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Lawrence of Arabia, now in Blu-ray, rides again or, a film buff’s confession of divided loyalties

Ever since the advent of Blu-ray discs in 2006, Lawrence of Arabia has ranked high on film buffs’ lists of titles most desired in the state-of-the-art video format. Recognizing that the film is the “crown jewel” in the Columbia Pictures library, however, Sony Pictures decided not to simply cash in by releasing a hastily prepared Blu-ray edition. Instead, they chose to take their time, looking toward November 2012, as Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures Executive Vice President of Asset Management, Film Restoration, and Digital Mastering explained, in order “to return this film to as pristine a condition as possible to honor its [fiftieth] anniversary release.”

By using digital technology not available more than twenty years ago, Sony executives knew they would be able to achieve a visual quality for this new home-video edition comparable to that seen in 1989 in the 70mm “director’s-cut” version produced by archivist, producer, and restoration specialist Robert A. Harris in collaboration with the film’s director, David Lean, and its editor, Anne Coates. That restored 65mm negative, a mix of original camera negative and dupe negative, was digitally scanned in 2010 at 8K (equivalent to the resolution of the film negative). That digital preservation master was then used to make a 4K version, which provided digital technicians with workable files in the highest standard. When Sony executives and technicians viewed the 4K images, Crisp explained, two things were readily apparent: “One was how sharp and detailed the images were and, two, how much damage and wear and tear was evident on the film.”

Much of that damage was corrected in 1989 by making wet-gate prints (in which the restored negative was temporarily coated with liquid to eliminate scratches and abrasions on the film’s base and emulsion surfaces). But the digital “restoration” was a far more laborious and time-consuming process. Over the next two years, Sony technicians went to work, digitally eliminating dirt, scratches, chemical stains, and other damage visible on the untreated, nearly fifty-year-old negative, gradually inserting newly restored material on a scene-by-scene and even a single-frame basis. The six-channel stereo soundtrack masters created for the film’s 1989 restoration were further restored and remastered. The fading color of the Eastman stock on which the film had been photographed was fine-tuned by color-grading specialist Scott Ostrowsky (who previously worked on the Blu-ray releases of The Bridge on the River Kwai and Taxi Driver), using previously approved 70mm prints as reference and regularly consulting with Robert Harris and Anne Coates.

As a result, Lawrence of Arabia, apart from the obviously reduced size of the image, looks nearly as good on this Blu-ray disc as I remember it during any of the film’s previous theatrical exhibitions. I was also impressed with the new 4K DCP version screened at the New York Film Festival in September 2012 at Mice Tully Hall (on a screen nearly as big as that at the Ziegfeld Theater, where the restored 70mm director’s cut screened in 1989). Although I still believe that Lawrence should be seen whenever possible on a big theater screen, I found that viewing this Blu-ray disc (in my case on a 46″ plasma high-definition monitor, complemented by a 5.1 surround-sound speaker system) is as close a visual and audio approximation of the theatrical viewing experience that one could ask for today in a home-theater setting.

The level of detail now visible–including the colors and textures of everything from rock formations and sand dunes to tribal flags and flesh tones–is remarkable. David Lean reportedly expressed disappointment that, even though cinematographer Freddie Young had supervised the laboratory processing of the footage, the Eastman color stock didn’t reveal all of the subtle, multicolored gradations of the desert environment that the director had seen with his own eyes on location. As the film’s preview trailers boasted, Lawrence of Arabia was “filmed against a canvas of awesome magnificence,” and those scenes of the Jordanian desert, with their enormous, undulating sand dunes and massive, prehistoric sandstone and limestone rock formations–vistas that in comparison tend to make John Ford’s images of Monument Valley rather prosaic panoramas–are now more impressive than ever.

