Lawrence of Arabia

I grew up watching two of those long, epic-historical pictures…Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments.  My attention span was pretty good back then.  I wonder what the younger me would have thought of Lawrence of Arabia.  For sure, I would have sat down and watched it straight through, unlike the me of today, who watched it in three parts over three days.  😉

My brother recommended it.  I was always under the impression it was a boring film, and to be sure, on the face of it, there’s nothing to indicate what a fascinating, frightening, and overall amazing movie Lawrence of Arabia is.  My brother was right – it was well worth the nearly 4-hr commitment.

The plot is not exactly linear.  Though there is an overarching plot, on screen it kind of goes from one scene to the next, which is part of the brilliance of the script.  It follows T. E. Lawrence’s life in Arabia, from his seemingly unpromising career in the British military to his magnetic and highly successful campaigns leading Arab troops against the Turks.  This is why I do love a good, long movie – the transformation of his character is subtle, yet solid.  Like Ben-Hur, Lawrence isn’t the same person by the end of the movie, and the plot attempts to show you why.

I have never read a biography of Lawrence, and I’ve only seen part of a documentary about him.  This film left me wanting to read everything I can about him (younger me would have got started on that reading already).  The historical accuracy of the characters is subject to some controversy, according to Wikipedia.  It still makes me want to read about them, as well as read more in-depth on these historical events.

What I guess caught me by surprise, and what grabbed my attention, is how untypical the story is.  Yes, there are some stereotypes, even in Lawrence’s character.  In spite of that, there is no typical romanticism of him – what I mean is, he is shown to be a very human and real individual.  His entire persona is romantic – like Robin Hood or something – and yet this juxtaposition of realities, his tangible heroism vs his personal struggles, keeps coming back to haunt him.  He contradicts himself many times, and, being neither Arab nor conventionally British, he is always an eccentric and a loner, just by definition of himself.  The film provokes you, at turns, to both empathize with and despise him.

It is probably the saddest, most depressing movie I have ever seen, so be prepared for that, if you have yet to see it.

Peter O’Toole was absolutely brilliant (and handsome), needless to say.  I should probably get around to watching Lord Jim.

The Enchanted Island – an opera learning experience

Watching The Enchanted Island posed three firsts for me:

    1) Baroque
    2) English
    3) Getting my brother to watch opera (!!)

    The last one was a surprising success…the first two, not so much.

    I was intrigued by the concept when it came out in 2011, and it stayed in the back of my mind, till I finally got the DVD from the library.  The Enchanted Island is a so-called opera “pastiche” by Jeremy Sams – if his name rings a bell, he composed the score for Persuasion.  He collected different Baroque operatic pieces (mostly arias) and wrote English lyrics for them, basing the plot on a combination of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    This production gave me pretty mixed feelings.

    I’m a little – is disturbed the word? – that Sams took whatever Barqoue opera pieces he wanted and put completely new words to them.  Part of me is always a purist to the composer’s original intentions, and though their works have long since been in the public domain, at times it makes me uncomfortable to hear their music in someone else’s context.  This isn’t really limited to this opera; some movie scores do the same thing.  Mixed feelings all the way around.

    That said, I was pretty impressed by the creativity of this opera, the clarity of the singing (it is all in English, though I still used subs), and the overall design.  The steampunk elements were a nice touch.  Ariel’s feathery costume was fun, and both the forest and underwater scenes were beautifully vibrant and detailed.  The Shakespearean fantasy fits in well with the setting; it probably appeals to a broader audience than, say, a typical Verdi, and musically it may be more accessible to some people than Wagner (though my first opera was Lohengrin, and I loved it).

    I’ve discovered I really, really dislike Baroque opera.  I knew I disliked Mozart operas – this is only a tad better, but it’s in the same realm of stop-and-go, stop-and-go singing.  It is also highly repetitive; there was one aria the sorceress was singing, and it just went on and on with the same words.  So, there’s that.  Also, countertenor – don’t get me wrong, I know it’s Baroque, but it takes some getting used to.  (Case in point: whenever I listen to Che faro, I listen to Hvorostovsky, so I’m already biased.)

    I’d have to say the best character and performance was Danielle de Niese as Ariel.  She is a great actress and brought a lot of needed energy to the role, which helped move some scenes along.  I can’t overemphasize how important acting is in opera, and she went above and beyond and made the role her own.  Could be part of the reason the first disc was better than the second disc, actually.

    This is far from a must-see, in my book, and it seems to be overrated in general.  However, it is recommended by most other reviewers, so if you’re bored or looking for new operas to watch, you might give this one a try.

    Go Set a Watchman

    US cover of Go Set a Watchman.jpg
    US cover of Go Set a Watchman” by Source (WP:NFCC#4).
    Licensed under <a href="; title="Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Go Set a Watchman“>Fair use via Wikipedia.

    I finished Go Set a Watchman the other night.  Essentially I sat up in bed and started crying.  At times (some might say all the time), I can be a rather sensitive creature, so an emotional reaction is not unusual for me, but the book actually made me upset, which is fairly unusual.

    If you like gritty fiction, you might appreciate this sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.  You might find Scout’s visit home to be an interesting study of her childhood, a revisit to the familiar setting of Maycomb from about twenty years later.  Certainly, there is something probably everyone can relate to in her struggle to recognize the family she remembers in the family she has now – and that includes Atticus.  For Scout, however, this conflict encompasses not simply personal differences, the common result of growing up, but it challenges the very thing that has given her courage and molded her conscience: that she’s always followed her father’s example.

    As an unabashed, idealist Romantic myself, I came to regret that this book had been published.  It almost ruined for me the beautiful story that is TKAM, through its themes of lost ideals, childhood illusion, and a whole lot of cussing.  I find it hard to believe that Scout was a naive child, and this book doesn’t convince me that that must have been the case.  It does read as a very personal account, so maybe Lee did draw from her own experiences.  I don’t know.

    I gave TKAM 4 stars; I give this one 2 out of 5.

    One thing I will just mention is that this story is absolutely possible, even credible.  I’m not really questioning that.  And obviously, for a book to be upsetting, it must have a grain of effectiveness.  To me it is still a poor sequel because it neither comes across as a natural consequence of TKAM nor does it persuade me that everything in TKAM was just a kid’s daydream.  I think that is because TKAM was written second…in that sense, really, TKAM is the sequel to the struggle in this book.

    To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic that still stands alone.  Time will tell if Go Set a Watchman ever catches up to it.