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"Lawrence of Arabia" and me

One Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1989, my buddy John Brosio and I started out to go see the new, Tim Burton Batman movie. This was in Los Angeles, so were were blessed with multiplexes that had huge screens. As we were standing in line (after, according to my memory, having dodged protestors holding signs decrying The Last Temptation of Christ. Is that possible? TLToC was 1988.), we saw that on another screen the newly-restored, director's cut of Lawrence of Arabia was showing. “You know,” I said, “as film fans we should really see that.” We agreed that we could see Batman anytime, but Lawrence of Arabia was a rarity. We'd never seen it, though we knew of it. This was a film that George Lucas had mentioned in interviews we'd read, and we knew some of the desert scenes in Star Wars had been inspired by it. We had seen shots from it in books about filmmaking. But it was never on TV (unlike two other epics – The Ten Commandments, which was on every Easter Sunday, and Gone With The Wind, which was shown over two nights once a year on CBS.) I guess there wasn't a built-in audience for a film with no speaking roles for women and a lot of geopolitical history.

We bought our tickets and sat down. I impatiently sat through the overture. The music was vaguely familiar. Had I heard it on the Academy Awards? Then the film began with a lovely overhead, widescreen shot of the ill-fated motorcycle. Then Peter O'Toole racing through the countryside, great POV shots, and the crash, ending with his goggles hanging off a tree branch. Soon the desert. The slow (real-time?) sunrise changing the colors of the horizon. At the start of the intermission, I turned to John and said, “This is the greatest movie ever made.” And it is. I love Casablanca. I love Star Wars. I love Citizen Kane. But as pure cinema experience, Lawrence of Arabia outshines them all. Drama, humor, and pathos. It's all there as we follow T.E. Lawrence, a British army lieutenant who assists the Arabs in fighting the Ottoman empire, eventually going native and a little rogue. And the widescreen presentation makes full use of the natural beauty of the Middle East. This film is epic in every sense.

I say all this because I got the Blu-ray release for Christmas. I've had the Laserdisc version and the DVD version, but this blows them out of the . . . sand. The disc is gorgeous, but I can't say it's the best it has ever looked. That was a on 40-foot screen back in 1989. 1080p is lovely, but I'll never have a TV as big as a room. And it will never be the first time again.

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kevinlauderdale
kevinlauderdale

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