Reviews of the Blu-ray disc have been virtually unanimous in their acclaim, and those approbations have been echoed by no less an authority than Robert Harris, who hailed both the 4K DCP theatrical version as well as the down-rezzed Blu-ray: “Image quality in terms of overall resolution is other-worldly. Color is dead-on perfect. Shadow detail, superb, along with image steadiness. Grain structure represents the film elements…David Lean was not an easy man to please. Everything had to be perfect. And I can tell you, as an absolute, that he would be very, very pleased, were he able to place this tiny disc in a Blu-ray player that he never had the opportunity to see.” (1)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released the Blu-ray in two different editions, a basic two-disc version and a deluxe four-disc box set, which includes an additional disc of supplementary features as well as a CD of the film’s soundtrack with two previously unreleased cuts, a 70mm souvenir frame from the film, and a nicely written (by Jeremy Arnold), lavishly illustrated eighty-nine-page coffee-table book, with some behind-the-scenes photos thisLawrence obsessive has never seen before. Many of the supplementary materials are carryovers from previous DVD editions, but new to the Blu-ray release, among other features, is a twenty-one-minute interview with O’Toole (who relates many amusing anecdotes about the making of the film), which makes me urgently wish that the now-eighty-year-old O’Toole, who recently announced his retirement from acting, will finally get around to writing the third installment of his autobiography, Loitering with Intent (following the first two volumes, subtitled The Child ([1992] and The Apprentice [1996]), which will hopefully offer a detailed account of his experience on Lawrence of Arabia and other key films in his career.

A third disc of supplementary features in the box-set edition includes the famous “seduction scene” on the balcony between General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and Lawrence, which was among the twenty minutes or so of scenes trimmed following the film’s premiere so the roadshow exhibitors could squeeze in an additional screening per day. Anne Coates explains, in an introduction to the scene, that it had to be left out of the 1989 restoration since the original soundtrack for portions of that extended scene could not be located and the attempt to have another actor dub Hawkins’s performance proved technically and artistically unacceptable. (2)

This magazine scarcely needs to add its voice to the revived chorus of praise for this classic film, especially since Cineaste has almost certainly published more on Lawrence of Arabia–including feature articles, interviews, reviews, historical documents, and at least one editorial–than any other film magazine in the world. This is admittedly due to this editor’s ongoing fascination with the film–okay, obsession (my colleagues’ eyes roll in unison at editorial meetings whenever I announce another feature article I believe we should publish on the film)–ever since first seeing it in 1963 as an impressionable teenager. Longtime readers of Cineaste will not be surprised, then, to learn that this new Blu-ray edition provides us with an excellent opportunity to revisit the film, this time focusing on some of the more controversial aspects of the film’s historical representations.

It is generally understood, even by the average moviegoer, that filmmakers who portray real-life people and historical events are, in addition to obvious considerations of running time, granted a certain amount of dramatic license in order to adapt characterizations and events for artistic purposes. After all, as Hayden White explained in Metahistory, even historians must create a narrative structure to write their accounts of history, no matter how extensively footnoted. Filmmakers must be ready to respond, however, to charges that they have abused this dramatic license when they misrepresent, or worse, grossly distort characters and events.

While it is naive to think that any historical film can be completely “accurate,” it is not unreasonable–especially given that most people acknowledge learning history through movies or television–to expect filmmakers, as Robert Bolt explained was his aim in writing his Lawrence of Arabia screen play, to “get at least within hailing distance of the factual truth.” (3) As the editorial in our Spring 2004 issue, which introduced a forty-two page supplement on film and history, argued, “Ignorant or self-serving notions of past events, no matter how cinematically exciting, are a luxury that America–indeed, the world–cannot afford.”

Recounting the challenge, Bolt explained that he very quickly stopped his background reading because he found “the authorities all contradicted one another, not only as regards opinions but also on matters of fact. So I put aside my tottering pile of books and returned to The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, even though it contains long passages of dubious veracity.” In other accounts, Bolt stated more forthrightly that, “I am convinced … that [Lawrence] does tell lies in this book.”

While detailing my praise for the film as outstanding cinema and compelling drama, I also examined Bolt’s historical interpretation in a Fall 1989 Cineaste article, “Lawrence of Arabia: The Cinematic (Re)Writing of History.” At that time, I was able only to refer in a footnote to an earlier screenplay for the film written by the Academy Award-winning but then-blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson (A Place in the Sun, Friendly Persuasion, Salt of the Earth, The Bridge on the River Kwai). I’ve since been able to read Wilson’s script, specifically his revised second draft of September 27, 1960, which led to his acrimonious falling out with David Lean and his withdrawal from the project. We won’t go into that dispute again here, since Wilson’s struggle for official recognition of his contribution to the screenplay, and his dispute with Lean and Spiegel, were covered in extensive detail in Joel Hodson’s article, “Who Wrote Lawrence of Arabia?: Sam Spiegel and David Lean’s Denial of Credit to a Blacklisted Screenwriter,” which appeared in our Fall 1994 issue. (4) A brief consideration of Wilson’s script, however, enables us to speculate on how it would have produced a far different film.

