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Lawrence Of Arabia (#110 of 9)

Summer of ‘89: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Star Trek V: The Final Frontier</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Star Trek V: The Final Frontier</em>

A camera pans across a desert, its cracked ground rife with holes. A miner runs obsessively from one hole to the next. His reverie is broken by the distant sound of a horse galloping. Cut to a cloaked figure shimmering like some dark wraith as he rides toward the miner, slowly growing clearer and more substantial as he gets closer and closer.

This sequence, a visual quote of David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia, is the eerie opening to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the ambitious failure directed by the science-fiction franchise’s star, William Shatner. Though Shatner had already directed nearly a dozen episodes of his other notable TV series, T.J. Hooker, The Final Frontier was his feature directorial debut, a contractual obligation owed him because of a clause that gave him parity with co-star Leonard Nimoy, who had just directed a pair of Star Trek’s most successful films, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home.

Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #107: <em>Quartet</em>, <em>Tabu</em>, <em>56 Up</em>, <em>The Gatekeepers</em>, <em>Cat Ballou</em>, <em>The Americans</em>, <em>30 Rock</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #107: <em>Quartet</em>, <em>Tabu</em>, <em>56 Up</em>, <em>The Gatekeepers</em>, <em>Cat Ballou</em>, <em>The Americans</em>, <em>30 Rock</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, but first…

Fan mail: The main bone of contention among the folks who wrote in about #US106 was that I had missed the point in Zero Dark Thirty—that, as Bill Weber wrote, it’s “supremely clear in ZDT that information INDIRECTLY leads” to Osama bin Laden. “Carabruva” agrees with Bill. I didn’t miss that point when I watched the film, since I was looking very carefully for any connection. What I didn’t do, unfortunately, was make mention in the item that it was very, very indirect and nowhere close to the “big break” that critics of the film were claiming. I fear both Mark Boal and I were nodding a bit on this point.

Some of the most interesting comments on the Zero Dark Thirty item came off the record from some of my “acquaintances.” I’d emailed them with a link to the column, and one of them replied, “I do not know if torture worked or not, but I am appalled by the fact that any senior officer or congresswomen would agree to it. However, one DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] felt it was important, and another does not. Most intelligence officers I respect felt that the producer wanted it both ways: torture sells and (gasp!) torture is bad. They were more amused by the portrait of the analyst. She is a composite of women in the Bin Laden cell, all of whom were strong, bright, and opinionated. But C.I.A. is a paramilitary organization. You simply don’t talk to superiors the way our hero did.” As for my feeling that the “I’m the motherfucker” line was the best line in the film, it was even if it was not “accurate,” but hey, we’re making movies here. By the way, I later heard from another “acquaintance” that the real person Maya is based on is even better-looking than Jessica Chastain. I doubt that’s possible, so that may just be more C.I.A. disinformation.

I spent some time in the item whacking Boal and the film’s team for not responding better, especially to the complaining senators. An article in the Los Angeles Times that appeared the day after my column was posted nicely covered what happened at Sony and why they took the road they did. I understand their point of view, but I think they were wrong. The article was a Link of the Day, and if you missed it, you can read it here. The article included a great comment from Boal, and since I’ve been beating him about the head and shoulders, I feel obligated to quote it, since it nails down what happened. He said, “We made a serious, tough adult movie and we got a serious, tough adult response.”

Quartet (2012. Screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on his play. 98 minutes.)

The Best Exotic Marigold Musicians Retirement Home. The first thing I loved about this movie is that it’s short. One of the downsides of having to slog through all those two-and-a-half-hour-plus end-of-the-year films is that they cost you money to park. In Los Angeles, the tradition is that at indoor malls that have multiplexes, the first three hours of parking are free, and then you have to pay through the nose for anything beyond that. By the time you get from your car to the theater, get your tickets, sit through 20 minutes of trailers and the film, and get back to your car, you’re probably over three hours. Some, all right, a few, films are worth the extra cost. So I went into Quartet happy knowing it was not going to cost me any more than the ticket price.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Craig Simpson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Craig Simpson’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Craig Simpson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I’ll sidestep the usual throat-clearing about the thought process behind my all-time 10-best-movies list (the agonizing, the second-guessing, the hair-splitting between “bests” and “favorites,” the last-minute changes—yes, it was quite a ride), and cut to the chase. My picks deceptively cover six decades of film history, albeit hopscotching over three of them. Nine of my 10 choices hail from the 1960s and 1970s, making the one remaining look like a token acknowledgment of the silent era when it’s anything but. Nevertheless, six of my films were released between 1967 and 1970, which suggests what I’ve often suspected: that that era of cinema is my favorite. I hasten to add, however, that none of my selections are Easy Riders; and my timeframe stops short of any Raging Bulls. In alphabetical order, my Top 10 movies are:

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time

For many years, I maintained a Top 10 list. It was changing all the time, but by the mid-1980s, I had pretty well nailed it down. Only by then was it a Top 12, not a Top 10, and anyone who asked me my Top 10 films got an unexpected bonus. And that was how it was until a couple of years ago, when I allowed myself the latitude of increasing my all-time favorites to a list of 15. But as a devoted game player, I respect rules and try to play by them, so for this personal Top 10 list project, I’ve forced myself to pick just 10. These are not necessarily the same 10 I would pick if my criteria were cinematic greatness, beauty, and far-reaching influence—though they easily could be. No, these are favorite films, the films that mean the most to me, the ones that give me the most and best chills. There are lots more where these came from, but for now, these are the ones. I present them in chronological order to avoid any suggestion of preference.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Tom Stempel’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tom Stempel’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tom Stempel’s Top 10 Films of All Time

If you read my “Understanding Screenwriting” column at The House, you may be aware that I generally do not do Top 10 lists (“Top 10 Scripts of the Year,” “Top 10 Scripts Most Likely to be Nominated,” “Top 10 Scripts That Should Have Been Nominated,” etc.), because I try to keep the column an Oscar-hype-free zone. But the idea of going up against the legendary Sight & Sound lists was just too delicious to pass up. Of course, there are more than 10 great films, and any list is bound to change, so this is my list on the days the I wrote this: June 19 and 20, 2012. If I made up a list a month or a year later, some, if not most, of the list would change. Since I have tried to pick films from a range of time periods, the films are listed in chronological order.

The Conversations: Lawrence of Arabia

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The Conversations: Lawrence of Arabia
The Conversations: Lawrence of Arabia

Jason Bellamy: “It’s the pictures that got small.” Those words make up the second half of one of the most famous quotes in movie history. They are spoken, as any good film fan knows, by Norma Desmond in 1950’s Sunset Blvd., and yet I think of them each time I watch Lawrence of Arabia. Released in 1962, David Lean’s poetic biopic is epic by every definition of the word. It’s long—216 minutes, plus intermission. It’s grand in subject—using its title character to draw us into a historical war movie in disguise. It’s emotionally hefty—focusing on an aimless man who finds himself through great struggle, only to lose his sanity within his new identity. As if that weren’t enough, it’s held together by a sprawling Maurice Jarre score. But what best qualifies Lawrence of Arabia as “epic” in my mind is its visual enormity, pairing some of the most awe-inspiring panoramas cinema has ever provided with some equally striking closeups.

Thus far in The Conversations we’ve covered some truly modern epics (Michael Mann’s Heat comes to mind) and some modern films that evoke the spirit of epics past (The Last of the Mohicans, perhaps), but this is the first time we’ve discussed what could be called a “classic” or “traditional” epic—a film that doesn’t just represent the term but helps to define it (which isn’t to suggest that 1939’s Gone with the Wind or 1915’s Birth of a Nation didn’t get there first). For reasons I’ll describe later, Lawrence of Arabia is a film that took me a few viewings to fully appreciate, and yet I’ve been a passionate fan of it now for at least 10 years. In contrast, you hadn’t seen Lawrence of Arabia until you watched it for The Conversations.

There are numerous topics that we must cover before this discussion is over, a few of which have everything to do with when this film was made (before CGI technology was available and before adorning white actors in brownface was taboo), and picking a starting point is a bit daunting. So let’s begin here: Lawrence of Arabia is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. For what it’s worth: it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning seven, including Best Picture; it was No. 5 on the American Film Institute’s initial top-100 list, released in 1998; and it’s No. 3 on the British Film Institute’s latest top-100 list. With that as a snapshot of the movie’s acclaim, I’m curious: When you watched Lawrence of Arabia for the first time only recently, did it strike you as a great film, a classic and an epic? Did it live up to its reputation? Or did it leave you underwhelmed despite its enormity?

Brief Summertime: David Lean at Film Forum

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Brief Summertime: David Lean at Film Forum
Brief Summertime: David Lean at Film Forum

To most people, the name David Lean means Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Many still remember its famous re-issue in 1989 on the big screen, and few question that film’s supposed greatness now, even though Andrew Sarris originally condemned it as “dull, overlong and coldly impersonal.” That’s not quite fair; Lawrence often seems to be about some kind of deep-dyed English dread of inadequacy, and whenever Lean gets sun-struck with his endless desert vistas, Peter O’Toole pulls the film back into the far-out agony of one very strange, sadomasochistic man. Before that, Lean had won acclaim and awards for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), his first real epic, and an even vaguer movie than Lawrence. Despite fine acting from Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa, Kwai raises issues of duty and madness only to scuttle them in one of the most confusing endings in film history. In Kevin Brownlow’s massive, definitive biography of Lean, it is revealed that the director and his collaborators didn’t know how to end Kwai, so they shot the climax in such a muddled way that it’s impossible to know how the bridge is destroyed. By accident? Deliberately?