Faunae of Arabia

Last Sunday I visited The American Film Institutes's Silver Theatre for a screening of the 70mm restoration of Lawrence of Arabia. Believe the hype. This is one big, beautiful movie. So quit screwing around and see it while you can.

Most praise pours forth for the film's grand, sweeping shots of the Arabian Peninsula's vast desert, but I found myself fascinated by the less voluminous things: Omar Sharif's impeccable posture, the ragged red streaks cracking at the edges of Peter O'Toole's eyes, the calm swagger of the stoic camels.

It's bizarre to say this about a movie that, with an intermission, runs about four hours in length, but, somehow, there is not enough there. It lacks exposition. The audience is only granted a brief introduction in the Cairo barracks before being cast out with their hero. Who is this man who would shake off his own heritage so readily, so recklessly? The ambivalence and moodiness that bedevils O'Toole's Lawrence certainly enriches the film. (Many of the themes will ring bells for anyone following the modern adventure in Iraq.) But, lacking a better understanding of our traveling companion, his vacillations can be as difficult to comprehend as the desert's shifting winds.

A visit to AFI will require you summon your courage for the harrowing passage through that vulgar caricature of civilization known as "downtown" Silver Spring, but it's worth it to see a great old movie on a great big screen. They'll be showing this one Sunday nights all summer.

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