On the basis of Wilson’s second draft–he also delivered a contractually required third draft on January 31, 1961, but Lean refused even to look at it since by that time Spiegel had hired Bolt to rewrite the screenplay–it is evident that Wilson’s version of the film would have incorporated far more historical background and political context for the Arab revolt. This includes a greater sense of the international forces active in the Middle Eastern campaign; a much more politically aware Lawrence (as opposed to Bolt’s naive idealist), someone who was well aware of the SykesPicot Agreement as well as the Balfour Declaration; a greater emphasis on the stressful psychological nature (even dramatized in a hallucination scene) of Lawrence’s dual but conflicting loyalties to British imperial aims in the region and Arab nationalist aspirations for independence; a humbler, more realistic assessment of Lawrence’s own involvement in military actions, such as the taking of Akaba (“The Arabs took it; I went along for the ride”); greater discussion of Arab suspicions of the wartime political duplicity of Perfidious Albion and other Western powers; and a more explicit critique of Lawrence’s conduct in discharging timeworn but still popular colonialist notions of the White Man’s Burden.

Wilson’s script often bursts with its ambition to broach more of the complexities of this crucial historical period, even inserting a few provocative if throwaway lines. In a scene late in the film, for example, when Lawrence tries to navigate his way out of the Town Hall through a mob of petitioners and protestors, a zealot in the crowd shouts out, “If the British settle Jews in Palestine, there will be war, God be my witness,” to which Lawrence replies, “The British have made more promises than they can keep.”

Certainly one of he principal reasons why Lean rejected Wilson’s screenplay is that the director ultimately preferred a more psychological portrait of Lawrence, who he described as “an English nut,” rather than a politically informative or provocative historical drama. During the early scriptwriting phase of the production, Lean’s notes sent to Wilson indicate that the director was certainly not adverse to incorporating scenes dramatizing and even criticizing British colonial aims. It would have been virtually impossible to have avoided such political issues in the film, since Lawrence–whose political perspective might be best characterized as that of a benevolently paternalistic colonialist or a neoliberal imperialist–played a particularly complicated role during this period. But overall, as Lean later commented, “The political arena was not our main concern.” (5)

This directorial preference no doubt emboldened Bolt in his decision to primarily, even opportunistically, draw upon the more psychologically introspective portions of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an ambitious work aspiring to the status of “titanic” literature, and therefore replete with dramatic embellishments and outright fabrications, for which its author frankly disavowed any claims to historical fidelity. As he acknowledged in his introductory chapter, “In reality I never had any office among the Arabs: was never in charge of the British mission with them.” In his telling of the tale as “just a designed procession of Arab freedom from Mecca to Damascus,” however, he nevertheless granted himself a “mock primacy.” In its own way, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom perpetuated the romanticized, media-created mythology launched in 1919 by Lowell Thomas’s lantern-slide/film/lecture show, “With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia” as well as bis book, With Lawrence in Arabia (1924), which often reads like an Eastern dime novel in its portrayal of Lawrence as a quick-draw, sharp-shooting “modern Arabian knight.” Sam Spiegel perhaps best explained (or rationalized) the filmmakers’ intentions: “We have not tried to resolve the enigma of Lawrence but to perpetuate the legend.”

None of these criticisms are meant to deny or downplay the vast improvements that Bolt made to the film’s final screenplay. The then-acclaimed playwright of A Man for All Seasons used his considerable dramaturgical skills and talents to rearrange and condense scenes, to conflate (or simply eliminate) an excessive number of English (as well as Arabic, French, and Australian) characters, and to not only prune but also to lend a sophisticated, theatrical quality to the dialogue, which even Wilson acknowledged as “a job well done,” calling Bolt “a gifted man.”

It is also clear, however, that, at Lean’s urging, Bolt focused on the more sensationalistic, even disturbing psychological aspects of his protagonist, foregrounding a vainglorious personality easily swayed by flattery, intimations of homosexuality, and sadomasochistic tendencies. Indeed, what struck viewers at the time, especially since Lawrence followed in the wake of more conventional historical biopics such as Ben-Hur (1959), Spartacus (1960), and El Cid (1961), was the decidedly antiheroic trajectory of its protagonist, an initially quirky but sympathetic young scholar and soldier who, by film’s end, has authorized and committed unspeakable wartime atrocities. The psychological, the personal, can also be political, of course, but too often Lawrence’s aberrant mentality or excessive self-regard become the real focus of the story, displacing the social context in which he was acting. The screenwriter and producer Paul Jarrico (Michael Wilson’s brother-in-law) explained the basic difference between Wilson’s and Bolt’s approaches:

The most significant difference between Mike Wilson’s script and Bolt’s script is thematic. Lawrence, in Mike’s script, was increasingly torn by the contradiction between British imperial interests and Arab national interests. Both required the defeat of Turkish rule, so there was an ostensible unity. But the Arabs were not fighting to replace their Turkish masters by British and
French masters, and Lawrence, identifying himself with the Arabs, found it impossible to resolve the contradiction, which exploded in the climax. His inner conflict and the objective political conflict are joined. Bolt and Lean didn’t have to change the script a lot to emasculate it. Just substitute sadomasochism
for politics. (6)

These distortions of character and the historical record did not go unnoticed among viewers in 1962, especially in England, where the film generated considerable controversy, even outrage, among those intimately familiar with the man and the history, including contemporaries of Lawrence (such as his younger brother, Arnold, or General Allenby’s widow), descendants of other historical figures portrayed (including family members of Auda Abu Tayi and Sherif Ali), military historians (notably Basil Liddell Hart), and authors (including David Garnett). Arnold Lawrence wrote numerous diatribes against the film in the British press, in particular criticizing the film’s focus on Lawrence’s “sadism” and “blood-lust” to create a portrait of a brother he did not recognize. While such critics of the film admittedly had their own agendas, above all protecting the reputations of family members, they were also, as Adrian Turner (author of The Making of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia) wrote, “people with history on their side.”

The relatives of Auda Abu Tayi, an ardent Arab nationalist, principal leader of the Arab revolt, and chief strategist of the plan to seize Akaba, protested the film’s portrayal of him as a venal, amoral, and petty tribal chieftain. The descendants of Sherif Nasir Ibn Ali (on whom Omar Sharifs Sherif Ali Ibn el Kharish character was loosely based), filed suit for defamation of character, in particular for the film’s portrayal of his murder of Lawrence’s guide at the Masturah Well. Indeed, this scene in the script was vigorously protested during production by the film’s political advisor, Anthony Nutting–Middle East expert, former British Prime Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Lawrence biographer–as a blatant distortion of the nearly sacred Bedouin tradition of hospitality to travelers, but he was unable to convince the filmmakers to change or eliminate the scene. It should be noted here, so as not to make Michael Wilson the “hero” and Robert Bolt the “villain” of this article, that this scene was Wilson’s invention, as was the distorted portrayal of Auda Abu Tayi.

In response to these and other complaints and protests, Bolt felt obliged to write a defense of his dramatic approach, entitled “Apologia,” originally intended as a preface to the published screenplay, but Lean insisted he retract it, and in any event the screenplay was never published.

The film’s portrayal of Arab culture was deemed so distorted and even disrespectful that Lawrence of Arabia was banned in most Arab countries, even in Jordan, where much of it was filmed, and, not surprisingly, the film remains banned to this day in Turkey. Critical assessments of T. E. Lawrence’s actual role in the Arab revolt have been the focus of writings by a number of Arab historians and scholars, including Suleiman Mousa, George Antonius, Lucy Ladkioff, and Subhi Al-Umari. To the best of my knowledge, however, there has been little critical Arab writing on the film itself, save for some commentary in lack Shaheen’s Red Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, an article by Mehdi Derfoufi in a 2001 issue of the French magazine, Tausend Augen, (7) and a 1989 Wall Street Journal article by Orientalism author Edward Said, who derided the film’s reactionary views of Arabs and Arab nationalism as redolent with “the retrospective nostalgia of an imperial daydream.” He focused his criticism on the film’s portrayal of the raucous meeting of the Arab National Council in Damascus at the film’s conclusion: “Mr. Lean’s Arabs are shown in this depressing scene to be semi-barbarous children, garishly fighting over trifles, totally incapable of reason, debate, policy … Lean wants us to understand that serious rule was never meant for such lesser species, only for the white man.”

Reading only that first line today, one could be forgiven for regarding it as an apt description of present members of the U.S. Congress. A closer examination of this scene in the film–which Said calls “the film’s political payoff, its historical argument about the Arab revolt”–in contrast to the actual historical events, puts into sharp relief the worst aspects of the film, which caters to prejudices about Arabs. Such denigrations of Arab culture were no doubt agreeable to or at least unquestioned by many Western viewers in 1962, just six years after the Suez Crisis, in which Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egyptian President and champion of pan-Arab nationalism, nationalized the Suez Canal, frustrating British geopolitical aims, and thereby hastening the postwar decline of the British Empire. In this regard,Lawrence of Arabia is as much a film of its era as it is a historical film.

At other times, the film shows considerable respect for Arabs and their political struggle, or uses Sherif Ali as a moral foil for Lawrence’s worst behavior. Several scenes flatter Western viewers in their knowing awareness of the duplicitous nature of British politicians. But Bolt’s version of these Damascus scenes dramatically condenses and politically simplifies Wilson’s version, which makes clear the many political forces contending for power (Syrian and Iraqi nationalists, Bedouin sheikhs, Druse protestors, Lebanese Christians, and Palestinian fellahin, as well as British, French, and Australian troops, and Western interests seeking oil concessions in the newly liberated area). In these final scenes, Wilson’s script has virtually everyone questioning Lawrence’s motivations and aims, including Arabs who accuse him of acting as a British agent or spy and British officers who charge him with treason. Even Ali, in a final encounter with Lawrence, proclaims, “Arabs cannot be saved by a blue-eyed Messiah. We must save ourselves. We will make mistakes. Many of them. But we must have the right to make our own mistakes.”

In Bolt’s version of the Damascus episode, Lawrence descends to its most culturally reactionary, even racist Level in portraying the seemingly inborn collapse of the Arab Revolt, thus clearly demonstrating Arab unreadiness for self-rule. While it’s understandable how the filmmakers would find that reliance on these stereotypes would provide them with a dramatically neater resolution of this otherwise complex historical and biographical drama, there’s also no question that we should have been able to expect much better from filmmakers of this caliber. A comparison of some of the film’s concluding scenes with the historical events is instructive.

The Film: The concluding scenes begin with the arrival of General Allenby and the British Army in Damascus, where they learn that Lawrence and his Bedouin army have arrived in the Syrian capital a day and a half earlier and have set up the Arab National Council in the Town Hall. Allenby explains to Dryden (Claude Rains) that, as requested, he is delaying Prince Feisal’s arrival in the city by two days, an amount of time that the Arab Bureau’s representative feels should be “ample” for their purposes.

The History: While the Arab Northern Army did arrive a day and a half before the British Army, General Allenby and Feisal actually arrived in Damascus, just hours apart, on the same day. As the result of a British government pledge made in July 1918, which agreed to recognize the complete and sovereign independence of any Arab territory liberated from Turkish control by the force of Arab arms, General Allenby had ordered all British troops to remain outside Damascus until the Arab Army had entered and occupied the city. This was a geopolitical ploy by Great Britain aimed at denying or at least forestalling French claims to Syria as a French Mandate under the provisions of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

The Film: At an unruly meeting of the Arab National Council, Lawrence, leading the meeting as Prince Feisal’s deputy, is unable to prevent petty personal arguments between Auda, Ali, and other tribal chieftains, who are also unable to understand the nature or need for electrical generators or telephones and incapable of responding sensibly and urgently to the news that tire has broken out elsewhere in the city.

The History: The chaos and dissension in the newly liberated Damascus, something not at all unusual in any revolutionary situation, had far less to do with bickering between “primitive” Bedouins than with political disputes between the representatives, respectively, of a temporary government hastily installed the day before by France and the former Turkish government, the Syrian national liberation movement, King Hussein’s Hashemite Arab Government, and Damascenes fearful of political domination by the newly arrived Sherifian forces. Within a day following the withdrawal from the city by Turkish and German troops, and by the time Allenby had arrived, Arab forces had restored electrical power (which had actually been inoperative for several weeks before their arrival), public sanitation and transportation, as well as police and tire services.

The Film: Allenby and Dryden, back at their HQ, waiting patiently for the Arab National Council to self-destruct, discover that electrical power has failed and then watch from their balcony as droves of camel-mounted Bedouins leave the city. Back at the Town Hall, Lawrence goes through the motions of government by himself, continuing to sign official decrees, as Auda tries to convince Lawrence to return with him to the desert and a dispirited Ali bids him a tearful farewell. Shown as a defeated, broken man in his final meeting with Allenby and Feisal, Lawrence is granted leave to return to England.

The History: The departing irregular Bedouin troops, the “marvelous looking beggars” disparaged by Allenby in the film, comprised only one component of the Arab Revolt, which also included uniformed Arab infantry and cavalry from numerous countries as well as Syrian, Egyptian, and Saudi nationalists, intellectuals, politicians, and a wide variety of professionals. Although the film’s final meeting between Allenby and Feisal dramatizes only the Anglo-Arab rivalry, the major political obstacle confronting Feisal’s claims for a Hashemite kingdom in Syria was the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which promised the country as a French protectorate.

Throughout 1919 and 1920, while a Hashemite government ruled Damascus, Feisal waged a political struggle for Arab independence at peace conferences in Paris, London, and San Remo, which repeatedly denied his claims. The Syrian National Congress proclaimed Feisal as king in March 1920. The French then intervened militarily and, after defeating the Syrian Army at a major battle near Damascus, Feisal was forced into exile.

When obliged at last to confront his divided loyalties during his first meeting with both of his “masters,” Allenby and Feisal, in attendance, Lawrence knew his political game was up. After refusing Allenby’s directive to serve in Damascus with a French liaison officer, Lawrence requested the leave he was due, and returned to England, where he prepared to defend Arab interests at the Paris Peace Conference the following year. (8)

Films such as Lawrence of Arabia raise the perennial question of whether the competing demands of (at least reasonable) historical fidelity and compelling drama can be reconciled. Even a masterwork such as Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, one of the most politically sophisticated and morally challenging films ever made, simplifies many important aspects of the Algerian national liberation struggle. As for Lawrence, over time I have gradually been able to develop a happily schizophrenic attitude to the film, one in which I am still able to admire it purely as cinema, despite the fact that extensive readings about T. E. Lawrence and the historical period have made clear to me the vast distance between the film and historical or biographical factuality.

Viewing the film innumerable times over the last several decades has thus become a continually fascinating exercise in appreciating the interplay between film and history, in recognizing the ways in which dramaturgy either enhances of distorts its subject, including the occasional necessity to conflate several real-life historical figures into one fictional character, or the need to forgo invariably futile attempts at literal depictions of “historical accuracy” in favor of dramatizing “larger historical truths.” (9)

Anthony Nutting perhaps best described how these tensions between artistry and history ultimately resolved themselves in Lawrence of Arabia when, asked for his opinion of the film, he commented: “I thought it was magnificent. Perhaps this is being a little frivolous, but in a sense it is a picture not so much about Lawrence as about a love affair between a director, a cameraman and a desert.”

End Notes:

(1) “A Few Words about Lawrence of Arabia in Blu-ray” discussion thread on Home Theater Forum, November 12, 2012, a-few-words-about-lawrence-of-arabia-in-blu-ray.

(2) Additional supplementary features on the Blu-ray include a Secrets of Arabia: Graphic-in-Picture Track, which relates interesting facts about life in the desert and the making of the film and, on the four-disc box set, a fascinating feature-length documentary, In Love with the Desert, produced by Alain Littaye, in which property master Eddie Fowlie visits the various locations where the Mm was made. This documentary had previously been available only with May 2001 special issue of the French magazine, DVDvision.

This Blu-ray edition of Lawrence–which follows in the wake of previous VHS, laserdisc, DVD, and Superbit DVD editions–is unlikely to be the last home-video version of this classic film, so let me sugest to Sony that, among possible new “extras” for a likely “Super Hi-Vision” edition (a format now being developed by NHK in Japan), they consider a 2008 one-hour French documentary entitled Once Upon a Time … Lawrence of Arabia, which includes interviews with Anne Coates, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole, authorized Lawrence biographer Jeremy Wilson, historian Henry Laurens, and Lean’s widow Sondra Lean.

(3) The Journal of the Society of Film and Television Arts, No. 10, Winter 1962-1963.

(4) We’re proud that Joel Hodson’s article in Cineaste proved instrumental in persuading the Writers Guild of America in 1995, thirty-two years after the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain had done so, finally to recognize Michael Wilson’s coauthorship of the screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia. The WGA even reprinted an abridged version of Hodson’s article in the March 1995 issue of its own magazine, The Journal.

One of the most moving accounts of Wilson’s long struggle for official film-industry recognition of his contributions as a blacklisted screenwriter, one that succeeded only posthumously in the United States, was related to me years ago by his daughter, Becca, who recounted going as a youngster with her father to see The Bridge on the River Kwai. As the end credits started to roll, she looked over to see tears streaming down her father’s face, a reflection, no doubt, of his admiration for the film he had just seen combined with the painful awareness that his contribution to it was completely unacknowledged.

(5) “Out of the Wilderness,” an interview with David Lean, Films and Filming, January 1963.

