lawrence due to the man's successes.

Lawrence was more intellectual than soldier when he started - going to Palestine first as an assistant expert on an archeological dig. It was when he learned to hone his language skills and become an expert in Arabic from his "guide" the lovely Selim, that Lawrence's value as a soldier later on in the war proved so useful. Much about Lawrence's relationship with Selim was purposely covered up by Lawrence's family and friends. His boss forced Lawrence to remove the naked statue he made of Selim above his hut. I believe that at first, the Englishman fell in love with a "pretty" Arab boy and the two made love. Later, when Selim died such a horrible death, the news destroyed Lawrence chance for happiness after the war and he no longer cared. The more he delved into the world of pain, the better Lawrence liked the idea it covered the true pain he felt about Selim's premature death. The truth is, we'll never know the true motivation for Lawrence's S&M tendencies or their origins. However, I like to believe started over his frustration rather than he had some streak of evil in him. He never showed any such tendencies at his school in Oxford.

No one knows what happened to Lawrence's first version of his memoirs. It is said he left it in a London railway station. Another version of events goes that the publisher was so overwhelmed with the detail of his first draft 500,000 plus word book that they forced Lawrence to cut that size in half. Lawrence dedicated the book to Selim with the quotation about the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He had no intention to call the book that. It was the publisher who changed the title. What I believe would make - not just a good film but a great filmed story - would be the tragic love tale between Lawrence and Selim.

Lawrence lived out his days sneaking into military bases and trying to pass himself off as a private - asking for the lowliest tasks and then requesting soldiers beat him for doing it wrong. He was discovered and asked to leave several times before the military put out an alert that kept Lawrence off the bases. His penchant for masochism was well known and led to some exaggerations in Bolt's screenplay. Because of his close relationship with General Allenby, Lawrence gained stardom and fame when Allenby toured England with Lowell Thomas's footage supplemented by Allenby's praise of Lawrence. To the end, Allenby was convinced that Lawrence's contributions helped turn the tide of the war in the Middle East.

Lean's treatment of the subject borders on reverence. However, Lean did not like actors and especially loathed Alec Guinness - though he employed Guinness several times in major roles from Great Expectations onward. Guinness and Lean often argued on the set, which Lean did not like. It was only after Lean promised Guinness he would help deliver him an Oscar for his role in "Bridge on the River Kwai" that Guinness came to respect Lean's advice and trusted his judgment. Having learned his craft on his early work (which many argue is his best), Lean's visionary scope to the epic film has become the standard which all other filmmakers since have used as their yardstick. Watching a film about a bunch of men who run around on camels and blow things up is purely a matter of taste if one only looks at the plot. However, I believe the subtext here goes beyond the content when you consider Lean's change with this film from one of scope in terms of magnitude to using light and color to paint a desert life within the frame of a 70mm frame. In my mind, it is the greatest work of art placed on film of all time.

11-25-2013, 11:46 PM


Chris Knipp
11-26-2013, 03:40 AM
You do love the juicy gossip bits (and who doesn't?) so you may like this about Alec Guinness' recently published (in excerpt) catty diaries: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2283983/Sir-Alec-Guinness-Unpublished-diaries-letters-reveal-gleeful-malice-acting-legend.html So many people are not terribly admirable if we go into the intimate details of their thought and behavior.

John E. Mack's Lawrence biography A PRINCE OF OUR DISORDER says in an extended passage about the boy (http://books.google.com/books?id=pnmSiLAMpZAC&pg=PA96&lpg=PA96&dq=what+does+the+name+dahoum+mean?&source=bl&ots=Ag1eh2kY5q&sig=wm17mG1NLh_prAFHPZtRpx_6Qqw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=aGWUUtTVGIrOsASY5IGACg&ved=0CFcQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=what%20does%20the%20name%20dahoum%20mean%3F&f=false) and the relationship that Lawrence loved the way Dahoum or Selim Ahmad spoke Arabic and said he wanted to speak like that. And it seems evident that Lawrence's relationship with this boy was quite possibly the love of his life. But I would question the oft repeated statement that his association with S.A. put the final touches on T.E.'s Arabic. Maybe it's true; I'd just question it. I'd also dwell on other things than this relationship, mythologized though it may have been by T.E. himself, if I were only giving a short description of Lawrence. Most of David Lean's film too is about other aspects and Lawrence's private loves and possible sexual oddities have little bearing on his role in a period of Middle Eastern history that's unfortunately as significant for what did not happen in the aftermath of WWI as for what did.

