FF116 - Lawrence of Arabia

Intro by John Roderick

Lawrence of Arabia is one of those movies you can do a bad job of watching. There is so much happening in this film that you can actually fail at it as a viewer. To succeed at watching this movie is to leave it more confused than you entered, to have your prejudices challenged and your assumptions upended, and to appreciate that not all of that was the film's intention.

The events depicted can't be summarized or diagrammed. You can't dissect them effectively using the blunt instrument of any particular ideology. There are no coherent narratives where the choices were clear or where history could have gone a different way, and maybe none of it happened like this anyway, but maybe it did?

Coming out of this movie with a couple of pat conclusions and a prescription is equivalent to whacking at a turducken with a pocket comb and claiming to have rebuilt a living turkey, chicken and duck. It is a movie about a man in a time and place, the myth of the man, the making of the myth of the man in his own time, the myth of the making of the myth of the man and his immediate aftermath, and the math of making the myth of the man either stand or be damned after the dashed-off first draft of his plan to sav the wrath of the clans was panned by cads and damned by a new brand of grandstanding also-rans who want to reprimand and ban what they can't understand.

But it is so tempting! Here is a smorgasbord of sweeping takes on imperialism, colonialism, tribalism, bureaucratism, classism, casteism, militarism, orientalism, pan-arabism, proto-antisemitism, revisionism, double/triple revisionism, antidisestablishmentarianism, sangfroid, saxophone, and reckless folly. It is full of lies and tap dancing, but it is also plausibly true in many ways, or at least if you are prepared to argue it is 100% lies and tap dancing you would better have a convincing alternate history of the world, which I am sure you do, and I can assure you that no one wants to hear it except your small group of friends who also don't want to hear it and are just waiting for you to finish, but anyway: Go ahead and mail it to Adam!

This is a mid-century opera where the germ of collective Arab identity is credited to a somewhat friendless Englishman. It mocks the colonial enterprise and the folly of empire while making it all look rather grand, and it sets the scene for what became the central, festering, uncurable sore of geopolitics from then until now. Everyone is ridiculous in this movie and their foolishness is foregrounded, but also made to look gorgeous and unavoidable. Lawrence is a wholly fool, but what would we do without him?

The British were small "m" mistaken and large "A" Awful throughout, but ultimately right in their wrong-headed way about a thing that they were fundamentally wrong about. The only ones to escape this movie without being indicted as utterly self-defeating, callow, and culturally suicidal are the Turks who are simply depraved. Yet the movie is wonderful, an absolute masterpiece! Peter O'Toole's Lawrence is nuanced and fascinating, a masterwork of characterization, wild eyed and canny, despite the fact that he was at the very start of his film career and this was his breakout role. Along with director David Lean he turned in a banger!

We watch a lot of movies that depict real events, but no war movie sets the stage for the world we live in quite like this one. These few years are the neck of the hourglass. There is the world before and the world after, and although not a comprehensive picture, it is essential viewing. It is problematic in many ways characteristic of its time, let's just say the brown makeup budget was unusually large, but it takes pains to look hard at itself as it goes. It is an epic in scale and scope and it is almost four hours long.

So we are going to interrogate this entry in the canon and we are going to do our best. There is a lot to think about, to talk about, and to argue about, and in that sense this is as good as a movie gets. As the ancient curse goes: "I hope you watch it with a friend that disagrees with you, and then you have to take a six hour car ride together across the desert to spread the ashes of your dead best friend at the foot of an olive tree!"

Please direct all correspondence to xes.nietsneknufxam|madAmIiH#xes.nietsneknufxam|madAmIiH. "There is nothing further here for a warrior! We drive bargains, old men's work!" Today on Friendly Fire: 1962's Lawrence of Arabia.


B: Welcome to Friendly Fire, the war movie podcast that leaves no wounded for the Turks. I am Ben Harrison…

A: … I am Adam Pranica…

J: … and I am John Roderick.

A: Yeah, put them out of their misery, the pre-misery!

B: Another movie that turkfan69 is not a great big fan.

A: No, not at all!

J: The Turks don't shine here, but very few people shine in this movie, really. If you really interrogate anyone's story, front or back, they don't look particularly good.

Muslim identity

A: I fully came into this movie expecting Lawrence to be The Man, the rakish awesome hero. The first 90 minutes of this film are basically people whispering behind his back, like: ”What the fuck is wrong with that guy? That guy is a weirdo! Let's get him away from us and into the desert!”, right?

J: Well, and he is a weirdo! He is a weirdo in the desert, too!

A: Yeah, the desert doesn't fix him!

J: It is not like the Arabs are like: ”Hurray! What a man!” until he starts to at least in the way the film depicts him really lead them into not just victory in battle, but lead them into a new conception of what it is to be an Arab, which is…

B: You really have to swallow a big pill that this movie is trying to feed you, that Lawrence invented the idea of Arab identity.

J: Well, except there is a weird case to be made during the Ottoman days, during the Turkish Empire, and it is something intrinsic to Islam, that Islam in particular is a religion that in its interpretation was not confined to a certain race. You could be a Muslim across all nations and the idea of a Muslim identity was the primary identity of people in Arabia. They were Muslims first and there wasn't a sense of a United Arab consciousness. It was very tribal. You are right that I don't think T.E. Lawrence was the person to invent Arab identity, but it is a compelling or interesting story that Arab identity didn't exist necessarily.

B: I mean, the nation state is a very European idea that has been projected onto the entire rest of the world.

J: Well, except the kingdom isn't. A kingdom is or a caliphate, both of those things are the natural order of things. We came out of this whole story with a bunch of kingdoms and caliphates. This is a complicated movie because of the 20 stories it intersects with.

A: It didn't seem like they would make Lawrence’s race or background an issue and it finally took that Turkish general to strip him, grab his chest, and be like: ”What are you doing here, white man?”

J: Yeah, that general had a lot of other motivations, too! He was like: ”I don't care what you are doing here. I am just glad you are here! You are very pretty!”

A: ”Let me escort you to my caning basement where I will leave the door open, suggestively!”

This is the stuff that decides what he wants.

Was Lawrence gay?

B: I read that there was a play about T.E. Lawrence that the producer of this film took great umbrage with because it entertained the idea that T.E. Lawrence was gay and I felt like he was coded gay in the movie.

J: Weird choice if you are trying to macho-ise Lawrence to cast Peter O'Toole, sleight of figure and and blond of hair,…

A: … and maybe some eyeliner? I don't know! How about some of that?

J: Let's oil him up and put him out there with Omar Sharif. Let's see what happens!

A: What we should do is get him down on all fours, take an ICU right into his face as he is being back-blasted for a couple of minutes. See how that feels! Let's just shoot the footage, we don't have to use it!

B: This is a four hour movie, we can add and subtract as needed!

A: I have a question about this: There were liberties taken with his character in this film (J: and with history!), and I wonder if his coded sexuality was made more palatable to someone in this time period by making him such a cold-blooded killer halfway through this film. He is distributing headshots to people in a way that makes you forget about how gentle he is in the first half of the film. Do you think that is intentional?

B: I mean, they drew first blood, Adam!

J: You have it coming, Adam! No, I think that that is a part of the story that is probably pretty true to life, that Lawrence in his own reflection… It is part of what is dangerous about people like T.E. Lawrence at this time in history, because you could be a British officer ostensibly supported by Britain and completely Colonel Kurtz-ing up in an entire region, galvanizing a people with no oversight and you are operating in a back theatre.

A: It is incredible. We see wars of adventure all the time, but this is a man's war of adventure. He is puppet stringing the whole thing!

J: And I think that is why he is such a popular character and was at the time. This is some kind of crazy Boy Scout adventure that really reads as a pulp fiction, almost!

