On Sunday afternoon, I was excited to join Jill Blake–owner of Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence–and her husband, Thomas, for a screening of the 1962 David Lean epic Lawrence of Arabia at the “Fabulous” Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
True Classics’ own Sarah, an Atlanta native, has posted about her love for the Fox before, when she reported on a screening of Casablanca there last summer. The Fox is the very definition of an Atlanta institution. A breathtakingly beautiful theater–as you can no doubt tell from the shot of the interior posted above–it originally opened on Christmas Day 1929 (incidentally, its first screening was of the Walt Disney short Steamboat Willie). Walking through the doors of the Fox is like taking a trip back in time to the movie palaces of old, with ornate fixtures, plush carpets, and gorgeous Arabian-style architecture all around. The theater even comes complete with a “night sky” visible atop the stage. It’s a huge venue, boasting a balcony and an expansive ground floor–all told, the Fox can seat almost 4700 for any given show.
But the most famous feature of the Fox may be the “Mighty Mo.” This honestly mighty, gold-covered, custom-made theater organ–the second-largest in the world–was built specifically for the Fox. Before our screening, we were treated with a performance from “Mighty Mo” and a theater singalong of familiar all-American standards like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
It’s always gratifying to see a large crowd at a classic film screening, and this event did not disappoint. I arrived an hour before showtime, and even then, I had to stand in line behind at least one hundred people who had gotten there before me. By the time the red curtains parted to begin the show, our section (center of the main floor) had filled up.
The show began with a newsreel (though Jill informed me that they essentially show the same newsreel at the beginning of every feature screened there) and a cartoon, the 1947 short Tweetie Pie (the first pairing of Tweety and Sylvester, who is called “Thomas” in this cartoon). Then the curtains closed during the playing of the stirring opening overture of the main event, and finally parted as the credits began to roll.
I won’t go into an extended review of the film–we posted a brief one a couple of years ago if you’d like to read more thoughts on this excellent epic–but I will say that now, more than ever, I truly appreciate the magnificent spectacle that is Lawrence of Arabia. This was the first time I had ever been able to see the film where it deserves to be seen: on a gigantic screen that fully conveys the majesty and utter vastness of the desert settings. This was driven home early in the film, as Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) makes his first appearance–initially appearing as a black dot in the distance, his gradual approach is drawn out in long takes that serve to highlight the eerie emptiness of the general locale. With Freddie Young’s unparalleled cinematography and director Lean’s keen eye for composing effective shots, it’s no wonder this movie remains a beloved classic, one that continues to influence filmmakers even today.
And if that doesn’t convince you that you should try to see this one on the big screen at some point, I raise you Peter O’Toole’s magnificent mug and brilliant peepers, blown up on the big screen.
Your argument is irrelevant, because, well, Peter O’Toole.
All in all, I’m nothing short of thrilled to have gotten the chance to see this film at the historic Fox Theatre. And even though their summer film series is winding down next month, I look forward to many, many future screenings at this glorious old movie house.