In case you were wondering whether I was ever going to write another blog post, fret not – I’m back with material for the next few posts. And yes, this warrants me taking issue with one of the little green jedi master’s famous pronouncements: sometimes size matters indeed.
Let’s contextualise this so your imagination doesn’t run away with you: as a film geek I like to see my movies on a big screen, so at home I’ve got a 50″ plasma HDTV that I’m fairly happy with – friends of mine buying bigger televisions notwithstanding. Most of the time I’m absolutely happy with the size of my screen… but then there are those times when a TV of that size doesn’t feel all that much bigger than the televisions of my childhood.
And one of those times is when watching Lawrence of Arabia on Blu-ray.
The cinema of David Lean is generally of the grandiose kind, calling for the big screen experience – though never more so than with Lawrence of Arabia. This isn’t just about beautiful visuals, by the way; it’s been years since I’d last watched the film, but even among visually stunning movies it stands out. Some of its brethren live almost entirely off their visual splendour, and once this aspect is removed they’re nice but by no means spectacular. Lean’s masterpiece, though, uses its cinematography to amplify the effect of its story and characters. It is undoubtedly epic, yet at the same time it is one of the most intimate epics I can think of. The size of the screen it’s viewed on doesn’t just make for pretty desert shots (and undoubtedly they are very pretty), it also pulls you that much more into the character of T.E. Lawrence (as played by a Peter O’Toole that has rarely been better), an intriguingly ambiguous character.
It is often said that “they don’t make ’em like this any more” when talking about modern Hollywood cinema, which may or may not be facile nostalgia hankering for a past that was rarely as good as (or in the ways that) people think it was. I wonder whether they ever made ’em like Lawrence of Arabia, though – this is not the big-emotions, big-visuals melodrama of Doctor Zhivago (a film that’s much better than I’d originally remembered, mind you), nor is it the action of The Bridge on the River Kwai, although both of those have some elements that recall Lean’s desert epic. No, for all the moments in other films that recall this one, Lawrence of Arabia is very much one of its kind, like its eponymous character.
And yes, it may just be the best advertising for a truly big TV screen.* Titanic? Avatar? Prometheus? Sit down and let the grown-ups show you how it’s really done.
*Okay, if it’s just visuals you’re looking for, any Terrence Malick or even Andrei Tarkovsky might do the trick – but a world where shops selling televisions showcase their wares with The Tree of Life or Stalker are likely only to exist in long-lost episodes of Fringe.
P.S.: In spite of my pinko liberal credentials, I find myself entirely unbothered by the Brits and Mexicans in brownface playing Arabs. Go figure.