Lawrence being on his personal adventure war

B: I love how in that context it is really his personal adventure that he is on, but then the British and the French are like: ”Hey, we could turn this into another opportunity for a little dab of colonialism, while we are at it?” It was the most 1916 thinking of all time. ”Hey, when this is all over…”

J: Yeah, and that is really telegraphed throughout the film. He was sent there as the emissary of the Arab bureau, which was the British office designed to… they didn't go in with a plan, they just wanted to figure out: ”What do we do here? How do we pit these people against those people, but keep these people from getting too much power by pitting them against those people?”

A: Yeah, and it is not just speculative either. You actually get the scene in this film that goes like: ”They are unable to govern for themselves! They must be colonized and fixed in order to keep the power on and the water going!”

J: Even before when Lawrence comes back from the original capture of Acaba and he says to the new commanding general: ”I am telling them that we have no interest in Arabia, is that true?”, and I loved the moment because the general had enough authority to just bare-faced lie and that is a sign of real power because Lawrence is like: ”I am telling all of these Arab kings and princes that we are not going to betray them!” and the general is like: ”Oh yeah, totally! Yeah, tell them that! 100%”

B: That general could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and it wouldn't hurt his poll numbers.

A: It is another example of no matter what Lawrence does the generals still hate him and don't owe anything to him.

J: Yeah, right! He is not one of them.

B: That is the advantage of a bureaucracy: You get a bunch of shit done and then there are barriers for blame when it needs to be allotted.

J: It is not like General Allenby is going to shoulder the burden.

A: I love that moment of Lawrence getting to Damascus first by a day and a half. He is there, he is already on the ground, and their bewilderment…

B: … after slaughtering a retreating column of Turks!

A: Yeah. He has been busy!

J: All of this overlaps exactly with Gallipoli!

B: Those guys are playing rugby over by the pyramids while Lawrence is drawing his maps.

A: Yeah, they are trying to get a refund for those little statues from the shopkeeper.

J: Same place! They ran right past Lawrence!

The Friendly Fire porkchop feed

B: That would be great. Is it Hot Shots where the two sheens see each other from the boat?

J: I think it is Hot Shots part deux.

B: Are those on our list?

A: That is a porkchop film!

B: That might be pork chop time!

J: I have been getting some pushback from people on the Internet who are fans of our show…

B: What? People that are fans giving us pushback?

J: Yeah, and the theory that they are advancing is that the porkchop feed does not need to just be trash. They said: ”What if you guys covered war-adjacent films that weren't garbage piles?” and I was like: ”Intrigued!”

A: People may be more inclined to support the show financially if there was something in it for them in the porkchop feed?

J: I said: "Wow, I know for a fact that has never occurred to either Ben nor Adam, but let me be the one…”

B: I disagree wholeheartedly! There are some really good movies in the porkchop feed. It has got Wonder Woman, Terminator 2 Judgment Day, Triple Frontier, Edge of Tomorrow, Spy Game, Lord of War, Rogue One. Those are all great!

A: They are! Every one of them.

J: All right, okay.

B: There are also some bad movies, like Rambo III and Commando…

A: … and Rocky IV.

J: All right. You are right. There are good movies!

B: I would say it is more good movies than bad!

H: I take it back! I mean, I am not paying attention, obviously.

B: There is recency bias, obviously, because we have done two Stallone films in a row as of this recording.

A: I am hoping for a third!

J: Ugh!

B: You came for the hattrick?

A: Get some over the top in there!

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, you can’t trust Lawrence

B: I was reading that Lawrence knew about the Sykes-Picot Agreement long before it is depicted in this film. He was aware that the French and the British had designs on a colonial outcome, for basically running the Ottoman Empire as a colonial holding of France and England after the war. It drops like a bomb in this movie when they tell him about it and he is fucking livid, but apparently, getting the Arab revolt going, knowing about that as being like the long term plan.

J: I think that that is in the movie throughout. When he has that conversation with Allenby and Allenby says: ”Yes, absolutely we have no designs!” Lawrence knows.

B: Are you saying it is implied the same way as his homosexuality is?

J: Even more! I think his homosexuality is just a tint, but the idea that he is working within a within a system where he knows the outcome. He is a member of the British officer class and we see him interacting with them, he knows he is an outsider, and he knows his viewpoint will never prevail, which is why he is enjoying his adventure so much. He becomes deluded by his power such that he begins to forget that he is not a world maker. A lot of his shock and dismay is a put-on at that moment, it is overdramatism on his part, and the movie is showing us that.

B: He engages in a lot of wishful thinking about what everyone is going to do at various times.

J: Right! And I think the narration of the film, or the Lawrence we are shown, we are not meant to trust him by then. He has let us down repeatedly, he let the Arabs down repeatedly. The camera is always focused on him, he is the nominal hero, but I don't think he is a heroic figure by that point in time, I think he is so compromised that we can't trust his reactions.

B: Do you want to rate it?

J: I am watching the gears turn in Adam's head.

B: Pretty much all there is to say, right?

Speaking Arabic

B: Is he supposed to be speaking Arabic with everybody in this movie?

J: Yes!

B: It is maybe the most confusing language movie because there are very few times when any of the Arab characters are in a room with any of the non-T.E.-Lawrence British characters. When he brings Farraj into the officer's mess, that is maybe one of a handful of brief scenes where you are like: ”Oh yeah, Farraj can't communicate with anybody in this room, so he is going to be silent for this scene!”

J: We know that King Faisal and Sharif Ali both had Western educations and they routinely are speaking to people in English. There is no distinction between the way they speak in English and the way they speak to one another in presumably Arabic, but Lawrence is famous for his command of multiple languages. He is shown at the beginning of the movie reading an Arabic newspaper.

A: He quotes the Koran back at Faisal!

J: Yeah, eat that!

A: That is a fun moment!

J: That is when he wins Feisal's heart.

Prosthetic noses and make-up

A: A lot of prosthetic noses in this movie.

B: The one that Anthony Quinn is wearing is so badly matched to the brown makeup that they covered him in, also. It is a totally distinct color. It looks like those glasses with a fake nose on them that people wear in comedy films.

A: I really thought that Omar Sharif’s Ali character was going to steal the movie from O'Toole, but it is Anthony Quinn that steals it from Omar Sharif. I thought every scene with them together was great.

J: Anthony Quinn is a tough degree to ever match. He is so wonderful!

A: Yeah, I really like him a lot in this movie!

B: He did his own makeup for the film!

J: Really?

A: I mean, not surprising? Did he did he get an Academy Award for achievement and make-up? One of 20 Oscars!

B: An actor has been nominated…

J: It is funny that he would negotiate for that, like: ”No, no, no! I do my own makeup!” Weird!

B: He apparently would put the makeup on before getting to set and the first day he showed up David Lean, the director, mistook him for a native and asked his assistant to ring Quinn and notify him that they were replacing him with this new arrival. Wow!

A: That has got to feel great as an actor, right? That is not insulting! That means you nailed it!

B: Yeah, amazing. I love his character. He is this local… He is not a a prince, he is not at the same level as Faisal. he is the leader of this army of thousands of guys, but he also personally patrols all his own wells with his son.

A: Yeah, that was a fun introduction to him.

The Arab world at the time of this movie

J: What is strange about the cast of characters represented here: All of these people, for centuries their families had vied for control over wells and areas and now they were beginning for the first time this process of trying to consolidate into a nation. It is an astonishing moment in history and astonishing to think that what we think of as the status quo in the Middle East, these nations Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, all of them are a 20th century developments, and prior to it, there was no sense of this region as we sense it now.

B: It is right next to Northern and East Africa, which is another part of the world that is full of international boundaries that are just arrow straight lines and it got a lot of the same kinds of problems.

J: Yeah, but the problems here are not just that they are straight borders because a lot of those are borders that are just drawn in the middle of completely desert regions, it is not quite the same as: ”Here is a border and half the Kurds are on one side and half the Kurds are on the other!”

B: It is not like the border between Somalia and Kenya, which is just a divide and conquer border?

