As the flame burns down the match inching closer to T.E. Lawrence’s fingertips, we are drawn into Lawrence’s mental state, his sphere, his “yearning.” And then…
There’s the marvelous and powerful cut, which Lean is such a master at, to the desert sun rising.
David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia is one of the all-time impressive works the medium has produced. Epic scale and David Lean are practically redundancies when you talking about sweeping cinema that is still most personal and compelling. And it happens to be my favorite movie, bar none. Its restoration and re-release, truly, sparked my love affair with the cinema.
Lean made three successive films (Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) that set the gold standard for this type of filmmaking (that then we, actually, never saw again). With DoP Freddie Young on this multiple Acamedy Awarding film, Lean conjured up images that magnify the emotion and the drama befitting of those huge cameras that were lugged in the sweltering desert and the vast story canvas.
Lean, who started out as an editor, and Young put images up on the screen and deftly ordered them in a magic way that dug deep into the depths of Peter O’Toole’s (who played the titular character) soul, put us in his psyche… if you know this scene, the concentration and singular focus exhibited in this shot tell us all we need to know about Lawrence and the odyssey that awaits him. It’s going to burn him at the last minute… and will he mind getting burned.
While it would have been easy to select one of the widescreen vista frames that populate this film, the quiet moments is where Lawrence of Arabia cooks. It’s the contrast of visuals (ther scope and scale) that elevate this film… that enable us to get into Lawrence’s jumbled mental space as he searches for his identity; a white man among the Arabs.