Retro Review: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA Was Made for the Big Screen: Why You Will Be at The Plaza Theatre, It Is Written

Posted on: Jan 1st, 2014 By:

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962); Dir. David Lean; Starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins; FIVE NIGHTS ONLY! Wed. Jan. 1 –  Sun. Jan. 5 at 7:15 pm; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

When Peter O’Toole passed away on December 14, blogs everywhere became choked with memorial blurbs and retrospectives, and not without reason. O’Toole was, no question, one of the greatest and most legendary personalities in the movies. Full stop.

However, one recurring theme I noticed on these sites was the offering of the little-known gem, some less-traveled, cultier role of O’Toole’s sent forth to remind fans that the actor was much, much more than just his most famous roles. And while, yes, films like MY FAVORITE YEAR, THE STUNT MAN and THE RULING CLASS certainly make the case for O’Toole as an actor of tremendous charisma and power—my apologies to fans of KING RALPH—there seemed a conscious effort by writers to ignore the big drunken, happy, English elephant in the room: O’Toole’s work in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Writers either assumed their readers were already familiar with LAWRENCE or that they would turn up their nose at what has, unfortunately, become something of a cinematic vegetable one has to power through at some point in life. Ignoring the suspicious notion that LAWRENCE is still much-watched and enjoyed by today’s younger generations, if only one movie can summarize O’Toole’s greatness, that movie has to be LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, doesn’t it? While each of those films I named above has its strengths and merits, they’re all, by definition, weaker examples of O’Toole’s brilliance because, quite simply, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is one of the greatest films ever made, and O’Toole in it gives maybe the most electric star-making performance in the history of the art form. It’s LAWRENCE. It always had to be LAWRENCE.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) is the kind of movie that sounds like dull dirt on paper (or, in this case, dry sand), ostensibly a biography film of the war hero T.E. Lawrence, an officer who united feuding groups of Arabs against the Ottoman Empire during the first World War. Lawrence was a larger-than-life figure whose exploits defied reality, and so the job of capturing this British hero’s story on film fell to that great British director David Lean. Lean had made his name with intimate family dramas and Charles Dickens adaptations, but three straight films [THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957); LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962); DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)] would link him forever with the screen epic. Lean’s film jettisons the usual biographical bookending and fixates on the key years of Lawrence’s military campaign, his victories, his struggles and the eventual failure of his plan to save Arabia for the Arabs.

Peter O'Toole and Anthony Quayle in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

But the movie is far more than the sum of its plotline. It’s not quite accurate to say that one could watch LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and ignore the war scenes, but it certainly feels like that’s the case. Lean is less interested in the deeds than he is in the land, and he shoots the desert not as a desolate or alien place, but with awe, majesty, and romance. Coupled with one of the all-time best musical scores from Maurice Jarre, LAWRENCE is an achievement in image, one of the landmark films of cinematography. The movie is never, at any point, anything but staggering to look at.

But then there’s Peter O’Toole, an actor so grandiose as to make the desert seem small. Although Lawrence was shot in a time of method acting and cinematic naturalism, that’s not O’Toole. He’s an actor of extreme mannerism and crisp efficiency, and his clear, sad blue eyes seem to be an incongruous fit for the brutality around him. And yet he’s grander than the desert and the war combined, striding across the landscape in great strokes and changing the fate of a continent with his whims. Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS (2012) supposed that the robots of the future might look to Peter O’Toole for inspiration on how to dress and behave, and there’s crystalline truth in that idea—O’Toole’s Lawrence is at once an ideal human, but also another kind of being. He’s mythic, synthetic. His gravity is so large that overshadows the other great actors who surround him. Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains—all are just notes surrounding O’Toole’s Lawrence. Without him, the desert is empty. Without O’Toole, the movie falls apart. Although he had a tremendous career, O’Toole would never again transcend a role in quite the same way.

