To me, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia starring the great Peter O’Toole as the eponymous warrior is one of the greatest films ever made. If I were to ever make a top 100 list, this classic would most likely be in the top ten. I find it to be a beautifully shot picture that focuses on a complex man who is not a typical protagonist. In many ways, he’s an anti-hero, one who is afraid of his violence tendencies, and one who is lost in this world, trying to find a place he can call his own. He is selfish and arrogant, but empathetic. O’Toole gives a fascinating portrayal of this tortured soul in one of the most beautifully shot films of all time. This film is a masterpiece, one that I had the good fortune of seeing on the big screen in 70mm recently.
At the Somerville Theater, the very one where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck used to frequent in their youth, is currently holding a film festival focusing on 35mm and 70mm prints. They are screening Sleeping Beauty in the only 70mm print in circulation, courtesy of Walt Disney. The Wild Bunch, Interstellar, West Side Story, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even the Kirk Douglass starring The Vikings is playing on 70mm or 35mm during this ten dayfestival. This is the first festival of this kind at the Somerville Theater, and one that played to a packed audience Friday night for Lawrence of Arabia.
The theater was able to get its hand on one of the original 70mm prints from the 1989 full restoration of the film assisted by David Lean himself. The print wasn’t in perfect condition, after all, it has been been in circulation for almost thirty years, but the clarity and the gorgeousness of the film was undeniable as it was projected onto the large screen in the historic theater. From the sound quality to the colors, the film impressed me with its presentation. Having grown up watching the film previously on TV and the two cassette VHS version, I had never seen the film with this much clarity before. It was quite extraordinary.
To see Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen has been a long-time dream of mine. I loved every second of seeing the expansive desert shots, the classic David Lean cuts, the stunning sunrise shot opening the first Arabian scene, and so much more. Lean has an eye for the epic like no other, and his skill and talent was truly unique. I am so happy that I could finally see it on 70mm. The beauty and the detail in the sets and costumes and the desert itself was so much more dynamic and incredible through the 70mm projector. To have this dream of mine fulfilled gives me so much joy and pride in this art-form.
I love the fact that my local theater allows access to view such films in the way they were meant to be seen. A lot of critics and bloggers recently have written about how this year has marked the end of cinema. I disagree because people are still viewing films, whether it be online or on TV, movies aren’t dead. And being among an audience cheering and clapping during the opening credits of a 54 year old film proves that cinema still has great things to offer. People will go to the theaters if there are good films to be seen. I hope the Somerville Theater continues this 70mm film festival in the years to come. If there is a festival or a local theater that shows more independent movies, go out and support the theater in anyway you can. If the theater is successful and stays open, then cinema can never die, and we as film fans can get the experience of watching amazing movies in the way they were meant to be seen, as I did Friday night enraptured by the beauty of Lawrence of Arabia.