It is rather astounding to consider the films I have missed, even as a lifelong movie goer, even after 4 years of Film History & Theory classes, even after sharing more than ½ my life with someone who possibly loves movies more than me. I have somehow never seen LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. I have seen scenes from the Oscar winner & I recognize the theme from the score, but I have never caught a screening, even a TV broadcast. Lawrence Of Arabia was playing for 2 nights at a Portland revival house in a new print. I had a date with The Husband to finally expereince it, when it was pulled from the lineup at the startup of the Iraq war. Ironic. This is what I do know:
As a youth, Thomas Edward Lawrence, was endlessly devoted to one friend - C.F.C. Beeson. Their rather exclusive, obsessive closeness worried both boys’ parents. The pair spent summers on their bicycles, touring the churches of the country to gather brass rubbings.
When Lawrence reached maturity, he understood that would not grow beyond his short stature of 5’ 5’’. Despite the disappointment, Lawrence would always push the boundaries of physical endurance. In his teens, he would go for days without food or sleep, & walked or cycling long distances. Friends & family guessed Lawrence was preparing for some big challenge. Lawrence would eventually be grateful to have been tested by the jeers from his peers & an ability to endure extreme discomfort.
For his thesis at Oxford, Lawrence travelled to the Holy Land by bicycle of course to study the castles of the Crusade. Lawrence left Oxford soon after his project's completion, graduating with first class honors.
At Oxford, Lawrence became close curiously close to another male companion- Vyvyan Richards, who was significantly older than Lawrence. Again his parents & pals worried about the closeness of their friendship. Lawrence’s parents were concerned about Vyvyan’s motives. They dissuaded their son from his plan to set up a press business with the older man. Instead, he accepted an offer of a place on an archaeological dig being carried out by the British Museum in Carchemish.
Soon after he arrived in Arabia, Lawrence met a boy, Selim Ahmed, commonly called Dahoum, meaning ‘the little dark one’. Initially, their friendship was based on learning each other’s language, Lawrence attempting Arabic colloquialisms with Dahoum learning the basics of English. The pair became closer than just friends & there was probably a sexual partnership between them. Lawrence certainly loved Dahoum. They lived & traveled together. Their relationship caused a scandal among the British archaeologists who would certainly not have accepted homosexual relationships.
Lawrence travelled back & forth from Carchemish & Oxford. He began to educate himself about the local culture, something not many travelers of the time would even consider a proper thing to do. Lawrence was taught Arabic from an American missionary, carried out local traditions & began to dress as an Arab.
When war broke out in 1914, Lawrence, the British Intelligence sought out Arab experts (Turkey & Germany were allies). Lawrence left Dahoum in charge of the local workforce at their dig & he returned to England.
After training with the British Army, Lawrence’s Arabic skills & knowledge of the Middle East brought him a post in Cairo, making maps & gathering intelligence. He devised a plan to assist the Arabs in an uprising against the Turks, helping them to allow the British forces to execute an attack on the invaluable Suez Canal. Lawrence produced a report on the plan. His kinship with the Arabs was noticed & he quickly became the key to the operation & acted as a vital go-between for both forces. Lawrence concentrated particular attention on Prince Feisal, the man he had picked out as the best option of an Arab leader. A deal over land after the rebellion was struck & before long, the rebel forces began to prepare for battle.
At around this time, American journalist, Lowell Thomas, arrived in Cairo searching for a story of heroic proportions to take back to the states. He was instantly captivated by the story of the British officer in traditional Arab dress. Thomas chose Lawrence to be his subject for his stay in Cairo.
The rebellion began in June 1916 with an attack on the Turkish railway. The raid was a success, & other attacks were planned & carried out. Lawrence was discovered & taken prisoner by the Turks. He was brutally tortured & raped many times. His endurance was tested as he suffered with daily beatings. A glimmer of good fortune came with a guard sympathetic to the Arab cause, who gave Lawrence, a short significant shot at escape. Lawrence took it, walking a hundred of miles across the desert to safety.
Lawrence was deeply disturbed by his capture. He attempted resignation, but the British refused it. After some soul searching which he writes about in his memoir The 7 Pillars Of Wisdom, he again found the energy to take on his trademark Arabic robes. Lawrence picked up his gun & headed for the front of the charging rebel armies. Lawrence survived a further year of fighting before the rebels took Damascus in 1918 & started to set up an all-Arab Government. It was there that Lawrence found that his beloved Dahoum had died.
Of course, the British Government did not fulfill the promises of land for the Arabs that had been made before the rebellion. Back in England, Lawrence commenced a campaign for the Arab cause with Government officials. Lawrence also began of writing a novel. Drawing on his experience in the Middle East, Lawrence began to pen The 7 Pillars Of Wisdom, an autobiographical look at life in 7 major Arab cities. After many weeks of hard work, Lawrence lost the manuscript forever when his briefcase was stolen at Reading station.
Lowell Thomas had returned from the war with a mission to make Lawrence a national hero. He traveled with a slide presentation, telling the tale of the misfit officer who had become the leader of the Arab army. Lawrence had become a national symbol, & was granted an audience with the King. But Lawrence didn’t take well to being celebrated, saying that his role had been blown out of proportion. He even used the opportunity & announced that he would refuse to accept any official recognition for his actions.
Desperate to escape the attention in Britain & furious with Thomas for thrusting fame upon him, Lawrence convinced the RAF to take him on under a false name. Given this valuable breathing space, Lawrence settled down to military life & rewriting The 7 Pillars Of Wisdom. The first edition was finally published in 1927.
After his retirement from the RAF in 1935, Lawrence took a small cottage in Dorset, where he would often ride his motorcycle around the countryside. Once on a jaunt he swerved to avoid a pair of boys on bicycles. Lawrence crashed his bike & died from trauma to the head.
In 1962, the tale Lawrence’s life was presented in David Lean’s Oscar winning film, Lawrence Of Arabia, confirming his place in history as an icon of WW1. The filmmakers left out the gay part, of course.
In a poem-TO S.A., Lawrence tells of his love for the mysterious initials’ recipient that had led him to fight to regain land, dignity & freedom for the Arab people. Selim Ahmed, Lawrence’s beloved Dahoum, must have been the mysterious S.A. who motivated Lawrence to achieve all that he did. Lawrence found heroism & hunger in his love for Dahoum.