There is such a slew of biographies of Lawrence it may be hard to choose wisely among them and many, possibly all, are unreliable. The only sure thing is that T. E.l Lawrence is mysterious, and that his life was obscured by the myths that were constructed around him, as well as his own secrecy. That you can get from the earlier biographies that I read.

Some articles I found interesting to look at just now about more recent books on T.E.L.:

What We Need to Learn From T.E. Lawrence (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/11/15/te-lawrence-michael-korda-hero-on-his-middle-east-legacy.html)
Michael Korda By Michael Korda November 14th 2010

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2013, Scott Anderson) (http://telawrence.blogspot.com/2013/09/lawrence-in-arabia-war-deceit-imperial.html)

Note this from Janet Maslin's 2010 NYTIMES review (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/22/books/22book.html?_r=0)of Michael Korda's LIFE AND LEGEND OF T.E. LAWRENCE:

Most important, Mr. Korda makes himself a credible authority on some of the most egregious misconceptions that surround Lawrence’s story. He is particularly dismissive of the idea that postwar Lawrence, variously known as T. E. Ross and T. E. Shaw, lived a monastic and friendless life. If anything, he sees Lawrence as an adroit networker with many powerful friends and a remarkable ability to gain access to world leaders. He thinks the romantic allure of Lawrence’s accomplishments should not obscure the great foresight, planning abilities and meticulousness for which he should be equally famous.

Even more recent, from NPR, The Real 'Lawrence of Arabia', Putting the Man and His Myth Into Historical Context by Jacli LYden, about a book by David Frumkin, A Peace to End all Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. Lyden reports on the true and the false in SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM as noted by Frumkin.
"But it was typical of Lawrence to play down and be modest about the things that he actually did — while telling whoppers, lies of all sorts, about things he claimed he had done," Fromkin says The NPR summary goes on:
"Lawrence did not change the map of the Middle East — the spheres of influence had been drawn up secretly between Britain and France in 1916," Lyden says. "But it may be that the best way to regard T.E. Lawrence is to consider what would have happened in the Middle East without him.

"By 1922, he was advisor to Winston Churchill, and it was then Britain installed the adroit Faisal as King in Iraq," Lyden says, "And later, when it was already a fact on the ground, Abdullah as Emir in Jordan." Of all the other British officers in the Middle East, Lawrence was one of the few urging independence and self-rule for the Arabs

I don't think these points are new -- I got them from the biographies I read when I was in the Army -- but they are important points to note.

11-26-2013, 05:34 PM
You're absolutely right, Chris. I believe the same thing happened to Kennedy as well. Biographers tended to focus more on Kennedy's dalliances instead of his accomplishments or failures as a politician.

Lawrence was not just successful as a tactician, but very little is said of his diplomatic efforts after the war. He helped Prince Faisal (who was said to be a very garish man, prone to practical jokes and crude humor) negotiate peace settlements and move about in diplomatic circles when he visited Europe. Lawrence maintained his friendships with Lowell Thomas as well, who more than anyone made Lawrence a household name.

The only reason I brought up some of Lawrence's weaknesses, dealt with how obsessive Lawrence became near the end of his life - such as his obsession with his motorcycle. In the film's opening, the accident kills Lawrence on the spot. However, in real life, Lawrence tragically lingered in the hospital for nearly two weeks before he finally died. After his death, General Allenby is pictured saying in the movie, "I hardly knew him." General Allenby's family was so incensed over the comment in Bolt's screenplay, they sued the production company and won. Allenby was not only a close friend of Lawrence, but deeply cared for his welfare and promoted Lawrence's accomplishments all over England in a series of lectures.