Peter O'Toole in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

I’ve watched LAWRENCE OF ARABIA many times on DVD, and I’ve had the great fortune to have seen the film three times on the big screen, once in its intended 70mm projection. If there was ever a single, undefeatable argument for the magic of cinema trumping the convenience of a living room couch, it is LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Watching LAWRENCE properly projected, with a booming sound system, is like finally getting a glance at that “window to another world” nonsense the Oscars roll out every year in their self-serving montages. (That O’Toole was snubbed for his work in this film and, indeed, each and every subsequent film he made reminds us that movie awards are, fundamentally, bullshit.) At the time of its production, it was inconceivable that the film would ever be seen on home video or, god forbid, your tiny phone screen. Every choice of lens, frame and composition was made with the assumption that the audience would be confronted with a giant screen and have no choice but to lose themselves in the scale. More than almost any other film, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA suffers outside of its intended environment.

If you’ve seen the film, nothing I’ve just written is a surprise. I’m speaking to the people who haven’t seen it, who have somehow lumped LAWRENCE in with CITIZEN KANE (1941) (another great film unfairly burdened with the label of “great”) as a bit of cinema homework they’d rather put off until the mood is right. But LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is no vegetable, it’s a 12-course meal. And on the big screen, in our contemporary multiplex environment of cinematic sameness and digital paintbrushes, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA reminds us of cinema’s power to transform and ignite the passions of its audience. The film, anchored by this best performance from a much-missed legend, remains a fresh drink of water in what sometimes seems an endless sea of sand.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else. 

 

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Where is Love and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA? Scott Hardin Finds Both as Projectionist for the Fabulous Fox Theatre

Posted on: Jul 26th, 2013 By:

Fox Theatre Projectionist Scott Hardin with an original 1929 projector.

By Gretchen Jacobsen
Contributing Writer

While The Fabulous Fox Theatre was not actually conceived as a movie house (it was originally intended to be the headquarters for the Shriners’ organization) and it amazingly almost faced the wrecking ball in the 1970s, its history as the Southeast’s premiere glittering palace of cinema is firmly entrenched.

While The Fox has been transformed from a movie house to a multipurpose arts venue, its storied past in cinema is kept alive by the Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival which kicked off in June. From now through August, The Fox will present seven more features on the biggest screen in Atlanta. Before the movie starts, patrons are treated to a sing-a-long with the “Mighty Mo” organ and a vintage cartoon. This weekend’s features include Quentin Tarantino‘s DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)[Fri. July 26 at 7:30 p.m.], the animated caveman comedy THE CROODS (2013) [Sat. July 27 at 2 p.m.] and a new digital version of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) [Sun. July 28 at 4 p.m.]as well as the official Sing-a-Long version of the John Travolta-Olivia Netwon-John ’50s-themed high school movie musical GREASE (1978), which is not part of the official series.

Only in July, the Fox Theater also will present special movie tours before this weekend’s Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival screenings. These tours will take you to the projection booth, screening room, two star dressing rooms and the stage while learning about the history of the movie palace and Mr. William Fox‘s innovations. The Fox also offers behind-the-scenes hour-long tours year-round.

Making this all possible, in a sense, is our Kool Kat of the Week, Scott Hardin. Scott has been the film projectionist at the Fox since 1978, making this his 39th year in the projection booth. We recently caught up with Scott to talk about film, history, the new tours and his own beginnings in “showbiz.”

ATLRetro: How did you become a film projectionist? 

Scott Hardin: I was too old to pretend I was Zorro anymore, even though my grandmother made me a wonderful cape that I got a lot of mileage out of. That, and a friend of mine I had met when he was working for Theater of the Stars – while I was a 14-year-old kid in THE SOUND OF MUSIC – had later joined the projectionists’ union and thought I might like to train to be one, too, given our past “showbiz” affiliations. He was a great friend named Jeb Stewart, who had actually sung on Broadway in the chorus of various shows. My biggest claim to fame had been playing the role of OLIVER at 12 years of age in the summer production at Theater Under the Stars, which was then outdoors at Chastain Park Amphitheater. What does that have to do with your question?  Not a thing, but I can still sing “Where is Love?” for you if you’d like.  Jeb Stewart later became the Business Agent of the Projectionist’s Union and sent me to help with the Fox projector installation those many years ago.

The auditorium and stage of the Fox Theatre. Photo credit: Yukari Umekawa.

When did you start at The Fox? What was the Fox like at that time?

