|The opening of the funeral scene begins with a close-up of this memorial bust.|
While the bust itself does sit in St. Paul's, this particular copy existed only in Lean's studio.
|O'Toole as Lawrence|
"Did he deserve a place here?"
Lawrence of Arabia begins dramatically, first with the score blaring across a blank screen, setting the stage, audibly, for the epic that follows. Lean that shows Lawrence's death on a motorcycle, killing the main character before the story really even begins. Now we get to the important part: the memorial service that follows the death. It is here that Lean introduces the central question of his film and that viewers are drawn in to the life of the man who they watched die.
|"The most extraordinary man I ever knew."|
The memorial service scene begins with a close-up of a memorial bust of T.E. Lawrence. To this, I'll devote my post, but first, I'll finish setting the scene. The bust is surrounded by two British flags, befitting a hero. The camera than focuses on Col. Brighton (a man who hasn't been officially introduced yet) and a cleric. Brighton looks up at the bust and remarks that Lawrence was "the most extraordinary man he ever knew." The cleric questions if Brighton knew Lawrence well. Brighton pauses and states that "I knew him," a misleading understatement considering the events that will follow. The priest then poses a question to Brighton and more importantly to the audience. He remarks, "Well, nil nisi bonum [a Latin phrase that basically means not to speak ill of the deceased]. But did he really deserve a place here?" The camera then reveals that service was held at St. Paul's Cathedral, the magnificent Anglican place of worship and the site of memorials to some of Britain's greatest heroes.
|Allenby's misleading response still manages to lead viewers to wonder:|
Does anyone know who Lawrence really was?
|St. Paul's Cathedral in London|
A remarkable piece of architecture itself, designed by Sir Christopher Wren
|The actual memorial bust of Lawrence|
as it appears in St. Paul's
Lawrence's memorial bust itself it not incredibly remarkable. While it does portray a accurate likeness of the real man, more importantly the presence of a memorial bust signifies something much more important. It signifies the place in history that is being questioned. It signifies importance and a need to celebrate a life and mourn the death of an important figure. The bust shows that Lawrence will be considered a historical giant, albeit a disputed one (ala the cleric's all-important question).
|A sketch of Lawrence by Kennington, perhaps as a|
study for the above-mentioned bust
|Kennington's effigy of Lawrence which sits in a small church in Dorset|
After Lawrence's death, this bust would be used for the St. Paul's memorial, in portrait galleries, and in 1962, for the funeral scene in Lawrence of Arabia. It's also worth noting that Kennington also created a full-body memorial effigy for Lawrence which currently sits in St. Martin's Church Dorset.
|If he's not just anybody- who is he? And why does he belong in the pantheon (literally) of British heroes?|
The bust is an important piece of historical art. As a piece of film art, it is more remarkable for what it signifies rather than what it actually is. The historical implications already discussed make it a symbol for historical fame. In the film, Lawrence himself exclaims "Do you think I'm just anybody?!" From the moment Lean shows us that bust, we are forced to consider both the cleric's and Lawrence's own question. Is he just anybody? And if he's not, something that presence of the memorial bust tells us, then who is he?