September 9, 2007

"Lawrence of Arabia" on DVD

Here's an excerpt from my review in the American Conservative magazine:

When your television dies, a trip to the home entertainment showroom, with its massed ranks of the latest monitors all displaying the same glorious nature documentary for convenient comparison shopping will quickly convince you that your initial plan of buying a modestly larger replacement tube for $299 was a naïve delusion. How could you ever be satisfied with a pathetic 32 inch CRT when the gazelles gamboling on the Serengeti are so luminous on a plasma screen, so detailed on an HDTV, and so humongous on a 56" screen?

But when you bring your visual technology breakthrough home, you notice that you seldom actually watch nature documentaries. You mostly just watch people talking, and the thousands of dollars you spent isn't making David Letterman's interview of Richard Simmons any less depressing.

To postpone disillusionment, TV buyers should also pick up a grand movie on DVD. And what better than the two-disk version of "Lawrence of Arabia?" Unlike just about every other film you might buy rather than rent, you could watch "Lawrence" a second time.

Approaching its 45th anniversary, "Lawrence's" place in the pantheon is secure. Director David Lean, cinematographer Freddie Young, and composer Maurice Jarre complement a tremendous cast, especially Alec Guinness as astute Prince Feisal, the future king of Iraq, and Anthony Quinn as choleric Auda, the prototypical Big Man.

Often extolled as the film that must be seen in the theatre, "Lawrence" is actually better from your couch, because you can then pause it to look up whether Medina is north of Mecca or vice versa. (Inexplicably, there are no maps in the 217-minute war movie). And (don't mention this to your cinephile friends) you can fast-forward through the second dozen times Peter O'Toole, as WWI archaeologist-warrior T.E. Lawrence, gallops his camel through the stark desert scenery he found so much more "clean" than damp and overgrown England. (Perhaps the British were better at empire than Americans have proven so far because it gave some of their best men the chance for fun in the sun that our West furnishes domestically?)

Movie critics today are obsessed with sniffing out the political implications of the latest releases, such as the suspicion that the sex comedy "Knocked Up" was insufficiently pro-abortion or that the Xbox mannerist Spartans of "300" were ancient Republicans.

Few attempt, however, to draw lessons from the handful of classic films that would reward serious analysis. Among its numerous virtues, "Lawrence" provides insight into America's quandary in Iraq by offering a vivid primer on what William S. Lind calls "asymmetrical" war.

By the way, I bought the $299 old-fashioned tube TV a couple of years ago, and am perfectly satisfied.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Buy the Superbit DVD version (silver box) to see the most correct looking version of the movie. (The original DVD release has a cool looking (khaki) keepcase, but the picture has strange color and very annoying digital artifacts. Those were mostly corrected in the Superbit version.)

Anonymous said...

The movie over-romanticizes the Arabs who were not that militarily significant or effective.

A more telling movie would have focused on Kemal Attaturk and his realization at Meggido, watching Allenby's attack with biplanes and artillery and machine guns that the old tribal system would have to go. Because it could not stand up to an unrestricted application of western power.

Now, it would not have been as "dramatic" but would have painted a more compelling message -- that combat effectiveness (minus PC concerns) depends on boring guys with slide rules or calculators as much as nomadic "warriors" -- i.e. the old Roman way of making war. Engineering as much as swordplay.