While I find the soundtrack somewhat repetitive, Maurice Jarre's score helped to sell Lean's emotionalism and supported the art of Freddie Young's beautiful sweeping and majestic cinematography. Young often took a skeletal crew into the desert just to capture pristine shots of the landscape. Lean said he had enough footage to make two films and had problems reducing it to a premiere cut that Columbia later butchered. The sobering part happened when Lean took the cast and crew to Spain for the Akabah sequences. Clashes erupted on the set between Lean and Spiegel. This was the last picture Lean made with Sam Spiegel because Lean actually loathed the way Spiegel interfered. When they were in the jungles of Ceylon (Kwai) or in Jordon for Lawrence, Lean would purposely find a remote shoot so that Spiegel could not accompany him. However, to Spiegel's credit, he supported nearly all of Lean's decisions. Lean was a difficult man to know personally. He had very few friends and mostly enjoyed the company of writers or cameramen. He seldom mixed with actors whom he regarded as a necessary evil. Least of all he liked Alec Guinness and after reading that article, I can see why.

Chris Knipp
11-26-2013, 11:52 PM
I know this stuff is interesting, but. . .

I really just chimed in to say your piece on the film and Lean was well done and well informed. And then as usual I couldn't help making some comments. I can never shut up. Haven't you noticed?

It's hard for me to talk more about these things because it's such a long time since I've read about T.E. Lawrence and so long since I've seen LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. You're much more up on all the lore surrounding its making, and so on. You realize I was not saying that the LAWRENCE OF ARABIA score was repetitive. It obvously is, come to think of it, but the one that annoyed me was DOCTOR ZHIVAGO's, and as I said, I don't like that film, but admire the sweep of LAWRENCE, its storytelling, and O'Toole's charismatic performance. All in all, it's not to me sp important what people were like whose art I admire, whether painters, composers, actors, filmmakers. . . Evidently Miles Davis was an asshole, but I don't think about that when I listen to his music. Picasso used women, but he's still a great artist and I don't look at one of his portraits of a wife or lover and think about how he treated her. That Mahler or Tchaikovsky were gay doesn't make them more interesting to me, or less. And they could have died in their thirties, like Blinky Palermo (a favorite artist of mine), or lived to be 90, like Picasso. So what? Knowing that Guinness was gossipy or snarky about people in his diary not only doesn't affect my admiration for his acting, but I'm even doubtful that it really describes him as a person as he appeared to others. But T. E. Lawrence is who we're looking at in David Lean's film, and his leadership and passion and mystery are, of course, of interest in that format. And of course, details about the making of a film are useful, to know where a sequence was shot, for example. All that stuff it interesting; it's just not my thing. I leave it t others. I leave it to you.

Chris Knipp
11-27-2013, 03:12 PM
P.s. Pacific Film Archive (in Berkeley, 15 minutes from me) sends this today"

Sunday, December 1

Lawrence of Arabia

3 PM Lawrence of Arabia
4K Widescreen!

View The Resolution Starts Now: 4K Restorations from Sony Pictures filmseries | Buy tickets

I ought to go..... It's time I saw it again. Your essays have made me want to, C.

11-28-2013, 07:53 AM
Wish I could go, Chris. 4 K resolution I've heard is quite detailed - as good as 70mm. I'd go in a heartbeat. I love the film... so many great scenes... clutching a rock until you think he's going to crush it in his hand... rescuing Gasim from the anvil... Tony Quinn's great scene: "They mother mated with a scorpion... and "You love him?" Shariff: "Yes! No!"... and O'toole's great delivery... "It's for him!" ... "We'll smash Johnny Turk in the rear!" Robert Bolt must have had a field day writing this with Lean looking over his shoulder. They both took home the gold.

Have a great holiday season. Many blessings to you, Chris, your family and friends. I'm working on a book I started Nov. 7th called, "Similitude" about a 26 yo woman who comes upon a red door in the woods and asks - if you came upon a red door in the middle of a tree, would you go in? 104,000 words in three weeks for Nanowrimo writing challenge. See you through the holidays (I think we're going to see "Blue is the warmest color" and others).

My bad - Bolt nominated, didn't win. Boo hoo

Chris Knipp
11-28-2013, 10:04 AM
I see Bolt did win the Oscar for his writing on A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, however, and all in all he had a hell of a life. I should be able to go to this screening of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. If by any chance I can't, I am going to watch the film again in some form or other as soon as I can because as I said, it's been a long time since I did. Holiday wishes to you and yours too, cinemabon, and good luck on your current writing projects! And I hope you like BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR.

Chris Knipp
12-02-2013, 04:12 PM
I did see LAWRENCE OF ARABIA yesterday at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (1 Dec. 2013). More of the original material was restored so it was around 221 minutes this time, with musical interludes before both parts and the 15-minute intermission and an introduction by somebody who didn't say who he was (maybe Sony archive person Grover Crisp?), so the whole show was about four hours and a bit. He explained details of the new scanning and the resolution. This introducer person explained how much previously cut footage was added back previously and this time, but did not say where this footage was in the film. He also said privately that Sony guards this edition, which comes in the form of a hard drive, so closely, that the devising of the protective encoding was almost as elaborate a project as the scanning for the 4K restoration. Sony will only allow this version to be shown at a very few venues. You can find further details of this PFA screening on the PFA website. (http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/4K)

It's a profoundly impressive, epic film in the grandest of grand traditions. Literally impressive: it engraves itself on your brain. I remembered a great deal of it vividly from the one time I've seen it before during its original release! It made that deep an impression. Needless to say the performances, the cinematography, the editing, the music, and the astonishing directing by David Lean all contribute to this great success, but the backbone of it all is Robert Bolt's screenplay. However it may simplify things -- and of course today I'd expect such a film to contain a lot of dialogue in Arabic with subtitles, since none of the talk among Arabs or even presumably a lot of the talk between them and Lawrence in real life could have been in English -- it is a brilliant screenplay with a beautiful shape. It does what such a screenplay should do: it tells a moving and coherent story. And in doing that it performs the feat of working on many levels, at the same time interweaving the personal and the political, the story of the great powers and the Arabs in WWI, and the story of T.E. Lawrence and the building of the myth of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Al-awrence." This is cinematic myth-making of the highest order. On the other hand, there is a good Wikipedia article, "Lawrence of Arabia (film)" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_of_Arabia_(film)) that points out very numerous historical inaccuracies, which clearly go well beyond what was necessary or appropriate to produce a dramatic, epic film. Auda's and Ali's families (even though Ali was a composite) sued Columbia Pictures. Allenby's family likewise lodged a formal complaint. The article says this:
Later, to the New York Times, Arnold [Lwwrence's younger brother] said, “[The film is] a psychological recipe. Take an ounce of narcissism, a pound of exhibitionism, a pint of sadism, a gallon of blood-lust and a sprinkle of other aberrations and stir well.” Lowell Thomas was also critical of the portrayal of Lawrence and most of the film's characters, believing the train attack scenes were the only reasonably accurate aspect of the film.

There were a couple things I must have imagined, or gotten from talk about the story, rather than from the film, and later misremembered them as being in the film when they're not. Notably the beating or torture of Lawrence by the Turks under the creepy "Turkish Bey" played by Jose Ferrer, presumably gay. I thought it showed him being beaten on the bottoms of his feet and I thought there was something about his being disturbed afterwards because he had taken masochistic pleasure in his beating, but that's not there. What is there is his guilt at another time about enjoying killing Gasim (I.S. Johar), the Arab he had gone back to rescue when they crossed the Nefud desart. And the disapproval of Sherif Ali (Omar Sherif) at how Lawrence similarly reveled in a massacre (Damascus?) in which he can be seen barberically slaughtering many men.. That's one thing.

The other thing is of course Dahoum, the boy Lawrence was so close to and the putative love of his life, is omitted in favor of two boys, both of whom are killed before his eyes. This may or may not be related to the facts of Lawrence's life but certainly great use is made of the two boys in Bolt's screenplay.

About what difference the additional footage made, I had the feeling the squabbling among the Arabs, especially Sherif Ali and Auda (Anthony Quinn), went on longer this time, and I liked that.

About the screening experience: it could be better, much better. I believe that the PFA screening room is a "temporary" UC Berkeley site that has been used for maybe over 20 years. The screen could have been much bigger. The speakers sounded tinny and weird at certain points when the voice shifted from one of them to another; one of them may be bad. Anyway, the contrast between this theater and the Walter Reade of the Film Society of Lincoln Center or the two auditoriums of the new MoMA is pretty dramatic. And this new version would look great in an up-to-date iMax theater. Nonetheless one could appreciate that the detail was very rich.

I went to this alone. I was surprised that my friend K.P., who is usually interested in Arab-related things, refused to go on the grounds that she has never liked Peter O'Toole in anything but some UK TV series where he plays a sinister relative called Uncle Silas. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101659/) Well, what can I say? De gustibus, etc. Sure, O'Toole is campy and theatrical, but he's also fucking marvelous. It's one of the dream roles and he totally nails it.

P.s.: A NY Times article about the 4K remaste (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/movies/lawrence-of-arabia-mended-returns-to-screen-and-blu-ray.html)r goes into detail about the technical side of it, the cuts and restorations, the Blu-ray edition, etc. In particular the writer explains -- if you believe this -- how the digital remastering with today's technology is even better than the film negative, because it removes damage to the images from heat on the film used to shoot in the desert.

12-02-2013, 08:16 PM
I just love reading your posts (said a fan with a sigh). Your fluid use of the English language makes this blog far more important than I originally intended. Thanks for all of your comments, Chris. I wish I'd been with you at the screening and shared your thoughts over coffee afterward (if you partake). I do miss the day when Rick would call me up and afterward we'd spend hours at the Copper Kettle on Sunset discussing the movies we'd just seen (usually a double feature at the Tiffany - just torn down this year). Waxing nostalgia.

Another tidbit - supposedly the Turkish officer mentioned in "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" was real and denied ever torturing Lawrence (he was a captive for a short time) or that he had any homosexual tendencies as he was a married man. Ah, the fallacy of that age old argument is all too ironic; so much so that I wouldn't grace it with a rebuttal.

Chris Knipp
12-02-2013, 08:30 PM
Flattery will get you somewhere. I appreciate your exaggerations. And wish also that me and you and Rick could all hang out at the Copper Kettle after a double feature at the Tiffany. Them days is gone forever I fear. But it seems film schools have departments or at least courses in restoration.

That Turk may have thought people didn't know about 'living on the down-low.'

12-03-2013, 07:26 AM
"Al-awrence." This is cinematic myth-making of the highest order.

Awesome description of your experience. Wish I was there!

Chris Knipp
12-03-2013, 12:54 PM
Thanks. Me too.

Chris Knipp
12-03-2013, 01:09 PM
Apropos of the 4K Sony series at the Pacific Film Archive currently here is also a lengthy blog entry that discusses the preciptitous digital takeover in Hollywood and once again describes the differences between the two vastly different formats. This may fit better on another thread but it comes up in connection with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.


It still amazes me a little that people are so credulous about new technologies that when they describe them they are always "selling" them. This blog for instance doesn't mention that some new features and shorts are still constantly being made using film cameras, and then the issue is of how they will be shown. I was impressed that James Grey at the NYFF whose new feature is THE IMMIGRANT, was passionate in his preference of film over digital. This seems to be a distinguished club, including

Christopher Nolan
Quentin Tarantino
Rian Johnson
Stephen Spielberg
Paul Thomas Anderson
Wes Anderson
Darren Aronofsky

Some like Spielberg use both.

12-04-2013, 12:26 AM
Speaking of Wes Anderson, I love the trailer to his new film - Grand Budapest Hotel. Looks as intriguing as "Moonrise Kingdom."

Chris Knipp
12-04-2013, 07:16 AM
7 March 2014 release date, I see. Berlin an appropriate debut location for a film about a grand hotel in Europe between the two wars.

