For anyone who hasn’t heard by now, actor Peter O’Toole passed away recently, at age 81. That’s pretty impressive, given the party-heavy lifestyle he led, alongside his contemporaries like Richard Burton and Oliver Reed (both of whom he outlived by a lot.)
He lived an interesting and full life and will be remembered for a long time (at least until the film archive in the Library of Congress is destroyed in whatever apocalypse inevitably befalls mankind, but I digress).
Lawrence of Arabia
Directed by: David Lean
Starring: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif
I decided to begin with this one because I still haven‘t quite made up my mind about it. What I really need to do is sit down and watch it again, when I have the time to really watch it.
A lot has already been said about this movie, so I won’t re-tread that territory. I will, however, address one of the big complaints, indeed one of the first things out of the mouths of a lot of people when Lawrence of Arabia is mentioned in conversation. No, not that it’s too long–although that is a common one–but that it’s self-indulgent.
Over the years I’ve become more and more irritated with what I perceive to be self-indulgent films (I’m looking at you American Beauty…and you too Sukiyaki Western Django). However, I’m not sure if Lawrence of Arabia is guilty of this crime against cinema–and if it is guilty, I’m not sure that I care.
One day a few years ago I was sitting in my living room working with the TV on in the background, tuned to some or other HD movie station. Lawrence of Arabia came on and I looked up, figuring hey, I’ve been meaning to see this movie since forever, now is as a good a time as any. When the movie began I sat down on the floor for a minute to stretch, looked up at the screen…and accidentally sat like that for the next 3 1/2 hours, completely mesmerized.
That, like, never happens to me. Ever.
The TV I was watching it on was a widescreen HD TV, though not a particularly big one, so it didn’t do Lawrence quite the justice that I imagine the silver screen would. And yet, when the end credits finished and the screen went to black, I looked around and realized that I hadn’t moved at all. My neck started to hurt from the weird position I’d been watching it in. I had meant to get up and make coffee at some point, but that had long been forgotten.
So whether or not you think Lawrence of Arabia is self-indulgent, all I know is that it’s such a beautiful film and an engrossing story that I couldn’t look away.
* * * *
My Favorite Year
Directed by: Richard Benjamin
Starring: Mark Linn-Baker, Jessica Harper, Joseph Bologna
I’m enough of a geek that if you were to ask me, “Hey, so, what are your top 10 movies?”, I’d respond by going, “Oh gosh, well, uh, in which genre? In what context?” I’m not sure if I could ever narrow-down my all time favorites to only 10 (yup, total nerd), but if I did, this would definitely be one of them. That is how much I love My Favorite Year.
It’s set in New York City in 1954, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The main character, Benji, works for The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade, and this week’s guest is famed swashbuckling actor Alan Swann. Except that Alan Swann is a bit older than he was in his glory days of Captain From Tortuga and Defender of the Crown…and he’s plastered. So, with a week until the taping of the show, poor Benji has to baby-sit the man who was his childhood hero to make sure he arrives at rehearsal sober. Cue the hijinks!
I never get tired of this film. It’s the right amount of funny, touching, cute, clever, and quirky. This film has so many great scenes, so many great characters, so many great lines that can be quoted so often…I’ll stop gushing.
* * * *
The Lion in Winter
Directed by: Anthony Harvey
Starring: Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton
This film is about one week with King Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons, Geoffrey (not Joffrey), Richard (later “The Lionheart”), and John (yes, that Prince John). A young Timothy Dalton has an excellent turn as King Philip II of France.
Hepburn and O’Toole play off each other so well, hurling verbal daggers dipped in passive-aggressive poison back and forth, to the point where the castle walls are just caked with contempt, disdain, and double-dealing. The Lion in Winter is what happens when you put a handful of great actors together, give them an excellent script, and then tell them to use said script to try to kill each other.
It’s also a great example of that era’s acting style. It might seem a bit over-the-top by today’s standards, but just go into the film with an open mind.
The Lion in Winter takes place over the Christmas holiday, such as it was in 1138, and all of this venom is slung because the family has gotten back together under one roof for the occasion (Eleanor had been forcibly estranged and imprisoned after trying to “secure“ the throne for Richard one too many times, and the two other sons had been off doing all manner of medieval things).
So if you felt frustrated or overwhelmed this past holiday season, just pour yourself some white wine, drink a toast to Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole*, and enjoy watching what a truly dysfunctional family does for Christmas.