It’s one of the most famous examples of film editing in movie history.
Peter O’Toole blows out a match and the scene cuts to a desolate, empty landscape and a hazy orange sky. We hear the faint, exotic sound of a zither, as if music begins to wake along with the dawn. One by one, the instruments of the orchestra join in. As the morning sun peaks above the horizon, the music crescendos until Freddie Young’s amazing cinematography fades into the pristine, windblown dunes of the desert. on the big screen, especially, it’s a breathtaking moment, but it is Maurice Jarre’s main theme that brings LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, the man and the myth, musically and immediately to life.
The theme is one of the most recognizable in all of film music. But no matter how many times you’ve heard it, nothing equals that first majestic statement. Underneath the broad, elongated theme that seems as wide and expansive as the desert itself, Jarre subtly matches the tempo of the accompaniment to the plodding rhythm of a camel’s gait. We marvel at the music and the exotic majesty of God’s creation before we even see the speck of Lawrence and his guide riding over the crest of the dune.
In a 1989 interview with Leonard Maltin, Jarre said the sound of the score was achieved with only three microphones. “It’s not the technology, is it?” remembered Maltin. “It’s about the music and the performance.” And what music! What a performance!
Jarre described composing the music for the film as “a very big challenge.”
“I didn’t realize at that time how important the film would be not only for me, but to the film community. After 40 years, it’s still among the best five or 10 films in the world. That is incredible when you think about it—there are no women, no car chases, no bang-bang-bang everywhere.”
The bang-bang-bang comes from Jarre’s extraordinary, Oscar-winning score.