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Thread: David Lean Part II - Master of the film epic

  1. #16
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    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...ng-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 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
    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)

    Note this from Janet Maslin's 2010 NYTIMES review 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.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-26-2013 at 05:00 AM.

  2. #17
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    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.
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  3. #18
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    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.

  4. #19
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    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.

  5. #20
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    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
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  6. #21
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    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.

  7. #22
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    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.

    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)" 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. 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 remaster 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.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-02-2013 at 10:00 PM.

  8. #23
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    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.
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  9. #24
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    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.'

  10. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Knipp View Post
    "Al-awrence." This is cinematic myth-making of the highest order.
    Bravo!
    Awesome description of your experience. Wish I was there!
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  11. #26
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    Thanks. Me too.

  12. #27
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    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.

    http://blook.bampfa.berkeley.edu/201...perfected.html

    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.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-03-2013 at 02:19 PM.

  13. #28
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    Speaking of Wes Anderson, I love the trailer to his new film - Grand Budapest Hotel. Looks as intriguing as "Moonrise Kingdom."
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  14. #29
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    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.

  15. #30
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    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..
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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