Lean. Lean is quite a juxtaposition from the other European directors that flourished in this era (Lean’s best film was 1962 and second and third best just before and just after) like Godard, Antonioni, Truffaut and some others that are thought of during this time (and location) of artistic boom in world cinema. Lean was not near as chic or trendy (looked at as rather old-fashioned– who did adaptations) but he was every bit their equal when it came to being a stylist. He clearly has a perfectionist compositional eye. Lean is epic cinema (some call him the descendent of DeMille but as I’m not a massive DeMille fan I don’t love that title). I’d rather go with Griffith or von Stroheim (Christopher Nolan is certainly a decedent as is Anthony Minghella). He makes gorgeous films and his big 3 color masterpieces all won the best cinematography. In fact, I think you could probably trace the Academy’s definition of “cinematography” (mostly meaning photography) back to Lean.
Best film: Lawrence of Arabia. If I didn’t think so highly of Lawrence, lean wouldn’t be in my top 35 all-time directors. As we saw with The Hateful Eight, just using 65/70mm doesn’t mean a film is going to be as beautiful as Lawrence. This film has an endless supply of beautiful images, perhaps cinema’s greatest single edit (below the match being blown out), an amazing lead performance and a gripping narrative.
total archiveable films: 14
top 100 films: 1
top 500 films: 5 (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, Great Expectations, Brief Encounter)
top 100 films of the decade: 6 (Great Expectations, Olivier Twist, Brief Encounter, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago)
most overrated: Brief Encounter. TSPDT has it as lean’s 2nd best (and #151 overall) and I’m at 5th (and #482). I’ve only seen it once so I’m due again so maybe I’m wrong.
most underrated: Great Expectations. I’m at #256 all-time and TSPDT is at #645. It’s the best Dickens adaptation of all-time —and there are plenty of them. If you think of Lean strictly in terms of his colorful, prestige epics. Check this one out. He can do with b/w photography what he does in later decades with color.
gem I want to spotlight: The Bridge on the River Kwai. Even without Lean this is still a top 10 of the year quality film with acting (William Holden and Alec Guinness are superb) and writing. It’s really a fantastic film that has somehow now become underrated I’m guessing because it is classical Hollywood moviemaking and won best picture.
stylistic innovations/traits: Gorgeous, super-produced, cinema that emerged after WWII. Lean should not be faulted for Hollywood producing so many dumb big epics in the late 50’s and 60’s when they were trying to differentiate from television. Alec Guinness is in 6 of Lean’s 13 archivable films. Lean had his sharp b/w photography era (highlighted by a couple of fabulous Charles Dickens’ adaptations and Brief Encounter) and then again in his trio of big-scale epics from 1957-1965 culminating in Lawrence of Arabia. Lean’s visual style is all about the expanse and the screengrab pictures here are easy to find.
- Lawrence of Arabia
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
- Doctor Zhivago
- Great Expectations
- Brief Encounter
- Oliver Twist
- Ryan’s Daughter
- Hobson’s Choice
- Breaking the Sound Barrier
By year and grades
|1942- In Which We Serve||R|
|1945- Blithe Spirit||R|
|1945- Brief Encounter||MS|
|1946- Great Expectations||MP|
|1948- Oliver Twist||HR|
|1952- Breaking the Sound Barrier||R|
|1954- Hobson’s Choice||R|
|1957- The Bridge on the River Kwai||MP|
|1962- Lawrence of Arabia||MP|
|1965- Doctor Zhivago||MP|
|1970- Ryan’s Daughter||R|
|1984- A Passage To India|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
What do you mean by “greatest single edit”? no other example would be the cutting of the bone in 2001? I think we had already talked about that in another publication.
@Aldo- that’s exactly right. Those are the two most common examples brought up.
I remembered, we talked about match cuts, we mentioned psycho i don’t think i will enter here, since that scene is too edited, some other examples? I mean you can enter any type of cut, not just match cuts
Titanic has a lot of brilliant match cuts.
City if God is brilliantly edited and has many good match cuts.
Run lola run was a recent movie I saw that edits really effectively from animation to black and white to color.
Raging bull has brilliant editing.
I appreciate your answer @Azman, but I don’t mean match cuts, Drake mentioned “greatest single edit” that’s what i ask
I have to see City of God again, i saw it a long time ago
Hey drake I know everyone always says this and I have too but this really is a great site here. Now speaking of epics, did you see they played gone with the wind in honor of Olivia de havalland on tcm a couple of nights ago. Recorded it and watched today and I already knew it was great but now I think it is that much greater. It’s as if it were not filmed on a camera but each shot were a painting on a canvas. I’m wondering if you are planning on seeing it and doing a page soon.
Quite strange, i would swear i read the GWTW review on the site, I tried to find it to link to @m but it does not appear
Aldo thank you. I think that there is a bit on gone with the wind for George cukor best director but not a whole page
Sorry I meant victor fleming
@m – thanks for the kind words on the site — appreciate it. I haven’t caught Gone With the Wind since I started the site unfortunately so no page yet. I need to get on that.
