See Lawrence of Arabia How It Was Never Intended to Be Seen (But Ought to Be)

Categories: Events, Film

Looked at through a progressive, socially conscious, 2012 San Francisco point of view, there's a lot to laugh at or actively dislike about David Lean's 1962 Lawrence of Arabia. Yes, it's about colonialism. Yes, the hero is a white man, arguably portrayed as a savior to dark-skinned people. Yes, one of those dark-skinned people, Prince Faisal of Iraq, is played by another white man -- by Obi-Wan Kenobi, no less -- in what we would now consider to be a blackface performance. To put it in YouTube-comment parlance, omg thats so racist wtf!

Y'know what, though? It's still a film worth seeing, especially in the 4K restoration playing at the Castro Theatre this weekend.

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Lawrence of Arabia is a resolutely analog movie. For all its spectacle, and it has a whole heck of a lot of spectacle, there are very few optical effects. Most of what you see on the screen at any given time is what was really there in front of the camera in the desert, being captured on 65mm film -- and since the film is that much bigger than standard 35mm, it captures that much more detail, resulting in a deeper, fuller image.

Historically, the only way to properly see Lawrence of Arabia is in its original 70mm format (the extra 5mm, if you're curious, is six-track stereo sound). Here in the Bay Area, we're fortunate enough to have that opportunity every so often at the Castro, one of the few theaters left that is capable of and/or has any interest in showing 70mm. Then there's the fact that 70mm films, being physical artifacts which are vulnerable to the ravages of time and entropy just like any other kind of film, fade and die. (My heart is still a little broken about that faded-to-red 70mm print of Apocalypse Now I saw some years ago, the only 70mm print that exists now or is ever likely to exist.)

That's where 4K scans come in. In a way simplified nutshell, it's a scan of the film which reads about 4,096 pixels horizontally and 2,160 pixels vertically, resulting in a metric ass-ton of pixels and an absurdly lush and detailed picture -- often revealing things which the camera recorded on film but which have never actually been seen because even standard 70mm projection wasn't enough to show them. It's a sharper and clearer picture than even director David Lean ever expected to see.

My personal misgivings about digital presentations have been largely soothed by one of my favorite film writers, Glenn "DVD Savant" Erickson, who had this to say about the version of Lawrence of Arabia playing this weekend: "Not everyone has seen this picture, and if you haven't the first bit of advice I have is to wait, if possible, until the new 4k theatrical presentation comes your way. This is one show that really can become a life-altering experience in a good theater screening."

For as much as the film is benefiting from its digital resurrection, Lawrence of Arabia has also been cited as an example of how pre-digital filmmaking had certain aesthetic and creative advantages -- specifically, in the documentary Side By Side, which looks at the pros and cons of how digital has overtaken analog. (I really liked Side By Side, listing it the 2012 Village Voice Film Critics' Poll as Best Documentary, and the No. 6 Best Film of the year overall. I highly recommend watching it in double feature with Visions of Light, if you can find the latter.) Anne V. Coates, the editor of Lawrence of Arabia, explains how one of the most famous edits in the film's history -- Lawrence blows out a match, and the film cuts to the desert at dawn -- was almost an accident, one that wouldn't have happened if she was editing the film on a computer. Also, I'd like to enter into the record that Lawrence of Arabia was edited by a woman, half a century ago.

Deep, huh? The shiny new digital presentation of Lawrence of Arabia plays Saturday, December 29 through Monday, December 31 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $8.50-$11.


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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fer Christ's sake Joseph, it's only a blurb in the SF Weekly. Even so, you must admit that "attempts to compel the entire universe to conform to its own self-inflicted stupidity and all the world-revolves-around-me-and-all-my-wishfully-thinking retardation" is a perfect summation of the European colonial and post-colonial view of the developing world. This film exemplifies this Eurocentric world view. As Ella Shohat says, it "provides an example of Western historical representation whereby the individual Romantic 'genius' leads the Arab national revolt, presumed to be a passive entity awaiting T. E. Lawrence's inspiration."


@warthoax  For Chrissakes, Annonymous-too-afraid-to-post-your-true-identity-attached-to-an-empty-reply-exemplifying-cornball-commentary, "warthroax," it's ONLY A MOVIE, and an exceptionally popular and superior one at that. What it's NOT is some tedious and tiresome "docudrama" treatise on "colonialism" as you and your equally obscure and ultimately nobody-footnote-litany academic, Ella Shohat, might have it. Whilst you and Connelly are absurdly accusing Alec Guinness of performing in "blackface"--whilst doing so he was multiple times actually mistaken for the real Prince Faisal!--why aren't you whining about the admirable film's entire international supporting cast(with the exception of a single Egyptian playing Gamil)being taken from countries like Brasil, India, Pakistan and even "Eurocentric" Spain?!  Your complaint's supreme stupidity is surpassed only by its supreme hypocrisy. So forget mis-appropriating my quoted commentary to perpetuate your own simple-mindedness in the matter since you're clearly incapable of composing your own creative or original retort.  Like it or not, TH Lawrence was a brilliant British military leader who did indeed help inspire an active Arab national revolt in a brief window of colonial history--which can't be distorted as "passive" by a nobody academic any more than reality can be distorted by a nobody SF Weekly columnist.   


I certainly hope that you were able to see this movie on the big screen at the Castro as it is clear that you are quite fond of the movie. It was quite magnificent, and the restored print that Sherilyn lauded in her blurb was without blemish.

