Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trad Movie (Greatest Movie Opening Sequences, Chapter I)

There are a lot of Trad devotees who visit this blog so I thought I’d inaugurate my list of Greatest Movie Opening Sequences with a very traditional movie, one with an overture meant to be played over a closed theater screen curtain, featuring one of the most revered motorcycles ever (the Brough Superior), and introducing to us the great historical figure and example of British eccentricity and perseverance, T.E. Lawrence, portrayed by Peter O'Toole (also introduced here for the first time). There’s even a cameo from Field Marshall Lord Allenby.

In what was probably one of the greatest Dates With Someone Other Than My Wife, I saw Lawrence of Arabia, restored by Steven Spielberg, at the Uptown Theater on Connecticut Ave., in D.C. in 1988. The Uptown remains one of the last urban stand-alone cinemas, resisting the tide of multiplexes that now dot the landscape, and boasts a crimson lobby and a large screen that defies real estate values. The film was an “event” movie, and we went dressed up and had burgers beforehand at a kitschy art deco diner nearby. Besides the overture, the film had an intermission, during which time we retreated to the lobby where we enjoyed cheesecake and coffee, standing at bar-height café tables. The lobby lights flickered and we went back in for the second half of the movie.

So behold the opening sequence to David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. The first five minutes are devoted to music only. Your patience is rewarded, though, by perhaps the finest argument in favor of filming in widescreen (it's filmed in Super Panavision). The sequence concludes with Lawrence's gripping final ride through the Dorset countryside before he meets his demise. The coda comes before the main story with a quick illustration of the various misapprehensions of the man. Then, cut to the desert.

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