One of the ways movie companies fought to retain the popularity of movies shown in theaters once TV caught on big-time in the 1950s was to make the big screen even bigger.
The most notable of these techniques early on was CinemaScope, developed by 20th Century Fox. A number of the methods for creating wider screens involved tricks with lenses while still using regular-size 35mm film stock.
Improvements were made and finally 70mm was born. This involved the use of actual film stock that had much better resolution — it’s usually 65mm plus another 5 mm for the soundtrack.
Movies shot on 65mm or 70mm, such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “West Side Story” and “Ben Hur,” to name just a few, are generally regarded as movies really meant to be seen on wide screens in theaters.
None more so than the movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1962, “Lawrence of Arabia,” directed by David Lean and photographed by F. A. “Freddie” Young.
Roger Ebert, probably the best-known movie critic in the U.S., has written: “I’ve noticed that when people remember ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ they don’t talk about the details of the plot. They get a certain look in their eye, as if they are remembering the whole experience, and have never quite been able to put it into words. … It is spectacle and experience, and its ideas are about things you can see or feel, not things you can say. Much of its appeal is based on the fact that it does not contain a complex story with a lot of dialogue; we remember the quiet, empty passages, the sun rising across the desert, the intricate lines traced by the wind in the sand.”
In other words, it’s the images in “Lawrence” that make it so memorable.
I’ve seen hundreds of movies in my life. I daresay that Ebert has seen even more than I have. I cannot agree with Ebert more than when he says, “To get the feeling of Lean’s masterpiece ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ you need to somehow, somewhere, see it in 70mm on a big screen. This experience is on the short list of things that must be done during the lifetime of every lover of film.”
The last time “Lawrence of Arabia” was shown widely in theaters was 23 years ago, soon after the movie was restored by Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten, after years of neglect.
But now, this Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, for two screenings only that day, “Lawrence of Arabia” will be back in wide release. To repeat: The movie will only be in wide release for this one day. The reason for its rerelease this time is to build awareness of the movie’s Blu-ray debut on Nov. 13. So who knows when or if “Lawrence of Arabia” will go into wide release in theaters ever again.
To see where “Lawrence of Arabia” is playing Thursday, click here. And whether you live in New York or L.A., in Tupelo, Mississippi or Kalamazoo, Michigan, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, or Happy Valley, Oregon, I implore you: Please, go see this movie on Thursday.
Don’t be put off by the film’s length. “Lawrence” checks in at just over three and a half hours, not including the 15 minutes they give you for intermission. To read some fun facts about the movie from a recent column I wrote, please click here.
Seeing “Lawrence of Arabia” on the big screen is a singular visceral movie-going experience.
In July, for the first time since 1989, I again saw “Lawrence” on the big screen here in L.A., when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences had a special screening of the movie. I was once again transported to a desert world unlike any other, where mirages and reality joined as one.
And I can’t wait until Thursday to see it again on the big screen.