HIDDEN GEMS: 25. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week David Lean’s rarely seen Lawrence of Arabia. You’re welcome.

When David Lean’s adaptation of T.E.Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom came out, no one went to see it. Everyone said: ‘why isn’t it called the Seven Pillars of Wisdom? That’s a doozy of a title!’ It isn’t like David Lean doesn’t know how to adapt books. He made Great Expectations.  Or Dickens of London to give the originally title. Set in Tatooine, Lawrence of Arabia stars Michael Fassbender’s android from Prometheus and Alien Covenant as Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence. It shows how the young British officer managed to win the trust of the Bedouin tribes – led by the finest Arabic actors Anthony Quin and Alec Guinness, along with Egyptian Omar Sharif – to engage in a tribal war against the occupying Turks.

As the war progresses, Lawrence’s single-handed determination and ascetic self-sacrifice leads to a kind of megalomania and fanaticism. It is a cunning psychological study of a man who wishes to deny his own humanity and escape himself. Within lies also the glamour and the brutality of war. At once a stirring adventure film and a keenly observed study of how a powerful personality can manipulate history to his own ends for a limited period. The politics of the situation are also sadly relevant as superpowers use the middle east as nothing more than a conveniently distant battleground and then divide the spoils with scant attention to the locals.

The imagery is beautiful – never before or since have landscapes been imbued with such meaning, beauty and terror. And the score by Maurice Jarre is so good it’s become a cliché. But the film roots itself in the Peter O’Toole’s performance. Lawrence’s sexuality, vulnerability and almost otherworldly way of seeing things come over amazingly. Which could be why it was never heard of again. Until now.

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SIR EDWIN FLUFFER REMEMBERS ALEC GUINNESS

HOLLYWOOD – Sir Edwin Fluffer once again delves into his personal memoirs – soon to be published as ‘Not THAT Kind of Fluffer!!!’ – to recall Alec Guinness.

The funny thing about Alec Guinness was that he never touched the stuff. If anything he should’ve been called Alec Gin And Tonic But Not While I’m Working. We were both cast in David Lean’s seminal The Bridge on the River Kwai, and I’m proud to say that we were firm friends forever after.

It wasn’t the most comfortable shoot, but darling Alec always had a smile on his face. Lean would be taking hours to set up a shot and Gin And Tonic But Not While I’m Working would keep us all entertained by making model animals out of balloons.  He could also whistle the entire 1812 Overture in French, which I thought was hugely impressive.
I suggested that they use it as the score, but Lean wasn’t interested.
If something wasn’t his idea he just didn’t want to know about it. That’s the reason why William Holden never wore the sombrero I bought him.  As soon as he saw it, Lean told him to take it off and we never saw it again.
Unfortunately we were well into filming before the unit doctor discovered that I was suffering from a condition called gephyrophobia, also known as fear of bridges. I tried to carry on but the pills he prescribed didn’t mix well with brandy and it was felt best all ‘round if I flew home. I did try to take them with a bottle of scotch that I found in Jack Hawkins’s trailer, but when he found out he tried to shoot me with an elephant gun.

But that’s another story…

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SACRO GRA: REVIEW

LONDON – Showing at the London Film Festival, the winner of the Golden Lion at Venice is Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA, which is without doubt THE best documentary about a Roman ring road that I have ever seen.

And you have my permission to put that on the poster. 

It makes all the other documentaries about Roman ring roads look pedestrian by comparison, obliterates them in fact. To find a comparison worthy of it, we’d have to look to Jean Luc Godard’s 1965 classic Autoroute du Soliel or Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s Rosenfelder Ring. Rosi’s film even dares to be mentioned in the same breath of David Lean’s magnificent epic The A595 to Barrow in Furness

Collecting stories from a variety of Italian odd-bods – from an eel fisherman to a roadside prostitute, an ambulance worker to a cigar chomping nobleman – the film tells tales of the margins, the periphery that is usually only glimpsed as the cars roar by. Keenly observed and with a nice ear for the ludicrous in ordinary conversation, Rosi’s film offers a view of Roman life far from the familiar picture postcard settings.