I started in the spring of 1978 helping with the installation of projectors that had been brought over from the Loew’s Grand Theatre [Ed. note: another Atlanta movie palace which had been the site of the world premiere of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and tragically was destroyed by fire that year].  I was a young movie projectionist with four years of experience at the time and was sent to fill in for an older projectionist who had to go deal with personal issues for a few days. I remember carrying some of my dad’s tools with me to the job in a Kroger sack. I told them “Don’t worry, I’ll only be here for a few days.”  Well, that was 35 years ago and the other guy’s never returned.  I’m pretty sure he’s not coming back.

The doors to the theatre were locked with chains when I arrived. I was told to knock loudly on the door and ask for Joe Patten. After banging the arcade door as loudly as I could, a young receptionist came over to unlock the door. I told her I was there to work with Joe Patten on the movie projectors, and she just turned around and yelled as loudly as she could towards the auditorium:  “JOE!!! …JOE PATTEN!!!”  (This was before they had walkie-talkies to communicate with.) After no one answered she said, “well, he’s probably backstage.  Just wander back there and see if you can find him.” (Ed: Joe served as The Fox’s technical director from 1974 to 2004. He was granted a lifetime rent free lease in the 1970s and still lives in an apartment at The Fox.)

Scott Hardin with the new digital projection system.

Is there a film you projected at The Fox that you think was terribly overrated? 

I think the film OLIVER [1968] was overrated because I wasn’t in it.

What about underrated?

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (2001) was terribly underrated.  How can you get more poignant than that?

One of the exciting films of this year’s Coca-Cola Film Festival is a new digital print of David Lean’s masterpiece LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. What can viewers expect out of this release?

They will see a beautiful rendition of the original negative of the 70mm film print, this time shown in Digital Cinema with no fading of color, no scratches, no splices, no interruptions of sound.  They can also expect camels.

Another film on the docket is the sing-a-long version of GREASE. Will you be singing along with the audience?

I’ll be sitting in a seat in the balcony using a remote volume fader to turn the sound levels up and down while following a script that has my sound cues in it.  I’ll be singing loudly at the same time too, except I’ll be singing “Where Is Love?”

Sing-a-Long Grease at Prince Charles Theatre, Leicester Square. Photo courtesy of Fox Theatre.

Before this weekend’s screenings, moviegoers can book special Movie Tours at The Fox. What’s your favorite “secret” place people will see on the tour?

My office door backstage that has my name and the word “Propmaster” above it.  It’s my secret, because even though I do double duty as the Props Department Head, I’m not really a “master” at it – I barely have a green belt – but if somebody paints “master” above your name, you have to keep up appearances.

Will you be in the projection room during the tours?

Yes, in all probability, along with my assistant Mike.

How has The Fox changed over your 35 years?

There have been so many changes it’s hard to enumerate them all. There’s a general trend in technology from analog to digital, and from simple to complex. I’ve also noticed people I’ve worked with for years gradually start to look older and wonder why I still look 28.

What do you think about the change in film from celluloid to digital? Is projection easier? More difficult?

Digital Cinema projection is easier because you don’t have to inspect and repair each frame of film by hand, and it looks and sounds great when everything works. However, you’re relying on computers to always work perfectly, which everyone knows is fraught with folly, and [that] will make it less reliable than film in the long run, in my opinion.

The original 1929 projectors at the Fox Theatre. Photo courtesy of the Fox Theatre.

Finally, which film have you projected the most? And how many times?

I have projected GONE WITH THE WIND on 11 different occasions in my 35 years at the Fox. One time in 1989 was for a 50th anniversary re-premiere with some of the surviving cast members on the stage. The most prominent was Butterfly McQueen, who played Prissy. My friend Jeb Stewart, who was responsible for first sending me to the Fox, helped me project the movie that night.

This Weekend’s Movie Details:

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012); Dir. Quentin Tarantino; Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson; Friday, July 26 @ 7:30 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

GREASE SING-A-LONG (1978); Dir. Randal Kleiser; Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing; Saturday, July 27 @ 7:30 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1963); Dir. David Lean; Starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn; Sunday, July 28 @ 4:00 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

Gretchen Jacobsen is freelance producer, writer, costumer and film school graduate. She is also widely know by her Steampunk nom de internet, Wilhelmina Frame, and serves as the Editrix de Mode for the website Steampunk Chronicle.

 

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress