Second Time Around

Lawrence of Arabia
Still the most satisfying attempt in modern movies to interpret spectacular historical events from one man's perspective. As seen by David Lean and his scenarist, Robert Bolt, T.E. Lawrence takes the White Man's Burden on his own slight shoulders and lugs it into the 20th century. A bastard without a strong identity, Lawrence welcomes the 1916 Arab revolt against Turkey as an opportunity to create a myth from his own clay. But despite Lawrence's military success with the Arabs, he can never become one of them. His failure to establish an effective governing federation among the different Arab tribes punctures his dream of Arab integrity -- and his illusion of becoming their savior. His horror at his own war-fed sadomasochism and megalomania makes him long for the life of an ordinary soldier. Peter O'Toole's Lawrence -- sensitive, brooding, capricious, and brutal -- is one of the few convincing film portrayals of an eccentric genius (or any genius). And if O'Toole brings us inside Lawrence's skull, Lean's cinematographer, Freddie Young, brings us inside his senses. Young's work inspired this piece of overwriting from Time magazine: "Time and again the grand Panavision screen stands open like the door of a tremendous furnace, and the spectator stares with all his eyes into the molten shimmer of whitegolden sands, into blank incandescent infinity, as if into the eye of God. It is a mind-battering experience, an encounter with an absolute." This is the quintessential wide-screen film in the Castro's wide-screen series; watching it, you'll have to second that quote with all your heart, all your mind, and, yes, "all your eyes."

-- Michael Sragow

Lawrence of Arabia screens Sunday, Dec. 15, at noon, 4:30, and 9 p.m. at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). Tickets are $4-6.40; call 621-6120.

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