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Friday, June 6, 2014

Lawrence of Arabia


June 4 marked the 25th anniversary of China's violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, and sure enough pictures appeared all over people's fakebook pages to remind us if we did not remember. It reminded me that 25 years ago I had a job at the Charles Cinema in Boston, where I worked with a spicy mix of local high school and college kids. Two of my co-workers were Vietnamese from Brighton High who hooted and snorted when they heard about Chinese people being killed. It was still many years before I would go live in Vietnam and realize the deep animosity the Vietnamese have for China, but this naively unexpected response was an excellent introduction.

By the way, did you know that less than one year prior to the Tiananmen Square massacre, as it is called, government suppression of demonstrators in Burma resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3,000 people? That government is also still in power.


Anyway, the movie theater where I worked in 1989. These are the only pictures (taken from a blog called ghostlife) I could find on the entire internet, and they don't do it justice, but there you go. I didn't have a camera of my own until a year later and at the time I never wanted to photograph this sticky, stinky, neglected theater where I got paid $5/hr to loaf around.

On March 17, 1989, the 70mm 6-track dolby restored print of "Lawrence of Arabia" opened at the Charles. We were the only theater in the northeast to be showing it, as I recall, although it's hard to imagine it not showing in New York. It sold out every weekend for three months, with moviegoers coming from as far away as Montreal (an 8-hour drive) to see it. Yes, I'm sure they bought tickets in advance, but I don't remember how. I worked the concession stand mostly, or cleaned up the spilled popcorn and cups in between shows.

Everything about this film was epic (a word that is tattered and overused these days): the all-star early 1960s cast, the massive battle scenes with hundreds of extras, the larger-than-life Panavision cinematography, but most of all, the score. Maurice Jarre's overture begins long before the film itself, signaling the audience that it is time to stop lingering in the lobby and go find their seats. If you only see this film on video, you are missing its tremendous grandeur, but if you have a shitty sound system that fails to convey the soundtrack as it was intended, you just shouldn't bother at all.

A result of working nights at the Charles during Lawrence of Arabia's three or four-month total run is that even now, anytime I hear the music I see the movie in my head. When you work at a movie theater, you have a fair amount of time to peek in- officially, to keep a benevolent eye on your audience- and watch parts of the show, so I would do this whenever I got the chance. The first scene of Lawrence of Arabia I ever saw is the one I watched the most.

Even if you don't know the scenes leading up to this, you can't help but find it thrilling. It is the music which elevates this scene from being pretty cool to stupendous.

The leadup is essentially this: English officer Lawrence has assembled a group of bedouin guerrillas to attack the Turks at the port of Aqaba, but the tactics involve crossing one of the worst deserts on the Arabian peninsula, the Nefud. The bedouins with Lawrence know how dangerous this is and call him crazy; with the kind of naive arrogance you'd expect from a colonialist, Lawrence insists that crossing the Nefud is possible and convinces the group to follow him.

With amazing luck, they succeed by crossing at night, but at dawn they realize one man is missing. Lawrence insists on going back for him under the blazing sun even as the rest of the men tell him he will die trying, and this will be the end of his little war. But he proves them wrong here too, and the scene shows him meeting one of his servants, who has been waiting for him, as he emerges from the desert with the man, Gasim, who is still alive.

Next post: some more babbling about Bobby Kennedy's assassination and the book Slaughterhouse Five, or more likely, me bitching about how cold it is since I only post like every six months these days. It's warm now. It's June.

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