sees characters filmed from anything closer than a medium shot, and
usually the background is stuffed to overflowing with garish art direction.
Everything feels static and wooden. But in "Lawrence,"
Lean keeps his frames constantly alive by juxtaposing huge landscape
shots with extreme close-ups of actor faces. In one especially brutal
scene, after a battle that results in the slaughter of many people,
the action cuts to a close-up of O'Toole, looking panicked and crazed,
gripping a bloody knife in his hand as if he's reluctant to drop it,
obviously both disturbed and titillated by the carnage he just witnessed.
It's moments like that, not just an impressive battle scene but a character's
reactions to the results of that scene, that sets this film apart from
other standard epics.
I have always
found David Lean a compelling story teller with his images as well as
the dialogue. Here, the images are so beautiful, powerful, and vast
that they never leave the memory. They become part of our visual language.
Who doesn't get thirsty when the Nefud is being crossed? Whose heart
is touched when Lawrence comes out of the Sinai into the officers club
with the boy? Who doesn't feel a mix of blood lust and revulsion in
the battle scenes - especially at the train and the slaughter of the
Turks on the way to Damascus?