12-04-2013, 07:34 AM
Great point about "new technology" over "film" Chris.

Film is my preferred choice for my photos on Facebook. But I'm about to stop. I've been using disposable Kodak cameras for about 5 years and I've taken many photos and some video with my iPhone (would you believe the Apple iPhone is the MOST USED camera on this earth?).
Black's photography here in Canada is charging more to process 35mm film rolls and you have to wait an extra day now- you used to be able to get it done within an hour. Nowadays hardly anyone uses it, so their "labs" are pretty much extinct.
Film photography will become like Club Jazz, for really purist photographers.
Because it's getting so expensive, I'll have to stick with my trusty Canon PowerShot- a simple to use digital camera I highly recommend.

As for the movie industry, I love that major filmmakers still have celluloid in their blood.
The pixels haven't taken over the soul just yet..

Chris Knipp
12-04-2013, 08:28 AM
For artistic purposes the two should coexist. Film is like vinyl records. The sound is better but CDs reign for current consumers and digital has greater flexibility and a kind of durability (though about CDs we don't know). But people are going to MP3, which is a further degraded sound. Nobody cares. Nobody notices.

I switched over to digital cameras three years ago. My film photography had languished for many years for the reasons you cite and also when I gave up doing my own black and white photography in the darkroom due to how much time and money it consumed to do that. Still the hours late at night in the darkroom were some of the greatest times of my life, comparable to making my favorite early chine collé prints or working on collages, encaustics and pastels in my own studio in San Francisco but different, more magical, satisfying a different side of me. The advantage of digital is how many images one can capture and that one can see them right away. On the other hand I find filing and sorting (organizing) and accessing digital photos more of a hassle and simply much less enjoyable because less tactile and physical than dealing with film negative photographic prints.

But digital cameras have been a lot of fun for me and gotten me back to always having a camera in my pocket as was the case when I carried a 35mm Minox in the early Eighties. Now, I sort my digital photos and the best of them turn up on my Flickr Photostream. See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisknipp/

When I thought of going back to darkroom printing some years ago I had a correspondence with the editor of a photography magazine and he told me where I could get all the paper and equipment and chemicals. You can still get them, but they're just from specialized suppliers on a more limited basis.

Digital cameras do not duplicate film cameas. They can do things at night film cameras can't do. But they do not give you good white balance or detail in bright areas and they do not give you realistic or satisfying shadows. None of the inexpensive digital cameras, including the iPhone ones, which, yes, we know is the main camera (alnog with other phone cameras) used to take pictures today, provide image quality comparable to a good film camera. That's funny, isn't it? And nobody cares. Because they like snapping their kitty and putting it on Facebook.

It is needless to point out the advantages of digital for movie-making. I think we have discussed that elsewhere on Filmleaf before. The cameras are more and more portable and more and more inexpensive. You can do longer and longer takes. And so on. And the images don't flicker. It's not a flick show anymore.

12-04-2013, 09:08 AM
yes. Amen on all of that.

So true about satisfying shadows...and white balance. I just took a photo this past week of a Nutcracker in a store window and the shadow I saw did not show up in my finished photo. I kept moving around, trying different angles...ZIP. The shadow was either thinner and "greyer" or disappeared entirely. If I used the kodak (disposable!) it would've shown up exactly as I saw it- and I couldn't see the "latent image"!
It had to wait for processing.
I have a Quebec friend on facebook who lives in Hull who is the most intense film photographer. He uses these old box cameras and he always has one hanging around his neck. That's how I met him. I kept seeing him walking around with it and finally I stopped him and asked him if that was a camera. We then jib-jabbed for a half hour on photography. He buys his black and white (Ilford) film in bulk, and he gets a special discount on the color film he orders from New York City, which he told me is the best place on earth to buy film (en masse). He said the best deal is in NYC.

Photography is Awesome as an activity. It is an Art too. I always try to select an image through cubism- walking around it and looking for the best single shot.