Just watched great expectations, my first David Lean film. I am set to watch Lawrence of Arabia this weekend. Really impressed by Great Expectations, it’s funny I hated the book when I was forced to read in High School lit class but loved it years later, the film does the impossible of capturing most of the important characters and scenes in a 2 hour movie (the book is 500 + pages) and visually it’s really stunning. The graveyard scenes in the beginning to the silhouette image of Pip and Joe to the scenes in Miss Havisham’s mansion just really impression stuff. Looking forward to Lawrence
@James Trapp– early David Lean- great to see someone checking that out. Thanks for the comment.
It is interesting how the Cuaron version was murdered by the critics, although i agree that it is a very bad adaptation, the Lean version is the best movie and the best adaptation.
@Aldo- I’d disagree that Cuaron’s version is a bad adaptation. I think Cuaron’s version is superb
I imagined you would say that, i should have been more specific, i mean strictly as “adaptation” as a movie is very good.
A bad adaptation can be a great movie and a good adaptation a bad movie or vice versa, there are some exceptions like this, where it is a good adaptation and a good movie.
What i’m pointing out is that i don’t think Cuaron has managed to translate the essence of the book into the movie.
It has a 55 on metacritic, if you read the reviews, most of them point out what i mentioned
@Aldo- thanks for clarifying. I’d still disagree that it was a very bad adaptation
Just completed by first viewing of Lawrence of Arabia and wow, I was planning on watching in 2 sittings but ended up just watching it straight through
It undoubtable joins a very exclusive list of the most beautifully breathtaking movies of all time with Barry Lyndon, Days of Heaven, Tree of Life (and really every Malick movie), The Leopard, The Searchers, Ran, In the Mood for Love, and several others
There were 10 minute stretches that contained more breathtaking images than most directors have over their entire careers
The use of lighting is absolutely masterful as are the scenes of the sun rising and setting, just the way the movie captures the vastness of the desert is amazing
I bought the 4K version and watched on a 70” TV
Along with the visual accomplishments the movie is also a brilliant character study of
a man who is somewhat of an enigma and seemed to have something of a God complex
But the movie would not be nearly as interesting had he been a more conventional military hero
Definitely some similarities to the movie Patton (1970) although as amazing as Patton is this is
simply another level
There’s only a small handful of movies that I walk out of and immediately declare one of the greatest movies ever (The Godfather I and II, Apocalypses Now, Aguirre the Wrath of God, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Seven Samurai, Raging Bull, There Will be Blood) but this is certainly one of them
@James Trapp- that’s so awesome- thanks for sharing. Happy to hear this one lived up to the hype!
I’d say exceeded my expectations which is really saying something given I went in with sky high expectations, the last movie to do this to the same degree would probably be seven samurai or apocalypse now, think I’ll try Dr Zhivago
I got to know about David Lean from your site. Thanks for introducing him to me. I think he is an amazing and giant director. I would like to rank his 8 films I have seen so far.
1 Lawrence Of Arabia – All time Masterpiece.
2 The Bridge On the River Kwai
3 Doctor Zhivago – Beautiful Film
4 Great expectations
5 Oliver Twist
6 A Passage to India
7 Brief Encounter – I will give it one more viewing as I couldn’t watch it full focus.
8 Hobson’s Choice.
I loved all 8 films. Are his remaining films worth watching? Is Ryan’s Daughter good?
A Passage to India should get R grade. I dont think its a bad film.
@Drake – About A Passage to India, I’ve always wondered what it means when a film doesn’t receive a rating. Does it just mean it’s been such a long time since you’ve seen it that you can’t accurately give it a rating? Or is it something else?
@Zane- yep that’s it. It would just be a total guess- I saw it sometimes 15-20 years ago and I know it is good enough for the archives, I just don’t have a grade for it
@Adam- that’s great to hear- thank you for sharing. I would actually move Ryan’s Daughter up a grade (or maybe more) from my own rating here in 2019. You should see that one- it is beautiful.
And yes- A Passage to India is in the archives but it has been so long since I’ve seen it that I did not give it a grade. If it weren’t in archives it would be omitted altogether.
Have you seen Ryan’s Daughter again yet? It is leaving the Criterion Channel at the end of the month.
@Zane- Yes, I was able to catch it recently
I just finished Lawrence for the first time. I tried to watch it a few times in the past but would always get bored and just turn it off or not pay attention. Definitely is a turbo masterpiece and a big miss from me. I have disliked Bridge on the River Kwai / Dr Zhivago too (never finished either of them), but I doubt they’re anywhere near as good as this one
No idea where you got this image from though? It is not in the film, atleast the one I saw (it was 3 hours 47mins exactly) https://thecinemaarchives.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/lawrence-of-arabia-graphic-match-lean-ldksjf.jpg when he blows the candle out, it immediately goes into the next scene in the desert, it does not look like that pic.