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Lawrence of Arabia at 60: a dazzling spectacle with complexity under the sand

David Lean’s epic is still an astonishing visual achievement but there are far richer and darker themes at play Growing up in the 90s as a young child who was really into film, I was told two things about Lawrence of Arabia by my elders, usually in tandem. First, that it was A Truly Great Film, indisputably so, even among the Greatest Ever Made. And second, that despite its urgent and inarguable Greatness, I wasn’t to rush to see it – not until I had an opportunity to do so in a cinema. It wasn’t even worth watching on a television screen, they said, for that would cut its brilliance in half, or worse: like having your first glass of champagne and mixing it with water. And so I waited. In Johannesburg, where I lived, there was no such thing as repertory cinema: my first experience of seeing a “classic” on the big screen was a 20th-anniversary re-release of Grease. Eventually, my patience ran out: when I noticed a late-night airing of David Lean’s horizon-wide historical drama on the TV schedule, I junked the advice I had hitherto been given, and stayed up to watch it on our boxy 14in Sony. I have no doubt that it was unfortunately cropped, letterboxing rarely being the favoured broadcast option in that dinkier age of television sets. But I don’t really remember, largely because, with all those caveats and warnings in mind, I was enthralled by the film anyway. Continue reading...

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