J: Right, it is a state of affairs where what we think of as the Saudi family… Ibn Saud at this point was consolidating power and for a while after World War I King Faisal was king of Iraq and Syria, but Ibn Saud was over here in Mecca and Medina, consolidating power, and any one of these princes could have laid claim to being the leader of the Arabs. They didn't discover oil in Arabia until the mid 1930s. The British had a sense that there was maybe oil or mineral wealth in Arabia, but there wasn't any money there yet, so it was all this great game of strategery. Aqaba is in Jordan now.

B: Was it just that if they could control Aqaba that the British could supply arms to the Arabs? Is that the whole idea of taking it?

J: Yeah, it is another front. If you are imagining Damascus or Jerusalem being the prize and you can get to it through that Gulf of Aqaba and you can supply that… it is like the rear action: If you are attacking Damascus from the sea, straight from the Mediterranean, but the Ottomans can resupply from your rear, that is a vulnerability, but if you have Aqaba you can execute a pincer on all of the Lavant (?).

B: … so that the Ottomans’ attention would be split on two different things that they are trying to defend.

J: Right. And then the whole second act of the film where Lawrence is just basically waging a war of chaos in their rear where they can't seem to move a train across the desert without getting it blown up.

B: Adam knows about chaos in his rear!

Finding and using an actual blown-up train in the desert

A: Those are great scenes. All the train explosions. I was not expecting to see as much train chaos as we got in this movie.

B: Yeah, train combat is the primary thing that happens in the second half of this film.

J: Do you have a train pedant? Did train pedants enter in here, Ben?

B: I don't have a train pedant, but I do have a good moment of pedantry for this film. It doesn't fit anywhere naturally, so I could throw it in here.

A: I have got a train thing to say that does fit in naturally here.

B: Okay, do it!

A: When they were scouting for locations of where to shoot these train scenes, they actually came upon an old blown-up train and they found it half-buried in the sand and it was perfectly desert-preserved, the way old airplanes are preserved in the desert, not an inch of rust on it, just out there in the desert, blown up from the Lawrence raids.

J: Wow, how cool!

A: That is how you know you are a successful film scout crew, is when you actually find the location, not just an approximation.

B: When David Lean told them to comb the desert, they took their combs out and they actually found something!

J: And did they use it in the film?

A: Why not? Why wouldn't you? Just scoop out those rails!

B: Scoop them rails! He has to do the trains because he doesn't have any big guns, he doesn't have artillery, so it is guerrilla war stuff that he is able to accomplish given the way he has been armed.

J: Right, and the Ottomans are being attacked in a lot of different places. The attempted invasion at Gallipoli being just one, but their empire at this point, although it had already decayed quite a bit, still encompassed so much of what we think of as Arabia or Asia Minor or whatever. All of Syria, Lebanon…

B: You got Gallipoli and Aqaba over on this side, and then on the other side the Armenians are just betraying them left and right with the Russians.

Beautiful scenes

A: That Aqaba raid was so beautifully shot in a film that is full of beautiful shots. That slow, wide-angle pan, that territorial pan of all the horses flowing through the city like floodwater going through: Really, really amazing! And to finish the sequence on the gun aimed the wrong way was perfect.

J: That is an example of one of these continuous shots that I hear you guys talk about all the time, but truly one. It is almost an entire film canister. How are you going to reset that? ”Okay, all 900 horsemen…”

B: ”… come back to one!” It is amazing! You just never see this scale in filmmaking.

J: How could you? How could you do this now without CGI? You wouldn't able to afford it!

B: It would be insane to do this without CGI now, but it is insane to do it with CGI because this looks so incredible.

Watching this movie at Cinerama

B: I don't know how you guys watched this film, but the version I watched was a 4K restoration of the film. It was a print that was restored in the late 1980s and it has been scanned in 4K and it is just breathtakingly beautiful.

J: I watched it on my phone in the bathtub, as you do when you are watching one of the great films, because if you turn your phone sideways it is kind of a letterbox shape. For a long time I was watching it with the phone up and down, and then I was like: ”Wait, wait, wait! If I turn it sideways. I get twice the picture!” But in fact, I saw it about a month and a half ago also at Cinerama here in Seattle, which was a nice big picture.

A: Are you a mixed popcorn man?

J: I don't want that chocolate popcorn!

A: You want regular-ass popcorn?

J: I want popcorn!

A: They do a great popcorn there!

J: I like the popcorn! Chocolate popcorn? Give me one handful of chocolate popcorn and I am done.

A: I used to be Raisinets Man and now I am…

J: What? Are you 95 years old?

A: Well, now I am about to get even older to you! Now I am scalding hot coffee at a movie theater guy, and popcorn!

J: I have been doing that for long time! Coffee and a hot dog.

A: Let me tell you, coffee and popcorn really gets things moving because by the time you get home…

B: I would have a lot of chaos in the rear if I had a hot coffee at the beginning of a movie.

A: It is great! I love it now. And I am the old man that takes the lid off and puts the coffee in the cup-holder. Very dangerous man in a movie theater!

J: Wow, you are like a cross-country trucker! Raisinets, coffee and a hot dog! Settle in!

That is a hell of a combination!

A: I have never eaten a movie theater hot dog! That is definitely not me!

J: You pay the traffic tickets, I will get you in the saddle!

B: Cinerama down here has a great hot dog, actually.

J: It was surprising the print that I saw it Cinerama how damaged it was. We were not watching a 4K restoration there, we were watching a film go through the projector.

B: Yeah, it was probably a 70mm print, right?

J: Yeah, it was, but it had some visible damage

A: I have often found that to be the case, going to the big 70mm rerelease films that places like the Cinerama will often have. I am expecting perfection where what you are getting is the rugged ass film that has been just kept in cans for decades.

J: … been in cans. This was the one that showed here in 1962!

B: … that probably gets projected a few times a year and it has been getting projected a few times a year for 30 years. It is a physical object that is going to sustain wear and tear.


The sound design

J: The score introduces us to the scope of the desert, it just hits us, it is such an incredible moment of filmmaking. This is not a thing where I am being shown the desert. It is a thing where I am like being invited to apprehend the desert. You cannot but fail to be awed!

A: That moment where he tests the acoustics of the canyon is another moment. You get a sense of the size of the place also by how it looks, but in addition to how it sounds, and the score and the echoes are a big part of that.

The movie taking its time, not having any fat in its almost 4 hours

B: It is a movie that really takes its time and lets you marinate in those moments, too. You are learning the rules of the desert if you don't already know them, but also just settling into the mindset of the desert.

A: It seems impossible to be surprised in the desert by anyone, but there are compositions and scenes where the camera pans to the right and there is Anthony Quinn. Where the hell did he come from?

J: Yeah, where you are just like: ”What are you doing? What are you doing, Englishman?” and it is like: ”How did he get there?”

A: That scene where Lawrence is out there testing out his robes is another, like: ”Oh, how do you get snuck up upon in the desert?”

J: The thing is: Those aren't unbelievable because we are never given a sense in this movie that there is magic afoot. There is no magical realism here, but you absolutely, as you just said, Ben, are introduced to the rules of the desert and understand them to be very, very different from the rules other places. And part of that is this ability that people have to materialize because they know how it works. That whole scene where Lawrence is doing his extremely dramatic Englishman in the desert, trying to solve this problem, but his two little attendants creep up on him and then gradually they are sitting there and all three of them are sitting and Lawrence is not conscious of them because he is so deep in his mind. That whole sequence takes five minutes to unfold. For me at least, this movie, as you say, is almost four hours long and I do not see a single bit of fat in it. There is nothing I would cut. You learn how big the desert is because the movie often will show you three minutes of a man walking toward you and you are like: ”Still not here! There he is, still!” and yet: To take even 10 seconds out would be to have lost something. There aren't four hour movies anymore, thank God! Or the ones that do attempt to be four hours long are ones where they kitchen sink it. It is always a director that is like: ”My true vision is four hours long!” and it is just like: ”No, you could have cut…” Apocalypse Now Redux is a garbage fire. Apocalypse Now is a great movie, almost, but what would you cut out of this? You could! You could make this an hour and a half long if you just did the action!

