March 22, 2013
A few days ago, the local cineplex featured Lawrence of Arabia as a part of their return to classics series. With its epic landscapes, and beautiful, panoramic style shots, we couldn't resist. We actually made the decision to forgo the almost four hours of post-work relaxation and fully immerse ourselves in this historic, cinematic experience. After all, Lawrence of Arabia is the type of film that demands your attention.
Not only were we completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the vast, sweeping images, we were also surprisingly enchanted by the accompanying symphony, keeping us a pace as we traversed the desolate landscapes. We hate to say it, and not to sound pretentious, but Lawrence of Arabia is one of those films for which theaters were invented. It needs to be seen the way David Lean envisioned it to be seen. What a mesmerizingly rich and cathartic experience, ripe with so many insights.
Yet, as we walked away from the film, we found ourselves wanting to articulate, "There's no way that Lawrence of Arabia would resonate with contemporary viewers." We went so far as to say that if the exact same film was shot today, it wouldn't even make it to the big screen. It's not because of the period in which it was shot, but rather the style and mode of presentation that it bestows.
The long, silent, fixed shots are so resistant to our contemporary modes of viewership. Our obsessions with instantaneity are entirely displaced, leaving the viewer almost isolated. In many respects, then, our attention to duration has shifted to a different type of viewer. Of course, we realize that we're not writing anything new, but we were completely interrupted and taken a back by the experience. Overall, it seems that we, as viewers, have become much less patient, dare we say less interested or involved, and more distracted.
For example, as the film opens, there is a rather lengthy sequence in which the screen is completely dark for an extended period of time. The experience leaves viewers looking at each other, not in anticipation of what is to come, but almost worried that something is wrong. Is the reel broken? Yet, thankfully, the music carries us along, leaving us only to question the image.
Oh, how much the viewer has changed. Or, said otherwise, how much the expectation of the film has been altered. The long, silent shots are unsettling, alarming and arresting in their scope and solitude. Not to prance, or to reiterate, but watching a film in the theater is still a much different experience than watching a film at home. For one, the environment of the theater demands your attention, in a way that the theater of your house does not. There's a different set of expectations, and circumstances.
In a way, Lawrence of Arabia is predicated on the notion that you will actually pay attention, that you won't be interrupted, or want to be interrupted, by your cellphone or the doorbell. Still, it seemed that everyone in the audience that night was looking for an interruption.
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