Lawrence of Arabia End of Summer

OK, yes, we went to see Lawrence again. I know this is getting a little redundant, but as I have said in the past, if you can see a movie you love on the big screen, jump at the chance. After all, life is short and you never know when the opportunity will arise again. We had planned on going to this Fathom event on Sunday, but after two late nights before and some planning of a birthday for the next day, we slid back into the Wednesday afternoon screening. This was the full roadshow presentation, with Overture and intermission. TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz introduced the film with some details about the casting process. Apparently a lot of money was spent on a screen test of Albert Finney but he fell out. Marlon Brando never responded to offers and when O’Toole was tested, halfway thru the test, Lean stopped and felt he had found his star.

I always try to find a little something different to emphasize about a film that I have written about before. It has gotten tougher over the years, because of the number of times I have seen certain films [Jaws and Lawrence stand out, but you can add almost every Bond film as well], to find a new angle. As I was sitting in the theater and the lights had gone completely out for the overture (modern theaters don’t quite get it), I was immersed in the score without any other sensory data. That inspired me to try and pay particular attention to the sound design of the film and the music cues. “Lawrence” is a film that is noted for it’s visual sweep and rightly so. I think it is also true that it is aurally a majestic piece of work as well.

The Academy Award winning score by Maurice Jarre is noteworthy because of the familiar title theme, but there is so much more in this film that the music enhances. The familiar melody reoccurs of course but there are other sections of music that are quiet and contemplative or strident and martial. They are integrated into the action seamlessly in every scene in the movie. What is also well crafted by David Lean and Jarre is the absence of music in some sections. The desert at night is often quiet. When Lawrence is thinking about the idea of attacking Aqaba there is an ominous score but as they travel under the stars later, it is eerily quiet.

In past posts I have mentioned the sound of the creaking tent poles in Faisal’s tent as the wind moves over the structure. There are dozens of other moments where the sound is equally important. At the well, listen to the echo as Tafas tosses the goatskin receptacle down to gather up some water for he and Lawrence. The ominous silence foreshadows the visual scene that is about to take place. When Lawrence is singing out to the echo and it is being heard by Brighton, the effect is staggering at suggesting the distances at which they are communicating with one another. The sound of the camels and horses at Auda’s camp is like thunder rolling over the dunes. Train whistles and steamboat horns also jump out at times, creating the equivalent of an audio jump scare. The clanging of two ladles, hanging from the animal of the retreating Turkish troops, builds an anticipation of the bloodbath that is about to begin.

From the beginning of the film, sound swallows us up before there is any dialogue. Lawrence’s motorcycle revs up as he takes off from his starting point and it ratchets up and down as he cruises through the English countryside. Note however the distinct difference in sound when the vehicle travels over the rise and we hear a hushed spinning of the wheels rather than the engine roar we had before. Every step of this film had little moments of genius like that, and then Jarre’s music cue would top it off immaculately. Frankly, I could have sat in the theater in the dark and listened to the score on the sound system and been happy. My emotions can be easily manipulated with the right musical note. Once again, my whole body shuddered with delight at the artistry of the film makers when we go to intermission.

Day 2 TCM FF Friday April 7 (Part 3)

The Bridge on the River Kwai

One of my on-line friends , in answer to a poll question concerning what movies are best on the big screen, answered “None”. He believes that a movie isn’t very good if it has to be experienced in a theater. Here is exhibit A in the case against this ridiculous claim. Movies were made for theaters not for TV screens, and the framing, cinematography, and spectacle can sometimes best be appreciated when it is thirty feet tall and seventy feet wide. “David Lean” is the answer to any of your friends who have a similar opinion.

I’ve seen The Bridge on the River Kwai maybe a dozen times in my life. I own a beautiful Laserdisc edition. This however was the first time I think I have seen it on a big screen, and this was in the main theater at the famed home of Grauman’s (now TCL). The expansiveness of the jungle can be appreciated more on the big screen. The Bridge itself, both as it is being completed and destroyed is much more impressive on the giant screen in this theater. The climax of the film looks more impressive and the madness of the characters involved is more completely noticeable as two of the principles lie in the foreground of the destruction.

It was the 60th anniversary of the films release and our host was Alex Trebeck, the quiz master of “Jeopardy”. He shared the familiar story of how two blacklisted screenwriters were deprived of their credits for the film, which won the award for screenplay. The Award was given in 1958 to the author of the book, of whom one of the screenwriters said, “At least he had the good grace to not appear at the Awards to accept.”.


William Holden manages to be even better in the film than I remembered, but it is Alec Guinness who really stands out and clear deserved to honor bestowed on him that year. The cast looks incredibly emaciated in the early parts of the film. It was probably as accurate as you could get without being accused of deliberately mistreating the actors. The battle of wills that dominates the first part of the movie is both tragic and comic. Col. Nichols remained dryly sardonic in spite of the hardships he had to endure. A Great Film in a great venue.