B: it is like using the lenght for the thing… like the Gasim rescue when they realized that they gotten off of the sun's anvil and Gasim didn't make it and Lawrence goes back for him: You know that this guy has moments left in his life unless somebody comes and gets him, and you are tense through that whole scene and it is a super slow moving scene.

A: If we just cut to the: ”Hey guys, where is Gasim?” to Lawrence going and getting him, you never feel the danger of Gasim being stranded in the desert the way you must when that sequence lasts 15 minutes.

J: …and the camera keeps panning back to the baking sun and each shot the sun is larger on the screen until it is so bright that it turns blue.

Specialty lenses only being used for one scene

A: That was one of those shots that… Ben, did you read this: There are lenses in this movie that were only used for some scenes and then never used again. They are in film museums.

J: Because they were torched?

A: A 450mm lens was used for the Gasim and the desert scene, and that was it. It is the Lawrence of Arabia lens and now it is under glass somewhere.

J: What would you use it for if you could take it out?

A: I mean, 450 are the bazooka-length sports lenses that you see on the sidelines of games shooting still photography, to give you a sense of its size.

B: But they are exposing 65mm film on this, right? That is what is running through the camera, so the focal length is less significant than a 450mm lens on a 35mm shoot.

A: That's fair, but it is still a big-ass fucking thing.

B: Probably a $50.000 piece of equipment.

A: Yeah. Used it one time!

José Ferrer getting the highest salary on this movie

B: Speaking of money: I was reading that José Ferrer, the Turkish officer, was paid the most of anyone in this movie. He was paid $25.000 and a Porsche. He was the most well compensated actor in the film.

A: … and he got to grab Peter O'Toole's nipple? Awesome!

J: Do you know why?

B: He was in a position of power, he was a big name, and they really wanted him for the part. That was like his FU-number, like: ”I am not going to say no without a number!”

A: That is José Ferrer’s Gulfstream right there.

B: Peter O'Toole was quoted saying that he learned more about screen acting from Ferrer than he could have in any acting class.

A: Wow!

J: Interesting. Given that this movie also has Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, and Omar Sharif!

A: Yeah, is that shade on them?

J: It is pretty amazing!

A: ”You guys could learn a thing or two from José over there, guys!”

B: Did they shoot that stuff first, or something? I don't understand how Peter O'Toole, a guy who had been in one other movie before this and has a five minute scene with one guy is like: ”That is the guy that I learned the most from!”

The movie shining light on the political structure in Arabia at the time

J: It is hard to fathom this era of filmmaking. In 1962 there are a lot of epic movies getting made about classical themes. This is the era of the Gladiator movie and the Cleopatra movie and whatnot. To try and situate yourself in the making of this movie? I can't imagine the spectacle. It is not like they went back to their trailer and sat and looked at their phone in between shots. They are on location, but what? Are they living in tents?

A: I would love to see the Heart of Darkness about Lawrence of Arabia. I read that the king of Jordan was like: ”Come! Enjoy! Shoot your movie in Jordan! It will be great!” and he opened up a ton of doors for the production, made a ton of it happen, and when the movie came out he was like: ”No one is watching this movie in Jordan! This is super-fucked the way they make Arabs look!” and for a long time you couldn't watch Lawrence of Arabia there.

J: Yeah, I imagine! It is not just messed up how they made Arabs look, but a lot of the mythology that supports royal families requires that you believe that there is some continuum that supports their claim to rule somewhere. They are the 18th great-grandson of Muhammad or… To be shown this origin story of some of these nation states and some of these royal families could really be destabilizing, if this was widely shown.

B: It breaks the spell!

J: It does, right! ”Our king who rules over us with total authoritarianism was just the 14th son of some guy!”

A: Is this why we can't have lights in water? Because this is what our government looks like behind closed doors. That kind of dysfunction?

B: This movie is such an interesting place because when Lawrence is talking to the Arabs he is very condescending about their sectarian or intertribal conflicts, but the way that those conflicts are irrelevant to him is exactly the same way that the war between France and Germany is to the Arabs. It shines a light on the irrelevancy of both disagreements.

There is no gold in Aqaba!

J: This movie came out in 1962. The king of Saudi Arabia, King Saud, who was the son of Abdul Aziz, who was the founder of the House of Saud, his reign ended in October of 1962 and his son, the new Faisal, took over from him that same year, so this movie comes out right at the transition between the son of Ibn Saud and his grandson. Imagine that! The legitimacy of your royal family of the nation of Saudi Arabia is still in this really, maybe not fragile state, but certainly… there is living memory operating in those places that dates back to before there was any kind of unified Arab control, so this movie has to come out like a bomb. Israel is still in its first 20 years. This is a movie that must have been incredibly politically charged there, than it would have been in the West. In the West it reads as a re-evaluation of our own duplicity, or rather British duplicity.

B: The duplicity element of it is really fascinating because it really does show what a jam-up some of this stuff was for the Arabs.

A: A jam up that many of them helped with? That had to feel bad!

J: An awful lot of Arabs during World War I naturally sided with the Ottomans. The Ottomans had ruled there for centuries and there was a sense of them all as Muslim Brothers. If you were an Arab nationalist, a lot of that just meant that you wanted more Arab autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. There wasn't really a very clear picture that there was going to be total liberation. Some of that liberation ideology was invented by the British and French in order to inspire the tribes to fight the Ottomans. The idea of Arab nationalism was certainly real, but I don't think self-governance happened completely naturally. That absolutely was part of a British strategy, to go in and say: ”No, no, no! Everybody gets freedom!” That was the World War I story, right? That was the whole Wilson doctrine! All the peoples of the world will become self-governing after the war. This is the end. And then it turned out that he couldn't deliver on that promise and the British and the French divided up the world. I think he was an idealist, but the British and the French used that carrot as a way of getting people into the fight.

B: It almost seems analogous to arming people that you don't necessarily have an ideological agreement with, but just a common enemy.

J: Right, except you are arming them with the idea of their own nationhood.

B: Yeah!

A: I always thought the mind was the best weapon!

B: Wow!

Is the audience rooting for Lawrence?

A: There is just a little bit of that dosed into a couple of characters here, right? By pitting Omar Sharif’s ”doing it for the cause”-ness against Anthony Quinn's ”doing it for the money”-ness, is that a way that this film attempts to tell that part of the story?

J: Well, and also the numerous times that Lawrence is asked: ”Why are you doing this?”and Faisal rips him a new one a couple of times, where he is like: ”You are just another British guy who is in love with the desolation!” That is a pretty damning evaluation of Lawrence's motivations, and both the British and the Arabs recognize that Lawrence does not have clear or pure motives. He is just boys-out-ing.

A: In general, are you rooting for Lawrence in this movie? I think the film is constructed in a really interesting way because there are checkpoints to it and those checkpoints occur every time he goes back to base. Those moments are so different from each other and he comes out of them either more emboldened or beaten down and and ready to quit, or whatever, and I felt very different about Lawrence almost every time he goes home. I felt sorry for him when he is in Jerusalem and no one knows him or cares and he tries to be pals. All of those check-ins are so instructive about Lawrence's motivations afterwards and that is a constantly changing thing throughout the movie. By changing his motivations it makes it hard to either always root for him or always root against him in the way that you often feel about a main character or a hero character in a war film. That kept me off-balance in a fun way. It kept me interested in what his deal was because his methods and his circumstances were often surprising. I was very surprised when we come out of the intermission and he is standing on top of that train and that guy is shooting it at him and he is God-like, he is like Christ in that moment, he can't be killed, and Omar Sharif is like: ”What happened to you, man? You were just the guy who took Faraj into a base 40 minutes ago for lemonade. You are not that guy now. I am not sure how to feel about you?” and me watching the movie wasn't sure about how to feel about him in those moments either.