(6) Paul Jarrico letter to Gary Crowdus, May 13, 1994.

(7) “L’Occident regarde l’Orient: a propos de Lawrence d’Arabie” by Mehdi Derfoufi, Tausend Augen #24, December 2001.

(8) In this regard, the 1992 Anglia Television film, A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia, starring Ralph Fiennes as Lawrence, portrays Lawrence and Feisal’s pleas for the Arab cause at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, thus making an interesting political bookend to Lawrence of Arabia.

(9) These issues were examined in two interviews with Oliver Stone–“Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies” by Mark C. Carnes and “History, Dramatic License, and Larger Historical Truths” by Gary Crowdus–in our Spring 1997 issue, Vol. XXII, No. 4.

Make way for Blu-ray

As James Cameron made the publicity rounds to promote his then soon-to-be-blockbuster Avatar this past December, he had more than the film’s theatrical release on his mind: “Probably the initial Blu-ray release of Avatar won’t be in 3-D and then a subsequent release will be in 3-D,” he told MTV at the time–three months before the film’s Blu-ray release date was even confirmed and more than four months before its theatrical release.

But on March 23rd, Cameron and his producer, Ion Landau, held a press conference to officially announce the mega-film’s Earth Day release date of April 22nd, in a Blu-ray version that will include no supplemental features, purportedly to maximize all of the disc’s storage space in order to provide the best available picture and sound quality. “We wanted the best presentation of any film in the history of the Blu-ray and DVD formats,” Landau grandly noted. “The Blu-ray is going to be pure movie.”

Even with the admission that Avatar’s initial Blu-ray release would be followed by a newer, more likely better disc just a few months later (likely in November), at the time of the press conference, Avatar was already the best-selling movie title on, with more than half of all orders for the Blu-ray edition.

 To put that percentage into perspective: Cameron’s press conference happened to coincide with the home entertainment release of New Moon. Of the more than four million copies sold of that title in its opening week, seventeen percent were Blu-ray discs (one could even further compare that to the only three percent of Blu-ray discs that comprised sales for the franchise’s first entry, Twilight, a year earlier).

So just what is Blu-ray? And what makes it better? From a consumer standpoint, the reasons to upgrade are essentially the same as why people moved from VHS to DVD a decade ago: Better audio and video quality and additional storage space.

Technically speaking, what makes a Blu-ray “blu” is that it utilizes a shorter wavelength, blue-violet laser in order to read the disc (as opposed to a standard DVD’s red laser), resulting in ten times as much storage space. Which further translates to better features–like the ability to access the disc menu without having to stop a movie and the interactivity of picture-in-picture extras, where the viewer can watch a director commentary while the film is playing, for example.

Created to support high-definition formats, the first consumer Blu-ray player–the Sony BDZ-S77–was made available for purchase in the Spring of 2003, with two major strikes against it: A retail price of almost $4,000 and no Blu-ray movies available for purchase.

At the same time the Blu-ray technology was being developed, a competing format–Toshiba’s HD DVD–also came on to the scene, boasting similar high-definition quality and increased storage space. The so-called “format war” lasted until February of 2008, when Toshiba relented, and announced that it would discontinue the development and manufacturing of all HD DVD products.

But unlike the VHS-to-DVD switch, Blu-ray players are compatible with standard DVDs (even CDs), so there’s no need to upgrade your entire DVD collection. In fact, a Blu-ray player can actually “upconvert” a standard DVD from a resolution of 720×480 pixels to up to 1920×1080 pixels, resulting in a crisper, more vibrant, and detailed image.

Of course, the best way to utilize a Blu-ray player is to watch a Blu-ray disc on an HDTV set. But even the studios understand a consumer’s reluctance to shell out big bucks in order to reoutfit an entire DVD library.

The forward-thinking folks at Warner Bros. have one innovative solution: The premise is simple: Trade in your current DVD titles for a new Blu-ray version for as little as $7.95 per movie. Of course, it’s Warner-only titles, and so far there are just fifty-five from which to choose. But with classic titles such as An American in Paris and Rio Bravo, a tri-fecta of Kubrick films (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket), cult classics like Dark City and The Lost Boys, and more being added, it’s certainly one cost-effective way to update a personal movie collection.

“DVD2Blu is a great way for consumers to start or expand their Blu-ray disc collection,” says Dorinda Marticorena, Warner Home Video’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing and high definition. “We’re launching the program with a wide range of titles that will appeal to a broad audience. In the coming months, we’re looking to expand the program and make additional rifles available.”

