Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A night at the movies

--I had the opportunity to attend a special showing of the restored Lawrence of Arabia last night. This is the second time I've seen it on the big screen, and I am spoiled. I can never watch that movie on TV again. The sprawling Super Panavision 70 vistas are overwhelming. Tiny figures can be seen picking their way amongst the massive dunes and rocks that are completely lost on a television screen. The scale of this picture simply does not translate to any format other than a full-size theater screen. None of David Lean's films were constructed to be seen any other way. Every shot of Lawrence is a piece of artwork. No setup is wasted. Although nearly four hours in length, the film does not drag, because the images themselves are so wonderful to look at.

While watching, I was struck my a number of elements in Lawrence that simply don't exist today. The on-location filming and expansive shots, for starters. If Lawrence were made today, the shots of the camera emerging from behind rock outcroppings to reveal a beduin encampment spread among the buttes would have been entirely CG. The rocks would be fake; the giant dunes would be fake; the colony of tents would be fake; the legions of Arab riders would be faked from a few dozen extras. It would all look very good, but you would know. Lean drug equipment into the desert. Rumor has it that the cameras had to be refrigerated between uses to prevent the film from melting (though I find that doubtful; removing the camera from the refrigerator would have caused the lens to condense; now, the film itself, perhaps...).

Today's budget-obsessed studio execs would never allow so much of a film to be shot in the actual desert. They would insist on bluescreens and digital elements. It would be filmed on 35mm for easy home video transfer. They would insist that the movie be cut down to 2 1/2 hours. Lord of the Rings, with all its action-packed fight scenes and fanciful creatures may have gotten away with it, but a biopic? Who is going to sit through that? Besides, you can hold twice as many showings of a 2 1/2-hour film as a 4-hour film. Gotta get as many paying butts in the seats during a day as you can.

The lingering, dialogue-less shots would be nonexistent. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie would have been cut down to a few seconds: the red-orange screen that slowly reveals the rising sun; the trek back across the desert to rescue the man who fell off his camel; and of course the Mirage: Omar Sharif's famous entrance from a mile off that takes minutes, with no dialogue and no music.

Peter O'Toole would never get the job today. His effeteness, which worked so well in the movie, would be mistaken for homosexuality, and the part instead would go to a young, handsome actor who would draw women to an admittedly male-centered film.

But enough gushing about Lawrence of Arabia. There is plenty of bandwidth for me to carry on some more another time.

--In other news: Eep!

--While sympathetic to the man's family during his declining years, I am not joining the legions mourning the passing of Ronald Reagan. An article by Mark Morford sums up my reasons pretty well. We named enough after the man while he was still alive (naming an airport after the man who fired all the air traffic controllers? Nice irony, guys.). He did not end the Cold War. At most, he accellerated by a few years the Soviet Union's inevitable economic collapse. I could go on and on, but I'll let the article speak for me.

--Turns out the Inquisition wasn't as nasty as we thought. Fewer witches were burned and heretics tortured than we'd been led to believe. I guess that makes it all right, then; noble cause and all that. Members of the Bush administration, take note!

--Oh, and one more thing:

Happy Bloomsday! Go down to the pub and raise a pint in rememberance of dear Mr Joyce.


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