B: In the best tradition of character studies, the film is not putting its thumb on the scale one way or another in terms of the likability of the main character. It is more about an inquiry into this character and it is unfortunate that some of the historical stuff is so inaccurate because this is probably how most people know this guy and I was reading that his biographer was like: ”This is not the dude! This ain’t it!” It may be a good movie, but from a historical standpoint it is pretty wide of the mark and not a great way of thinking about what motivated Lawrence.

J: The scale is so epic. What we see in that moment of him standing on the train is something we see in a lot of war movies, which is that one charismatic leader suddenly becomes superhuman in the eyes of the soldiers. We are watching it in the theater and going: ”Wow, look at this golden boy!” and so many war movies have a character at their center that becomes this galvanizing, inspirational. ”I'll follow you anywhere”-kind of leader. Gradually we see Faisal start to employ Lawrence and Lawrence’s legend. Faisal is no dummy and he never was…

A: Lawrence is great for Faisal's business.

J: Right, Faisal was never under his spell, but the fact that so many Arabs are under his spell serves Faisal, and at that point there is a real switch in your understanding of: ”Am I rooting for Lawrence?” When you see Lawrences as a pawn and starts to be employed a lot more as a pawn by other players with bigger pictures and you realize like: ”Oh, he is just a charismatic raider!” He is a pirate, basically!

B: When he says: ”I am going to give these guys their freedom!”, it is naive at that point.

J: Yeah. You don't have that power, my friend!

A: I think it is little bit of both, Ben! I totally get with your character-study-ness that the film deploys at Lawrence, but he really does grow and change in interesting ways throughout. I kept on waiting for him to be the hero that I got promised or expected from an epic story about one person.

B: I think that that scene right at the beginning when they are all leaving the funeral and he is impossible to sum up in a couple of lines for all these people.

A: God, did you get total Alexander vibes from that moment in the way that at the end of Alexander the historians are like: ”You know, I guess we will never really know the true story because no one really knew him!” That is that moment at the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia. That is what the funeral scene does! No one really knows him, but maybe the film you are about to watch could be an idea, or something?

B: I watched the beginning again at the end because I felt like…

J: You wanted to know who those guys were?

B: Yeah, their suits are not the same as their uniforms and their facial hair has changed a little bit. You get the one general from the beginning in Cairo, but he is not the main general that we interact with for the majority of the movie. I needed to remind myself who it was that was speaking and in what way.

A: That was an aspect of this film that felt very dated because if this film were made now there is no way that we wouldn't have gotten a bookend to that, where we are back at the funeral or we are over his motorcycle crash, pulling up into the sky, or whatever.

B: Is that because he is still a very famous person at the time that this film was released?

J: Yes, but I thought it was really telling, the cultural difference between then and now, because every one of those commanders, or former political people, that were British, all disavowed knowing him or knowing him closely. They are standing on the steps, like: ”Well, I didn't really know the man!” and then the American Lowell Thomas is like: ”I knew him well! He was amazing! A very close friend!”

A: …, which is the most American thing for an American to do!

J: … and now everybody has been so touched by Americanism now that I think even in England the inclination would be like: ”Oh yes, quite close…” and that reticence or that careful: ”I would never claim to be a close friend of someone that I didn't consider a friend!”…

B: Well, they have different libel laws over there!

J: That is true!

Moment of pedantry about Lawrence’s memorial scene

B: An Internet pedant noticed something that was wrong with this scene. Would you guys like to hear a goof from the IMDB goof section?

J: Yes!

B: Following Lawrence's memorial service, the view of the front of St. Paul's Cathedral shows that the left hand clockface, the north, is missing. This was actually destroyed during the Second World War, which did not begin until four years after T.E. Lawrence died!

J: Busted! Should have gotten up on St. Paul's and put that clock back.

A: There is a little bit of left clock in all of us, I think!

J: My hope in watching movies like this, over the course of the time that we have been making this show and on behalf of the audience, is that: When you say like: ”Am I rooting for Lawrence?” The events of this movie are situated right at the crossroads of one of the most fundamentally key and broken foreign policy. This is the heart of a question that plagues us today, this is the heart of a region that was not exactly shaped informed by the events depicted, but certainly powerfully shaped and we are living in the world of consequences.

B: Much like that desert canyon, the echoes of Lawrence are still with us!

J: Wow, he was just sitting on that egg this whole time, this giant ostrich egg!

The politics of the Arab region at the time (continued)

J: You would come into this movie naturally thinking the European powers and their colonial instincts are the bad guys, ultimately, and that Arab nationalism are the good guys until it gets turned by colonialism into something bad. You want to go in with a clear picture, and certainly depending on where you are on the Israel/Palestine question, you walk into a movie like this so laden with your own presuppositions about what sides there are, even. The primary value of a movie like this is to come out of it more confused, not less, because if you walk into this movie thinking that you know, based on the world we are living in now…

A: I am going to call that the Stallone defense and I am going to put that in my back pocket for future episodes of Friendly Fire!

J: There is a lot that is inaccurate, but there is also a lot that is pretty accurately depicted, or at least there are worlds explored here that don't get explored in conversations about the Middle East. To dismiss it as inaccurate or to come into this movie, watch it, and come out the other side with the exact same opinions you had about this region and what needed to happen, you couldn't be paying attention because at this moment in time, during this war with the lines drawn where they were and the lack of lines other places, what is the best possible outcome What could have happened in this moment that you would prefer?

B: Right! Leaving it to the Ottoman Empire isn't great for these people and the Sykes-Picot Agreement is not a great outcome. In the scene where they are trying to set up a deliberative body at the end: About how much growing up and having a civics class in high school prepares you to think about something like that? If your experience of life up until the time you are in a room in a deliberative body is blowing up trains and stealing things off of it, because that is the only way you are going to be paid for your participation in a war, how ill-prepared you would be for that…

J: If you are coming from a standpoint where you are a leader of a tribe and that is a thing you inherited from your father and his father before you, and you have clearly delineated territory and clearly understood enemies and competitors within your own region…

B: … and a well-defined right to just shoot somebody if they are taking some water out of a well that you have a claim to…

J: This is a time when you could be a powerful leader and not read or write or have had any education outside of a guy sitting in your tent and reading the Koran to you.

A: I love that scene with Ali where Anthony Quinn's characters is like: ”What is this children's book doing here, Ali? What the hell?” and Ali is like: ”I am just trying to read, man! You don't have to shame me!”

J: Yeah, ”I am learning to read!” That whole scene where they invade the Turks and Anthony Quinn finds that chest that is full of what appeared to be either stock certificates or gold certificates, it is clearly full of money, and he is just throwing it in… ”There is no gold here!” and all of a sudden all these guys are on the world stage and come out the other side of the Treaty of Versailles or whatever and all of a sudden they are nations here and you are the king of Jordan, you are the king of Iraq. That is heavy and it is very hard to look back and armchair quarterback it unless you have been taught a strictly anti-colonialist viewpoint and you never waver from it, so the bad guys are always clear to you, it is always England, and the good guys are anyone who is allied against England, but even in that case: Who is that in this movie?

B: I watched this movie on my Apple TV and there are a series of screen savers that come up and I was just sitting in my living room thinking about the movie after it was over and the screensaver that comes up is aerial video of Dubai glittering at night, and I was like: ”What the fuck? Why this of all the things!” It could have been porpoises frolicking in the water and its glittering footage of Dubai. It is such a head-fuck to think that that version of Dubai was built within 100 years of the stuff that happens in this movie.

J: In this movie we are 25 years before we introduce the idea that there is also going to be a Jewish homeland in this same place, and the British are playing a central role in that, too. Looking at this, the notion that this was a stable region full of long-settled and peaceful people, and then you are introducing the Jews, there is just a lot to unpack and there is a lot that you cannot fully unpack. At least I can't.

