Saturday, July 11, 2015

Rest in Peace Omar Sharif

Omar Sharif has passed on.  I have a few reflections on his work in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.  First, of course today the film seems quaint in how it portrayed Arabs, and there is no apology to be made for some of the glaring stereotypes.  But it also was a fantastic coup to have an Egyptian Muslim appear as a sympathetic figure, playing a Muslim who is arguably the moral compass and, to boot, using a blatantly Arab name in the credits.   For decades prior, Arab actors in America were using stage names and Anglicized forms.  Here was a man who was hiding nothing, he was Omar Sharif and not ashamed of being Arab.  Next, there's the much-cited scene where he rides in from apparently nowhere, rising out of the sands of the desert.  Unlike Tony Quinn and Alec Guinness, who played less-than-admirable characters, Sharif is presented to be someone of the land itself, noble and austere.  The presentation is one of the most beautiful sequences of the century and shows the level of respect David Lean had for the actor.  Finally is the ultimate role that Sharif plays, the witness of the dismantling and parcelling of his home by the European powers that played his people for fools, presented in microcosm when he vainly tries to keep Lawrence from leading a massacre of the defeated armies.  That sort of bearing witness is a repeated motif in the lives of countless residents of the Levant, who see themselves as pawns in the imperial game and prevented from asserting meaningful control over their destinies, instead viewing their own inter-communal cannibalism.  Omar Sharif was 83.

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