Presentation on theme: "“Spectacle is, of course, a key ingredient of the epic, and it is effected through sets and costumes as well as through grand entrances of personages of."— Presentation transcript:
“Spectacle is, of course, a key ingredient of the epic, and it is effected through sets and costumes as well as through grand entrances of personages of state in imposing amphitheaters and mass audiences of people. [Director David] Lean’s film is most obviously epic in the way the desert setting is captured. The extent to which locale or geographic milieu becomes a central element in many of his films has already been remarked upon. And it should be borne in mind that the desert is more than a magnificent backdrop for the hero’s actions: as we have seen in the previous chapter, it is a constantly shape-changing protagonist in its own right. It is noteworthy, too, how Lean creates through the desert the sense of massive scale that is a significant part of the enjoyment of any epic spectacle. Figures stand on dunes or in rocky chasms dwarfed by their environs, or they are seen as dots scattered on a vast plain. Alternatively, they may appear indistinct on the horizon and then move ominously or mysteriously toward us, as when Sherif Ali materializes in a mirage. Vastness is conveyed through image as well as sound, as when Lawrence rides into Wadi Safra and hears his own voice thrown back at him from the towering cliff faces” (Caton, 1999, p. 135-6).
“In this exploratory adventure, seen in such films as Lawrence of Arabia and the Indiana Jones series, the camera relays the hero’s dynamic movement across a passive, static space, gradually stripping the land of its “enigma,” as the spectator winds visual access to Oriental treasures through the eyes of the explorer- protagonist. Lawrence of Arabia provides an example of Western historical representation whereby the individual Romantic “genius” leads the Arab national revolt, presumed to be a passive entity awaiting T.E. Lawrence’ inspiration. (Arab sources obviously have challenged this historical account.) The unveiling of the mysteries of an unknown space becomes a rite de passage allegorizing the Western achievement of virile heroic stature” (Ella Shohat, “Gender and Culture of Empire”, 1991, p. 52)
What do you make of the following quotes from Thesiger’s Arabian Sands? “It was easy to be shocked by the Bedu’s disregard for human life. After all, many people feel today that is is morally indefensible to hang a man, even if he has raped and killed a child, but I could not forget how easily we ourselves had taken to killing during the war. Some of the most civilized people I had known had been the most proficient” (p. 108) “The hatred which I encountered was a disturbing experience. It was ugly, as is all hatred, and to me, accustomed to religious tolerance, it seemed senseless; but I wondered if were not preferable to the new hatred based on distinctions of colour, nationality, and class which our civilization has engendered and which are convulsing the more sophisticated parts of the Middle East” (p. 249)
To what degree can we describe Wilfred Thesiger as a “romanticist”, an “escapist” or an “orientalist”? Consider the following: “Life is hard for the Bedu in the summer, Umbarak. Sometimes we are camped on wells which are so bitter that we can only drink the water mixed with milk, We water the camels and cannot drink the water ourselves. We splash it over us to cool us while we work, and our bodies get covered with sores. Watering the camels is hard work. They are thirsty and drink a lot, and the sun is hot. It is worse when the wind blows; then it is like a furnace. Even when we stop to rest there is no shade on these wells in the sand. Only the Bedu could endure this life” (p. 129-130).
The Virtue of “Loneliness”? “The Empty Quarter offered me the chance to win distinction as a traveller; but I believed that it could give me more than this, that in those empty wastes I could find the peace that comes with solitude, and, among the Bedu, comradeship in a hostile world. Many who venture into dangerous places have found this comradeship among members of their own race; a few find it more easily among people from other lands, the very differences which separate the binding them ever more closely. I found it among the Bedu. Without it these journeys would have been a meaningless penance.” (p. 18) “We were travelling through it now, but we carried our own world with us: a small world of five people, which yet provided each of us with companionship, with talk and laughter and the knowledge that others were there to share the hardship and the danger. I knew that if I travelled here alone the weight of this vast solitude would crush me utterly” (p. 142).
Why did Thesiger do it? “For me, exploration was a personal venture. I did not go to the Arabian Desert to collect plants nor to make a map; such things were incidental. At heart I knew that to write or even to talk of my travels was to tarnish the achievement. I went there to find peace in the hardship of desert travel and the company of desert peoples. I set myself a goal on these journeys, and, although the goal itself was unimportant, its attainment had to be worth every effort and sacrifice. Scott had gone to the South Pole in order to stand for a few minutes on one particular and almost inaccessible spot on the earth’s surface. He and his companions died on their way back, but even as they were dying he never doubted that the journey had been worth while” (p. 278).