B: In a way the introduction of the Jews really aligned a lot of the people in this region!

J: It was a galvanizer, wasn't it? And if you have a lot of thoughts on these matters, please write us…

B: It wouldn't be an episode of Friendly Fire without giving out the the Friendly Fire email address. Somebody tried to go around this email address by sending something to Robs. Don't do that! Robs doesn't police what we say!

J: Send it to xes.nietsneknufmumixam|flesruoykcufog#xes.nietsneknufmumixam|flesruoykcufog

A: I could see that would be confusing to some people because Rob’s email addresses is ten.etluhcsbor|flesruoykcufog#ten.etluhcsbor|flesruoykcufog, and that auto-corrects in the email.

So tell us, what does download mean?

How the Arabs are depicted

B: There is some stuff in this movie that is very condescending toward the Arabs in the film: The deliberative body scene feels very much like a scold on their inability to build some consensus in that room, but you also get scenes where the Anthony Quinn character is talked out of killing all the guys that just walked across the desert for taking some water and he really sees some reason in a moment where when you pulled your gun out and announced you are going to kill everybody it can be hard to back down from a position like that. I feel like that is something that the movie did really nicely. Obviously it is a Western Hektor in Brownface that is being depicted doing it, but these people aren't caricatures, is what I am trying to say.

J: That is hard to do, but I am convinced that you come out of this movie feeling like every single person was either corrupt or naive, and often corrupt and naive. I don't think there is anyone that will come out the other side feeling like: ”Oh, well, they were great!", …

B: That was a plain dealing good dude!

J: …, and I feel like Anthony Quinn for instance is a character that is always consistent. He never betrays himself, he never falters, but he is also not ready to be negotiating with London and New York, he just doesn't understand the terms, he doesn't understand the the game. He is always going to be operating at a tribal leader level.

A: One of my favorite low key shots in this movie is after that scene where they have stayed up all night, trying to figure out how to run a city, Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif's character go down into the plaza and Anthony Quinn just disappears into the black. He is just gone. I love that moment!

J: The only reason the British have this authority is that these are the waning years of the whole British Empire machine. There is no British guy in this movie that is smart, except for the real politician who runs the Arab League.

A: I don't want to give away who I might think your guy is, but: ”God!”, Mr. Dryden is just the guy you want to be in this movie, the guy behind the guy behind the guy who has got his own chair in every meeting, he gets a drink in every meeting, he is just there to quip.

J: Dryden is so slick, you never pin him down on anything, he always deflects, he always goes like: ”Well, it is up to you, old boy!”

B: He is wearing a three piece suit in Cairo and yet he always seems quite cool.

J: His hair is perfect throughout. Oh, he is so wonderful. But also, he is the one that has the big picture plan. He has the bigger map.

A: He is the puppet master!

B: He feels like CIA.

J: He talks to Q!

B: Yeah, and if you are curious about Q, just research it on Reddit, they will tell you what Q is! Maybe the one character that isn't corrupt or naive is Jackson Bentley, the reporter, and he will tell you if you ask him what he is there for, to make the case to the American public to get into the war by finding cool heroes to depict, having fun adventures.

A: That moment where he is like: ”God, I have never seen anyone killed with a sword before! I really missed that shot!” In a lot of actors hands that is a hateable moment, it would make you hate that character for expressing that feeling, but it is so true to his character in that moment. I really loved him in that scene, that is exactly what he is there to do. He is true to himself and to everyone else.

J: And I guess that is the other crazy thing about this, although I am the truly middle aged person on this show:

A: I wouldn't say that! Ben and I could die very young!

J: That is right, you could be in middle age. Ben could get colitis or something.

B: I almost died on an airplane recently and I am constantly on death's door one way or another.

A: You will outlive us all, John, that is what we are trying to say!

J: By that standard, maybe I am the youngest of the group, but we are living in the time of this movie in a way, even though it feels like it happened a million years ago and we are watching it and it just seems like something from a sepia-toned past.

Did Ali break confidence to tell me?

The fall of the Ottoman empire

B: Faisal was the king of Syria and Iraq. Were those considered one country back then?

J: In the immediate aftermath of World War I the Ottoman Empire dissolved and you had all these places that had been governed by an Ottoman framework and now it was gone, so the British actually had to figure out who was going to run the different parts of Arabia as client states of the colonial government. A lot of these guys are Hashemites, which are… we meet a lot of different tribes in this movie and we see that they have pre-existing relationships with each other, a lot of them antagonistic, and so the British were installing kings or rather guys with a natural claim to it would step forward and say: ”I am the ruler of this!" and if the British felt like they could work with them or if it served their interests, they would say: ”All right, you are king of the Syrians and you are king of Iraq!” and so forth. It was all very much being decided super-ad-hoc and there were a lot of people that could lay claim. Ibn Saud had 40 children.

A: Wow, one of the great stickman, then!

J: I am not sure what the number is, but an astonishing number of children, and within the Arab world they are all recognized as princes and princesses, it is not like it is only the top two. Everybody is in play somehow. You get one more generation out of that and you are talking about hundreds and hundreds of people.

A: How many wives do you think for 40? To make 40?

J: Boy, beats me!

A: We are talking at least 10!

J: It is confusing for me to explain because I don't understand it fully, and a lot of them have similar names.

B: I am looking at the Wikipedia article here and it says that the British were taking a step back from direct administration in Iraq and just put it to the people, like: ”Hey, what if this Prince Faisal guy would be your king?” and they ran a plebiscite with 96% in favor.

J: Right, but super-rigged, right?

B: Yeah, right. 96% is a very hard number to swallow credulously.

J: But but all of that Shia and Sunni stuff that now we are all pretty well acquainted with is in play here too and the Shia are already disenfranchised by some of these moves. There are so many levels to that tribal internecine conflict with one another that would be absolutely impenetrable to Western eyes. If there is a power vacuum, somebody steps into it, and if they plant a flag and say: ”Actually, my people have always ruled this and I have always been king!”, if you are dealing also with a preliterate society, then most people aren't going to say like: ”Well, in this book it says something different!” and you can establish control and then make that control seem to us even like it has been there forever.

B: Yeah, like it is a historical inevitability, like it is written.

A: Oooooo!

J: Kapaw!

A: Good job!


Giving the oil rights to an American company

B: I think we have done this high wire act long enough, the discussion of the history of the Middle East they said it shouldn't be done, and yet!

A: Hey, guys, I stepped out to get coffee and just came back. What are you guys talking about?

B: I think we need a rating system. It is a sunk cost issue at this point!

J: I hope the rating system is one out of five Israel's rights to exist.

A: Yeah, the rating system and the ratings for Friendly Fire films are always the least controversial part of any episode. It is not going to be any different for Lawrence of Arabia. I looked forward to giving my rating to a film like this.

B: Speaking of Israel's right to exist: Feisal is the one that signed the agreement with the British…

J: … for Israel's right to exist? Yeah!

B: Obi Wan Kenobi, after this movie turned around and signed into law Israel's right to exist.

J: That whole thing was very curious because in the very end of World War II the negotiations with the British and the Americans started to happen. FDR actually went to Arabia and met with Faisal, but Churchill met with him and spent the entire meeting trying to negotiate Palestine.

A: Would you say that this is a circumstance where Faisal went West?

J: Good God! I can't believe what this show purports to be! Anyway, Churchill and he sat there and negotiated and spent the whole time arguing about Palestine, or trying to work out Palestine. FDR spent the whole time katzoling (?) up to him about oil and saying like: ”Hello! What we will do is we will help you get the oil out of the desert. What do you say?” and Churchill and the British felt incredibly betrayed, and I don't think this actually was Faisal, it is such a jumble in my mind, but the Saudis ended up granting Standard Oil of Ohio the rights to exploit the oil in the desert, cutting the British out, and the British their attitude was like: ”We have done so much for you! What are you talking about? We were the ones the whole time!”

