Tuesday, June 07, 2011

NYT on "Lawrence of Arabia"

by Salman Hameed

Lawrence of Arabia is one of my all time favorite films. I love the fact that the protagonist is a deeply conflicted, charismatic, and a problematic character. This is a hallmark of protagonists in other David Lean films also (Case in point: The Bridge on River Kwai) . In addition, the movie is stunningly beautiful and it is hard to believe the desert war scenes are not CGI. But apart from being an amazing film, LoA is also relevant today because of the Arab uprisings. Here is a short (about 5 minutes) podcast on the film by NYT film critic A.O. Scott. He doesn't say any thing profound here, but he gives a taste of the movie. If you have never seen the film, please see it (and please - not on a computer screen):

And here is Ebert's review as part of his Great Movies series. 


Benjamin Geer said...

I agree it's a beautifully made film, but it's also deeply Orientalist and gives a very distorted view of history. The Arab characters are stereotypes, and the film makes it seem as if Lawrence invented Arab nationalism and single-handedly united the Arabs.

Not long ago I read the first volume of Abd al-Rahman Munif's five-volume novel Cities of Salt, which traces the development of the oil business in Saudi Arabia, starting in the 1930s, showing the arrival of the Americans through the eyes of Arab characters. It's a great novel, and it struck me that it would make a great film, a sort of anti-Lawrence of Arabia.

Salman Hameed said...


Oh - I totally agree with you - but it is a phenomenal film (my comments were about the film and not about its history). It is also more about an individual personality. I was just having a conversation about the difference between LoA and The Lion of the Desert (about Omar Mukhtar and starring Anthony Quinn). The latter is a not a great film, but it has a strong anti-colonial (Italians) sentiment, whereas, LoA is a stunning film about a particular personality.

I have not read Cities of Salt. That sounds very interesting.

Benjamin Geer said...


There's an English translation of the first volume of Munif's novel. Sabry Hafez wrote a good article on Munif and on that novel in particular. One aspect of the novel that I especially liked was the focus on the way Arabs experienced the technology (trucks, bulldozers, radios, telephones) and science (anthropology, modern medicine) that the Americans brought with them, and perhaps especially the way the Americans used that science and technology, completely ignorant of (or indifferent to) the ways in which they were trampling on a lot of things that were important to the Arabs. The new technology was indeed marvellous, but it came with a whole set of social relations that were damaging and oppressive. The novel very sensitively explores what was gained and what was lost.

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