12-06-2013, 02:05 AM
The choice of format was an important one for David Lean, who discussed his decision at length with Freddie Young. Shooting the film on 65mm film is an arduous one as the film is very large and bulky and has problems when going through the gate at high speeds. The cost is another factor. The heat of the desert kept interfering with the film's development. Cutting is still another challenge. The nightmarish challenge and the practice of using 65mm negative film ended in the 1970's when the last movies shot on 65mm film were made. However, going back and looking at the 70mm inter-positive negative made from those images, one finds a wealth of information that is nearly impossible to transfer into the digital world. Your remark, Chris, made me think about some of the subtleties in light and shadow when film is projected versus a digital projection. Young's photography is nothing short of brilliant and would be extremely difficult to match using a CMOS chip, even the high end ones. The variances in light sources tend to bleed over when using digital chips. The rich deep shadows when Lawrence is encamped in the winter campaign would be washed out with a digital camera.

Unfortunately, film is more about financing than art in the current market. Shooting with 65mm film would not only be prohibitively expensive, but very difficult considering the equipment needed for such a task would be monumental. Like the movie palaces of old, the passing of film is regrettable by my/our generation. This generation could care less about quality as opposed to quantity - where is the latest whatever...

Chris Knipp
12-06-2013, 09:13 AM
What you say I'm sure is entirely true except for the absolute statement that no 65/70mm. films were shot after 1970, because I think a few have been, in whole or in part. A Wikipedia page, "List of 70mm films (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_70_mm_films)," gives some for Europe and the US. These include P.T. Anderson's recent THE MASTER. The list of films partly shot in 65mm includes INCEPTION, TREE OF LIFE, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, TO THE WONDER and GRAVITY, to give only the latest ones on their list.

I'm not a full-scale Luddite. In fact I welcome new technologies. I simply am skeptical in the face of worshippers of the idea of "Progress" with a capital P, who assume we are moving relentlessly and wonderfully forward and ignore the advantages that are lost in abandoning older technologies, such as the detail in film and particularly large-format film that you allude to here. I remember in the Eighties going into an audiophile/custom stereo store in San Francisco (belatedly; CDs had been out for a while) and discussing a CD player with the salesman and being surprised when he told me right away that the sound quality on vinyl records was better. Sure, CDs are handily compact. The sound on them is good. Above all, there is no "surface noise," or those clicks and ticks when there's a scratch on a record. But eventually many years later I have come to realize that vinyl does have a warmth and richness of sound that CDs subtly lack. Incidentally a number of recent documentaries about great sound studios (SOUND CITY and the latest one, MUSCLE SHOALS) have shown that while the adoption of digital has made recording engineering and editing hugely more speedy and efficient, some of he warmth and richness has gone out of that process too, including both from the warmth of sound and the human recording experience. Technology has an isolating effect. People stay at home and watch the news, instead of going to the cafe or the town square for it. The latest dramatic example is the youths who wander the streets staring into their smart phones, avoiding eye contact with the people around them, or stare blankly into space with their ear buds in the subway.

With digital photography indeed as you also note there are things curiously missing. Digital is amazing for night photography, but not altogether realistic. Sometimes it makes it just look like daytime. And we don't want night time to look like daytime. And day or night, bright spots lose their detail. I learned in doing my own developing and printing of black and white photos that what you work for is good detail in the very dark and the very light ares of your shot. Nothing should be whited out and shadows should not block up but be capable of being opened to show you what's in them. With at least my digital cameras nowadays I'm finding that shooting in very bright conditions always leads to things being missing.

12-06-2013, 09:23 AM
If I can chime in, the "earbuds and cellphone crowd" are Legion.
I understand drowning out "the world" when you have earphones on, but keep your wits about you.
Don't isolate yourself to the point where talking directly to another human being in person is terrifying.
I noticed that since the personal computer arrived, people are more fractured and isolated from each other.
They date online, they shop online, they LIVE online.
Sad. There are legions out there that if you were to take away their internet or video games or whatever they would commit suicide.
That is something to be terrified of.
Those people I do not want to meet.