A: It is always about the oil, isn't it?

J: And then it was about the oil! Give us the oil!

A: That is great!

J: Just walk away.

A: Classic America.

J: God bless America!

Rating the film

A: We don't get real bookends to this film, but there is an object that could represent such a thing. It is that motorcycle. In the beginning it is the conveyance that T.E. Lawrence dies upon. He is actually thrown from it, right? You run into this problem all the time in Seattle: It is the bikers! Share the road! (J: you gotta share the road, Adam!) Gotta share the road and T.E. Lawrence is going so fast on his motorcycle that he does swerve out of the way in time, he ends up going ass over teakettle into that tree that ends up killing him, but at the end of the film sometimes you will get into a Lyft and the driver just wants to talk. It is unfortunate sometimes when this happens and Lawrence is in the Jeep on the way home and he is fantasizing about being alone. You can tell because when this motorcycle cruises by at top speed, he is like: ”God, I really wish I was on a motorcycle around now. so this Jeep driver would chirp in my fucking ear for the rest of this eight hour trip through the desert!” I think for me it is going to be a scale of 1-5 motorcycles for that reason. A motorcycle can also be a ton of fun to ride, it can also be a death trap, there are a lot of ambiguities about a motorcycle as a vehicle that I think represent what the Lawrence of Arabia film could be, but: I was nervous to watch this film in a way that I am nervous to watch a lot of the great films of cinema history because you are like: ”God! Is what was great great still?” How could I possibly be the person of today watching Hollywood greatness and be like: ”Yeah, it is just too long!”, or: ”I didn't really get it, it didn't teach me about the war like I would prefer!” You can't be there with Lawrence of Arabia, can you?

J: There was no sex in this movie.

B: There was one little shot of the women that live among the desert guys.

A: A failure of the Bechdel Test, right there!

J: Oh, no, they were ululating! That whole scene was pretty intense!

A: There were many of them massacred, right? You see a lot of massacred women?

B: Yeah.

J: Yes!

B: Yes, you do!

A: Gruesome. How can you not give Lawrence of Arabia anything less than a perfect score? I don't think I have the strength to do it, even though I feel like this film takes liberties with the telling of Lawrence's story in a way that I should feel emboldened to give any kind of rating I want to this.

J: Yeah, you could just you can say what you want, Adam, on the show. It is a safe space!

A: Well, I found a lot of the politics a little confusing. The conversation with you guys illuminated quite a bit of that, but I think your normal viewer isn't going to have access to the great minds of John Roderick and Benjamin Ahr Harrison to get them through. It is why I feel this show is a great accompaniment to a movie like this. Maybe before the conversation I would have given Lawrence of Arabia 4 motorcycles, but you filled in a lot of the blanks, you two, you affected my score!

B: You filled blanks in for me, Adam! John, you didn't!

J: Yeah, I know. I know when I talk both your ears close, you start playing Mario Kart.

A: What makes this film so unique for me and the way I am choosing to review it is that I think its greatness comes less from its story and its characters, but more about the miracle of its construction and how it looks and feels. It is so big and beautiful, it sounds so great, it sustains the action for so long, and by action I don't even mean swords cutting people in two, but there is something action-packed about a man's wandering through the desert, there is something very tension-filled about whether or not an entire army will live or die as they go day and night through Satan's Anvil, or whatever. It was incredible! The way that this film was made is what makes it deserving of five motorcycles. The attention to detail! I love how Peter O'Toole walked in every scene after being beaten, the little streaks of blood in the back of his uniform in every scene afterward. We are showing and we are not telling, and we are showing for four hours. I thought it was just great! It might be a five motorcycle film to me in these way and it may be five or four for someone else for completely different ways.

J: Turkfan69 is going to give this a one motorcycle rating!

A: Turkfan69 doesn't even know what this film is. It doesn't exist to him, but it exists big time to me and it is something that I hope to rewatch over the years the way you have, John, I never want to miss another screening of it at the Cinerama. I think that is the way to go if you can. I really enjoyed watching this film. There is a ton to like. Those areas were the ones that I liked especially, and that is why I am giving it five motorcycles.

B: John, when you saw it at Cinerama, how did they handle the intermission? Do you get ten minutes to get up and go pee and buy more popcorn.

J: Oh yeah. The lights come up, that interstitial music plays, the theme plays, and everybody goes down and gets a hot dog and another cup of coffee. Any time you get a chance to see a classic movie, one that was filmed in CinemaScope on a 70mm screen like that, am I getting those terms right? (A: Sure) It is really a date night!

A: Ben, how would you review the film based on our five motorcycles rating system?

B: I would review it with five motorcycles. There is part of me that doesn't want to think that the great movies are great, I want to be contrarian somehow and find something wrong with them, and I have done that a couple of times when I found something major wrong with them. This is a product of its time in a lot of ways, but it is almost a perfect product of its time in that way.

A: You want to put Ben into a corner on his rating you make the rating system five prosthetic noses, see where it takes that one!

J: Five brown faces! What are you going to do now?

A: Yeah! What's your score, Ben?

B: I loved it! I loved almost everything about it and I agree that this is going to be something that I return to a lot in the future. I really want to see it projected in 70mm because: Holy fuck, what a great-looking movie!

J: Yeah, even a rough print is still just astonishing. Those scenes in the desert where the desert really fills the screen and it is clear that it was meant… those shots… I mean that is why it is in 70mm because the desire to show that scope in those environments and those battles. We didn't talk a lot in this episode about the battles, the actual fighting, and partly it is that it is strange fighting: All these these train raids, in a way it is like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a lot of it. Some of these battle scenes with hundreds of extras, and they are not just hundreds of extras like in some Mel Gibson movie where they are all…

B: Yeah, you can see their tennis shoes under their battle outfit.

J: They went down to the unemployment office and were like: ”We will give you all £5 if you run around in the mud!”

A: I mean, that cuts both ways. I was reading the Moroccan army was used in some of these battle scenes and sometimes you don't make your day when you are shooting with the real Moroccan army and they just don't want to act anymore. They don't want to go back to one sometimes, and there were moments when David Leon just got what he got.

J: Got what he got! Just the question of where you find 900 horses, 900 horses that can all be ridden and 900 men who can ride 900 horses in order to film some of these spectacles.

A: and camels!

J: And then in the middle of 900 horses 50 camels, also running at full gallop!

A: Ben, I have got a question for you about the camel: I feel like this film teaches you how to ride a camel by crossing your legs. Were you taught to cross your legs?

B: The way they ride a camel is quite different from the way I rode. I can't imagine you would be able to ride for days and days the way I was. I think it was probably safer for a neophyte camel rider when you ride it like a horse, because you have…

A: Did we all read that Peter O'Toole story about him going into town and getting a piece of foam to put under his butt? Did you read that? He invented a camel riding technology wherein his butt was just wrecked from a day of camel riding and he is like: ”F this! I am going to go put down some padding!” and he did, and everyone was inspired by it. For the rest of the production, everyone was going into town, buying scraps of foam, putting it under their butts, and were far more comfortable. They called them the king of the sponge.

J: Yeah, king of the sponge!

B: I think the camel performances in this movie are lowkey one of the great parts of it. They mug for the camera, they make little belchers and show their teeth at the funniest times. I have no idea, they can't be directing the camels to do that, but they punctuate the scenes so beautifully!

A: There are scenes with 50 camels in it and it sounds like the ”Gentlemen, start your engines!” part of the Daytona 500. The sound of 50 camels making that sound was scary in parts.

J: The best one of them was when they were headed out across the desert and Omar Sharif said: ”In 20 days the camels are going to start dying!” and his camel goes: ”Meeeeh!” It was such a dramatic moment!

A: Right on cue! The camel doesn't know he is in a movie!