That said, a critical eye would see that the movie paints a certain picture of the Arab revolt, and changes the historical facts to support a that view, to whit - Lawrence as messiah, come to rescue the disorganized Arabs. It is this that I critique, not the fact of Anthony Quinn's ridiculous rubber nose.

Sharif Hussein bin Ali was quite older than he was portrayed in the movie, and not so naive. It is my understanding that Hussein's son convinced him in 1914 to break with the Ottomans, and that by 1915 Hussein was demanding British recognition of an Arab nation, well before he met Lawrence. Although McMahon agreed in principle, Hussein became impatient with the protracted and unsuccessful negotiations and commenced the Great Arab Revolt in 1916 with the aim of creating a single Arab state spanning from Aleppo to Aden. Lawrence's major contribution to the revolt was convincing the Arab leaders (Faisal and Jordan's Abdullah I) to co-ordinate their actions in support of British strategy. But he was not, as portrayed in the movie, the architect of the Arab revolt, and it was English/French perfidy at the war's end (the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and ultimately the Balfour Declaration), rather than the film's caricatured Arab disunity in Damascus, that undermined the establishment of an Arab state.

As to why you would even bother to respond to a stupid, retarded, simple-minded "nobody" like myself or Ms. Connelly is anybody's guess. It seems clear from the tone of your screed that dialogue is not your goal. As to why I post anonymously, perhaps you have noticed that on the web people (like yourself) display excessive and disproportionate anger when someone disagrees with them. Who knows what you might be capable of?



@warthoax My dear, poor, self-deluded Warthoax:

Magnificent movie, yes, even if it'isn't my favorite epic, 'fond' as I am of it, preferring good 'ole-fashioned 75mm.  And Anthony Quinn's 'ridiculous rubber nose' aside, as a pro ham actor he stole virtually every scene he appeared in...

So stop trolling and stick to the freakin' POINT!  From the start, that was Connelly's really 'ridiculous' LEAD-IN to her so-called, 'blurb.'

I'm(like other faceless, nameless 'web people')being 'excessive and dis-proportionate,' you falsely accuse? Now that's really rich, isn't it? I 'respond' tersely to a cornball blurb's silly lead-in and you churn out an entire pseudo-intellectual revisionist historical treatise on the movie's subject-matter??!!

What the HECK do either you or Connelly know about TE Lawrence, his extra-ordinary exploits or the 'Arab Revolt' in colonial history? What you recite from the Wiki or from some obscurest, history-revisionist academic?  What have either of you done in your little lives approximating even a minute iota of his extra-ordinary experience?!  Need we even speculate as to the blatant truth of that matter: NIL!

Likening Alec Guinness' performance to 'blackface,' THAT's 'ex-cessive and dis-proportionate!'  Mis-labeling this movie as 'racist,' THAT's ex-cessive and dis-proportionate!'  And then self-styling THAT as 'progressive' and 'socially conscious' is 'ex-cessive and dis-proportionate!'  It's self-indulgent PRETENSION in the EXTREME.  Just as your 'screed' is self-indulgent POMPOSITY in the EXTREME.

So you're absolutely correct in this instance: my 'goal' most definitely is NOT 'dialogue,' as the fanatically self-indulgent pretentious(like Connelly)and/or the fanatically self-indulgent pompous(like yourself)invariably prove themselves incapable of any such 'dialogue,' evidence their(and your)self-obsessive pre-occupation with anonymous trolling. 

To say nothing of their(and your)pre-posterous SELF-importance, MIS-labeling my 'response' as 'anger' simply because it calls out that pomposity and pretension and exposes them.

Next you'll be accusing me of 'stalking' you(just like an insecure, 'fraidy cat female)when you're the one instigating and perpetuating the trolling. 

My sole parting advice to you is: go write your own obscure pseudo-academic book if you're that self-obsessed about spouting revisionist history.

You needn't obsess yourself so much with 'what(I)might be capable of'' as the outright obscurity(compared to TE Lawrence and the movie immortalizing him)the pretentious and pompous like of you and Connelly remain destined to boast about for the duration of your nobody days.

Why you'd feel so compelled to prove that so repetitiously here is what's 'anybody's guess.'

Whatever the explanation for the inexplicable could be, you sorely need(I suspect)to find a far more productive mode for displaying your not-so-superior 'critical eye' and mis-spending your time(and breath)on major national holidays! 

Best of Foonote-Trolling Luck...but be VERY afraid...;)

PS  At least you own up in the end to that 'nobody' status.  And as the lead character in my latest novel, Dave Toski, well advises, 'You should always know your station in life.'


The only thing provoking lots of laughter and active dislike is the outright retarded lead-in to this piss-poor piece and its re-gressive, socially comatose outlook.  If the majority of movies today "suck"(in equally retarded YouTube parlance)it's because of the hypocritically correct's revisionist view of reality in its lame-arse attempts to compel the entire universe to conform to its own self-inflicted stupidity and all the world-revolves-around-me-and-all-my-wishfully-thinking retardation.  The proof?!  Well, y'know what, though?  When this academy award-winning film and all its "blackface" and "racist"-performing cast are being watched, admired and appreciated at its 100th year anniversary, what's her face(oh, don't you remember her?!), Sherilyn Connelly shall be well relegated to laughable, actively-disliked nobody-footnote history!  Get a mind and grow the FUK up, will you?  And at least get an accurate and definitive definition of the word "racist" before mis-using it so moronically.     

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