November 24, 2012
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Ailing Sharif talks about 'Arabia' DVD
By Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency


Peter O'Toole, left, and Omar Sharif, right, in "Lawrence of Arabia."

Omar Sharif, a dashing romantic figure who co-starred in two film classics, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, is tired and finished. He is no longer willing to fight against the dying of the light. He is ready to die.

"I'm happy just living," he says by telephone from Europe. "I don't do anything particular. I'm just finished. I'm just waiting for it to end."

The resignation in his voice wells up, and Egypt's most famous actor suddenly excuses himself and hangs up, the second time over five days he abruptly ends an interview set up to discuss the latest restoration of Lawrence of Arabia. "It kills me to speak," the 80-year-old Sharif confesses before signing off. "I cannot speak well any more. I can't say a sentence after a sentence. I get very tired of it."

Instead, his greatest films speak for him -- and Lawrence of Arabia is great. It is back again, this time in a staggeringly beautiful restored version on Blu-ray. This is the 216-minute "director's cut" version that Lean supervised in 1988-89 -- but digital restoration techniques available today give the film a renewed vitality and clarity that was not possible when Lean was alive.

Lawrence of Arabia is available in an excellent two-disc release. Or in a four-disc 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Gift Set that is as lovely as the film and a primo holiday gift option. There are excellent extras in both, new and recycled from earlier releases. But the menu is hugely expanded for the gift set version, with an extra disc. There is also a soundtrack CD holding Maurice Jarre's legendary score, a coffee-table book and a souvenir frame from an original 65 mm print of the film.


Among insights in the extras is a terrific interview with Peter O'Toole, who expounds eloquently on the real Lawrence of Arabia, the making of the film, how he learned to ride a camel and how much he still adores Sharif, his friend for 50 years. This is the man he nicknamed Cairo Fred, while O'Toole became known as the other Fred. "Remarkable intellect and humour," O'Toole says of Sharif. "And he's a graceful and beautiful man. We became immediately friendly." O'Toole's tribute is how Sharif should be best remembered.

Lawrence of Arabia won the best picture Oscar for 1962, along with six more Academy Awards, including Lean as best director and Jarre for best score. Both Sharif and O'Toole were nominated but did not win, Sharif as best supporting actor and O'Toole as best actor. Yet the film profoundly changed their lives and careers.

"I was lucky to have these two films with David Lean," Sharif says in one of his lucid moments. He is referring to both Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, two of Lean's most famous triumphs. "He was the important person in these two films. My good luck was that he asked to play with me in these two parts, and these two parts are different from each other and both wonderful. It is because he chose me that I became somebody."

Lawrence of Arabia made O'Toole an international somebody, too. With those blazing blue eyes, he became a superstar playing T.E. Lawrence, an English poet who led an Arab uprising against the Turks -- and the Ottoman Empire in general -- in northern Africa during the First World War.

Lawrence of Arabia, the film, remains controversial in Arab and Turkish circles for its depiction of real events and its poetic licence in fictional passages. But, as pure cinema, as an example of an epic playing out on a vast canvas, it ranks among the greatest films of all time. Lawrence of Arabia has also never looked better than it does today in Blu-ray.




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