J: Yeah, but the camel knew what that guy was saying. I think you know that I think this is a five motorcycle movie, and just undeniable. We have only seen a couple of four hour movies. This has an intermission that takes you a little bit out, but then the second act is very different than the first. It is just so gorgeous and it is so much food for thought. If you walk into this movie with a 2020 idea of the world and you can absolutely bring that idea of the world to bear within your experience of watching the movie, you can also let your guard down and come out of the movie with more questions than answers, and you can go in with your 2020 viewpoint and come out with it intact and still have more questions than answers. So in terms of watching this movie as a way to read the newspaper better, watching this movie as a way to know what side you are on or not know what side you are on better, because we are living in a time when you pick a side and then you just fight bitterly for your side, whatever it is? To sit on Twitter and to have an opinion about the Middle East, to be Jared Kushner and feel like you can walk in and solve these problems with some contracts, and particularly to armchair quarterback the Middle East with a sociology degree from Antioch? It really behooves us to watch Lawrence of Arabia and know that it was made in 1962 by an American/British filmmaking crew, and know that it is lionizing a British officer during a period of a very complex collision of a colonial liasing Ottoman Empire, a colonial British and French… those nations also in competition with each other for rule in this world, and all of the Arab inhabitants and all of their complexities, knowing it all, you still can't watch a movie like this and and feel very confident that you know really anything, how it would be different, what we should do now. So in that sense alone, leave aside the Cinerama filmmaking experience and frankly, the incredible performance by Peter O'Toole, a young actor like you say, he had only been in one movie, and he is just astonishing! We spent four hours just with him never off-screen and we never see a crack in it. So yeah: Five motorcycles with a bullet!

A: Five motorcycles and the tree Lawrence dies on!

J: Great war movie!

Who is your guy?

A: But do we have great guys? I guess we are about to find out! Ben, who is your guy?

B: My guy is one that I only discovered when I went back to rewatch the scene on the steps of the cathedral. It is Hugh Miller, he is a Royal Army Medical Corps colonel, he punches Lawrence when he is there at the hospital in his Arab garb. The colonel comes in and sees that the situation in the hospital in Damascus for Turkish soldiers is deplorable and he punches Lawrence, but then the next day he meets Lawrence and knows him to be Lawrence and shakes his hand and doesn't realize that he has just recently punched him. In that opening scene he says like: ”I once had the honor of shaking his hand!” while he is criticizing the American reporter for having a frank take on Lawrence as being a complicated person. I think this movie maybe at its best makes you realize that you are a bit of that guy: A lot of the world happens in a way that is impossible for you to understand because you just don't have enough context, and he didn't have enough context, but took the gravest possible exception to what the reporter said. So he is my guy!

A: Good guy! Interesting reason!

J: Mm hmm. Smart!

A: My guy is Gasim! When Lawrence goes into the desert to save him, that is the moment that Lawrence becomes a God, I think. He becomes truly a God later when he is standing on that train, but that is the suggestion that he is special and he needs that moment for the Omar Sharif character to fully come around on whether or not this guy is a threat or someone that he can partner with in any way. That meant a lot, that was a huge turning point. Gasim himself, though, is interesting in a couple of ways. He is so normal. He is a proxy for everyone on every side because he represents the random guy thrown into an army to fight a war that he doesn't really understand, he gets tired like a normal person does and falls off his horse in the desert, he gets saved, as I said, by Lawrence, and then later on when the Hauitat’s (?) and Ali's tribe are comingled in an effort to fight again, he is the guy that can't help himself. He can't get with this peace that has been brokered in order to fight another enemy. He has to be himself and he has to kill someone from that other tribe. And the look of disappointment in his own face… He is more disappointed than Lawrences in that moment. When Lawrence is able to identify him and he is like: ”Oh God, not Gasim! Really?” You feel pain in a couple of ways. You feel the pain of a guy who went through the effort to save a guy's life, only to be let down, but also Gasim knows he fucked up, and he is so sad about letting Lawrence down there, but Gasim can only be Gasim. It was in his nature to fall asleep, it was in his nature to kill that other guy ahead of a crucial mission, and when Lawrence executes him, it hurts, it sucks, but it is also another turning point for Lawrence. That is the moment where Lawrence realizes that he enjoys killing and it changes his character forever. So Gasim gives the Lawrence character two gives in a really interesting way, and you could easily dismiss Gasim as just one of the many randoms in this movie, but he is not, he is really important, so he is my guy!

J: So in that officer's club in Cairo there are an awful lot of guys that could be my guy because they are standing around playing billiards and drinking hard lemonade. ”Well, old boy! I am in Cairo, drinking lemonade!”

A: Bottomless lemonade! All you can drink!

J: ”It is quite good, actually! I was making maps!” A lot of those guys with the handlebar mustaches in those beautiful cotton khaki uniforms that they always had high and tight could be my guy, but it has to be Dryden because he is the perfect emblem of the power behind the power behind the power, soft power in all those rooms. He never asserts anything, he always says: ”Yes well, I suppose!”, which is the ultimate British way of saying: ”Unload all remaining ordnance on my coordinates!”

A: Is that British for ”Bless Your Heart?”

J: It is a little! The way he motions to Lawrence a few times, where he is like: ”Down, boy!” Any time a general turns around and shows his back, Dryden is working some angle behind him. He had common cause with Lawrence from the beginning, like: ”We know the military guys are dumb. You just cool your jets and let me work here!” He does that several times in the movie, and he does it even without moving. He does it sometimes where he is just like… anyway… and he is perfectly quaffed, perfectly attired, perfectly composed in all things. You get the feeling that any room he was in could be on fire, men could rush in at any time and shoot everyone else in the room and they wouldn't shoot Dryden because he just looks like he belongs there.

A: He seems like he would be unflapped during, too!

J: He seems like he is everybody's friend, he would offer them a cigarette, or… He is really the only person of his kind in the movie and he stands in for Belfour, he stands in for the Treaty of Versailles, he stands in for Sykes-Picot, he stands in for everything. In a way, he is the thing more than anything else that shapes the 20th century. He is the agent. I would like to watch a movie about him, although it would be this movie just shot from a different angle.

Choosing the next movie

B: Wow! What a fun episode! Do you guys want to get the die out and see what the next one is going to be?

J: Get that die… Here we go. What is it going to be? Ready? Here we go! (sound of John rolling the die in his coffee mug)

A: Ahhh, now it is covered in coffee!

J: Oh, 95. That is a tough number to represent on a die. 95!

B: 95 is a 1970 film set during the Napoleonic Wars, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, it is called The Adventures of Gerard.

J: The Adventures of Gerard! This story has a lot of antecedents in the world of literature. I have never seen this movie, though.

B: A French brigadier serving during the Napoleonic Wars. Looks like an English cast, so that should be fun!

A: Is it the Lawrence of Arabia of the Napoleonic war films?

B: Uh, I am guessing not. It is quite short compared to Lawrence of Arabia, clocking in at an hour and two minutes.

A: It is going to feel brisk!


B: Looking forward to it! That will be next week on Friendly Fire and we are going to leave it with Rob Robs Robs Robs from here. For John Roderick and Adam Pranica I have been Ben Harrison. To the victor go the spoiler alerts!

R: Friendly Fire is a Maximum Fun podcast, hosted by Ben Harrison, Adam Pranica, and John Roderick. The show is produced and edited by me, Rob Schulte. Our theme music is War by Edwin Starr and it is courtesy of Stone Agate Music, and our logo Art is by Nick Ditmore. Friendly Fire is a podcast that is made possible by the support of our listeners like you! To make sure that Friendly Fire continues, visit maximumfun.org/join and pledge your support. By doing so, you will gain access to our monthly porkchop episodes as well as all the other MaxFun bonus content. If you want to chat about our podcast on various forms of social media, just search for our discussion groups or use the hashtag #friendlyfire. You can find Ben on Twitter @benjaminahr, Adam is found @cutfortime, John is @johnroderick, and you can find me @robkschulte. Thanks!

Maximumfun.org. Comedy and culture. Artist-owned, audience supported.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License