Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ali that Glitters

Just when you think that all the cluing angles for ALI have dried up . . . OMAR Sharif comes to the rescue--appearing on the desert horizon, riding towards you on camelback, all in one take. Such is Sharif's breathtaking entrance in David Lean's 1962 Oscar-winning film, Lawrence of Arabia.

At a recent viewing of Lawrence of Arabia (the restored long version), I espied our own OMAR Sharif playing Sherif ALI opposite Peter O'Toole's T. E. Lawrence.

Sharif is charismatically gorgeous in this film, and this is reason enough to love the film, but there's a reason why it won seven Oscars. It's a masterpiece, and for my money, David Lean's magnum opus.

Puzzlemakers have every right to claim Sharif as one of their own . . . one of crossword's own. OMAR has saved many a grid, thank you very much. But Sharif's ALI has been around since 1962, and yet I don't think it's used much, if at all, in contemporary puzzles.

Lawrence of Arabia is the quintessential EPIC film. And it's unusual -- it's not a traditional love story (there are no women in leading roles) . . . just a lot of guys involved in matters in the desert and away from the desert. (I won't spoil the story, for those who haven't seen the film -- no details here.) The restored version is spectacular. And did I mention that Sharif is gorgeous?

LOA offers good cluing material for crossword workhorses like LEAN, EPIC, ALI, ARID . . . not to mention unusuals  like JARRE and AQABA. And if one needs cluing angles for quicksand, mirages, oases and sandstorms . . . Lean has provided the context, thanks to his masterful cinematography.

David LEAN won the Oscar for "Best Director" that year. Though he supposedly disliked actors and would have thrown sand in their faces if given the opportunity, he sure knew how to pick 'em. Omar Sharif, Peter O'Toole (unknown, prior to LOA), Anthony Quinn, ALEC Guinness are among the heavyweights in this cast.

The star of the film is the magnificent desert. In the end, I s'pose there is a love story: Lawrence loves the desert, which he adoringly describes as "clean." So romantic!

Maurice JARRE (composer of Dr. Zhivago's "Lara's Theme") won an Oscar for the score, whose sweeping theme stays in your head for days.

Any word with a free-standing "Q" (not followed by a "U") my oasis in a difficult construction session. Good news for puzzlemakers: AQABA is a major player in LOA.

It's the subject of one of the greatest lines in filmdom, when Lawrence appeals to Ali to make a difficult journey. He points to the desert and says: "Aqaba is over there. It's only a matter of going."

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