Chris Knipp
12-06-2013, 10:11 AM
Yes, and likewise the film experience is becoming less and less collective and more private. No longer do people even go to a central gathering place to pick up rental movies to watch at home. Instead they download them or order them sent in the mail, via the Internet, without talking to anybody. And fewer go out to see movies in cinemas or cineplexes. They buy giant flat screens and elaborate devices for projecting and receiving movies, the big home video setups meant (incomprehensibly; but look at the prevalence of MP3 sound) to duplicate a big movie screen and professional projection.

Apropos of which I'd like to refer to Tarantino's regular point that it all comes down to the projectionist. In other words, you can have the fanciest new format you want, but the viewing experience in the cinema is only as good as the guy operating the machinery. And in general these are worse and worse. In the old days I didn't have to go to the lobby to get somebody to adjust the sound; or go to point out that the feature had not even started up at all. There was somebody up there watching and doing their best. Somebody who know their stuff.

12-06-2013, 10:21 AM
Amen. Cinema will never die, but the standards have definitely slipped.
I've had to tell managers (who leave the projection booth after merely flipping a switch) that a film stopped running.
We sat in the dark for like, 6 or 7 minutes before I said to myself "nobody's doing jack".
The managers are usually the projectionists now (unless it's an IMAX theatre). They train them to flip a switch or spin a platter or whatever they do now instead of changing reels. Efficient? hardly.

Remember that lore about Stanley Kubrick famously making his projectionists turn away from the screen after they begin the film?
I love that.
Kubrick was a DIRECTOR.

Chris Knipp
12-06-2013, 12:09 PM
There is a restored local movie theater near me now. It failed once, lay fallow for several years, then was renewed again, and is not a success, maybe due to excellent food and bear and wine delivered to your seat, hamburgers, chicken salads, and pizzas made on the premises. And today on Twitter I see this
Michael Moore ‏@MMFlint 6m
We open another newly-restored movie palace tonite in Manistee, MI. The Vogue Theatre, orig built in the 1930s, now a gift to the community. If Moore is doing this as a general project it's admirable. Really nice local cinemas with strong local support can restore the art of moviegoing. Let's not forget that going to a cineplex is a lot like shopping at Walmart.

12-07-2013, 02:24 AM
There was a time when the viewing process hit rock bottom. I don't know if they had any "bowling alley" cinemas near you (I called them that because they were long narrow corridors where the center seats were taken out and the screen at the end of the corridor was barely twenty feet across; plus, the lights were never turned off! An abysmal affair! The appearance made me think of a bowling lane by its configuration). There were a plethora of them built in the early 1970's when most one-screen movie palaces collapsed and urban decay - which had started in the mid-1960's - closed most of them. In the suburbs, these bowling alley cinemas sprang up with the worst possible viewing experience imaginable. The popcorn used to arrive in big long phallic-looking plastic bags - popped the day before! Until the early 1990's when "stadium theaters" brought back the semblance of a decent viewing experience, these theaters were responsible for the fall and decline of the film industry and nearly dealt cinema a death blow.

Thanks, Chris on the update that movies were still being shot on 65mm stock. I had no idea some directors were still using the format (either Vistavision cameras, which run sideways/horizontally or SuperPanavision 65 cameras, which run the film vertically but with huge magazines that usually held only seven minutes runs at best - about two or three takes of a normal shot). No fuck-up laughter on these takes, please, as one magazine alone costs hundreds of dollars just for the negative stock alone. I would literally kick an actor's ass who messed up a take with that much money on the line (not Bobby DeNiro of course as he could kick my ass easily, hands down).

12-15-2013, 12:37 PM
Actor Peter O'toole just passed away today. He was 81. Nominated eight times, O'toole never took home anything except an honorary award given him in 2003 for his contribution to film. So long, Peter. Great career.

12-15-2013, 01:21 PM
Yes. We've lost another one of the Titans of cinema.

Goodbye Peter O'Toole.

Chris Knipp
12-15-2013, 02:43 PM
Gee, just when we were talking about him. I can see him now, eyes glowing, in the white kufya, riding across the desert. One of the great roles and great performances.