Archive for Lawrence of Arabia

A River to My People

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by davegerry


This week marks the 8Oth anniversary of the original King Kong movie. There have been at least two remakes of the classic tale and numerous spin-offs, including one truly bizarro musical version in which the big ape cuts quite a rug.

I am not an unqualified fan of old films. If I watched a movie at a pivotal time in my life, or if speaks to me in some other way, I can be quite devoted. I first saw King Kong one Saturday afternoon at a friend’s house when I was about ten years old. It scared the hell out of me.I remember not being able to sleep as those scenes of Kong casually munching on members of the expeditionary force played repeatedly through my mind. They can remake a movie like that a hundred times…but it will never hit you the same way it did when you were young and impressionable and slept with a light on in the closet.

I also happened to turn on the television one day in advance of this year’s Academy Awards to discover that one of the movie channels was having an Oscar-fest. They were running The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia back to back on the same afternoon! This was beyond glorious. I don’t know what else I had planned for the day but it was dropped in a nanosecond. Both of these David Lean films can be enjoyed time and time again because they are so rich. The scripts are brilliant. The casting and acting is superb. The cinematography, even cramped onto a television screen, is matchless. There is something so retroactively enjoyable about not having to doubt your eyes when you watch an older film. If they blow up the bridge…they really blow up a bridge. If 500 men are set loose to charge a Turkish encampment, you know that they had to actually scrounge up 500 living, breathing people.(not to mention all those camels and horses).

By contrast, I don’t believe any crowd scene I see in the theatre today. You can outfit a couple of ushers or the guys who do the valet parking next door and build an entire digital army around them. Not the same thing.

There are two key moments in both Lawrence and Bridge that I always keenly anticipate. Those scenes define the films in my mind’s eye. There will be other such countless moments for countless other people. That’s what makes a movie great.

When Alec Guiness, as the ramrod Colonel Nicholson, finally wins his war of wills with the Japanese prison commander and steps unsteadily out in front of his troops, there’s a perfect moment  where one of the soldiers declares, ‘He’s done it!’  I get instant goose pimples. The musical scores swells, the prisoners rush forward and the movie has paid off for me. Everything after that is gravy.

In Lawrence, it is always the moment when Anthony Quinn, in a bravura performance, tells Peter O’Toole that the reason he is trusted by his tribe is because he has become, ‘a river to my people‘. Again, big cheers from the assembled multitude out in the desert night and the film achieves a high point…of which there are really too many to count.

I can go weeks before I find anything I want to watch on television. I have the same expectations of the medium as I now do of air travel. Finding two movies like Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai in one place on the same day is like having a flight attendant walk down the aisle of the aircraft and offer you a bottomless bowl of smoked almonds.

Sad…but, still,  something to truly savour.


Seeing isn’t always Believing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 9, 2010 by davegerry

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Everyone is telling me to see the James Cameron film Avatar. Everyone. Go see it right now, they say..and make sure you see it in Imax 3D. I had dinner with friends last night and both of them leaned across the restaurant table and urged me to attend. I was at a birthday party last weekend and guests I’d never met made exactly the same pitch. Both my sons have told me to get with the program. It’s a lot of pressure.

I will get there eventually..although I must confess to being a pretty stubborn bastard sometimes. Often, the more people tell me to do something, the greater the resistance I feel toward doing it. Don’t exactly know what that means.

Though I have not yet seen the film, I have read a lot about Avatar. It takes you to another world, which is what a good movie should do. But….and here’s the whole point to this post….I watched Lawrence of Arabia again the other day and it took me to another world too. And it did it without a single frame of computer-generated imagery.

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I don’t trust my eyes in movies any more. None of us should. If you watch a scene with any more than about eight people you can’t be really sure that all of those entities are true-blue, fleshy human life forms. So what, right? Who cares as long as the overall visual effect is pleasing..or stunning..or awe-inspiring. Well, folks, I don’t like to have my awe inspired by anything other than the real thing. I like my awe to be earned. Now, in a science fiction film you have to take a flight of fancy. If it’s another world..truly, another world you are trying to create…then use all the computer generated imaging you want. But if it’s this world..the one I’m walking around in every day…well, I still have a soft spot in my heart for genuine depiction. And that means using real people..hundreds of ’em..hell, thousands of ’em, if need be!

That`s why a film like Lawrence of Arabia is still such an eye–opener. Those are all real people, all real horses…every camel was a real smelly, noisy, cantankerous camel. When you combine the logistics of all that with the extraordinary scenery (again, all of it real..though Aqaba was recreated) and a musical score that cements itself in the back of your mind (for decades), you have a movie experience that really can`t be duplicated. Oh, they could try. They could try to remake Lawrence. I suppose a younger Jude Law could have substituted for Peter O`Toole. But all of the background would be fake. Those extraordinary sand dunes, the vistas, the incinerating sun..would be courtesy of  the good folks at Industrial Light and Magic. Who`s going to bother with a herd of real camels when you can animate the screen with Disneyesque dromedaries?

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The truth is that I appreciate Lawrence of Arabia even more now because I know that David Lean spent close to a year and a half in the desert with sand in his coffee mug trying to make it. It won the Oscar as best picture just as Avatar may do. These are different times and these are different movies. I wasn`t really trying to compare apples to oranges here except to say that, well, they sure don`t make apples like that anymore.