Though largely the domain of big-budget blockbusters with names such as “Michael Bay” behind them, like DVD before it, a funny thing has been happening to Blu-ray lately. As the high-definition format finds firmer footing in the consumer marketplace, studio executives are feeling emboldened to begin cracking open their back catalogs to find more universally appealing “classic” titles that could work for a larger, Blu-ray audience.

“Action and new releases seem to be the biggest sellers on Blu-ray, but classics like The Godfather also sell,” says Stephanie Prange, editor-in-chief of Home Media Magazine, of Paramount’s pioneering foray into the Blu-ray market in late 2008 with a disc that included Francis Ford Coppola’s crime trilogy in all its dark (thank you, Gordon Willis), grainy glory.

With a reputation for painstaking restorations and a client base that doesn’t balk at spending $30 to $80 per pristine title, it’s not surprising that Criterion was one of the first distributors to adopt the Blu-ray technology for classic films. In October of 2008, Criterion released its first slate of Blu-rays–an eclectic sampling that included Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express, Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, and Carol Reed’s The Third Man. To date, the studio offers more than forty titles on Blu-ray, with plans to release Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert, and a box set of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sanjuro this summer.

But don’t expect Criterion to convert its entire DVD collection to Blu-ray in the near future. With many of the company’s titles being owned by Studio-Canal, proprietors of the world’s third largest film library, Lionsgate is now working with the French production company to release a handful of its classic titles stateside.

“Lionsgate has been one of the biggest supporters of the Blu-ray format since our first wave of titles came out in 2006,” says marketing brand manager Amanda Kozlowski. “But consumers were most excited about the capabilities of seeing explosive, action-oriented movies like Terminator 2 in Hi-Def at first. So that’s where we, like other studios, focused our efforts.”

As pricing for Blu-ray players and discs has decreased–by the end of 2009, The Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) estimated that some seventeen million households owned Blu-ray hardware–Kozlowski says “the Blu-ray market has grown considerably … so that afforded us the opportunity to look beyond the traditional genres that have worked so well on Blu-ray with an eye toward satisfying what is now a really diverse consumer base.”

In looking to capitalize on a broader market of cinephiles, Lionsgate needed to look past its catalog of Saw films and other genre fare. “StudioCanal came up with a great strategy and look for what became the StudioCanal Collection,” says Kozlowski, “and we were thrilled to be able to distribute those titles in the U.S. market.” The first batch of titles, released in February, included Alexander Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers, Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, and Kurosawa’s Ran–the latter two of which were previously given the Criterion treatment on DVD.

“Together we culled through their vast library–one of the biggest in the world–and came up with a list of their most acclaimed, international films that we thought U.S. consumers would be most interested to see on Blu-ray,” Kozlowski notes of the reasoning behind the three initial releases.

Audience, of course, is the key; because of the Blu-ray format’s precise specifications, launching a title takes more than a quick transfer from DVD. For example, Warner Home Video’s Fiftieth anniversary edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, released in November, cost the studio $1 million to restore.

Luckily, Warner Home Video’s senior vice president of marketing/theatrical catalog, George Feltenstein, is one of classic cinema’s fiercest advocates. To date, he has helped the studio bring new, Blu-ray life to a host of iconic projects, including Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Casablanca.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone on the planet complaining more about the lack of classic releases on Blu-ray than me,” Feltenstein told High-Def Digest in February 2009. He went on to describe the lack of classic Blu-ray titles on retail shelves as “horrible, ridiculous and frustrating” and posited the catch-22 that many consumers had yet to make the transition to Blu-ray as a result of there not being enough available titles to entice them. “The fact that we are in a recession/depression and the world’s economy is going to hell in a handbasket doesn’t help things,” he added.

Though Feltenstein pointed out that restoring a classic film can often mean starting from scratch, Kozlowski counters that–unlike new films that are coming to DVD and Blu-ray fresh off their theatrical runs–“We’re dealing with mostly classic product that’s not on a certain timeframe. So if we need to devote more attention to a certain title, we have the freedom to do so.”

“Studios have combed through libraries and back lots to find extra material,” says Prange of the time it takes to assemble a worthwhile title. “Some material has been found in people’s basements. Studios have employed the help of film critics and relatives to do commentaries when none of the original players are available or alive. At Warner, they’ve consulted with the original directors and cine-matographers to make sure they get the color and contrast just right.”

This has been the case at Paramount, too (the second major studio to release a Blu-ray disc). The studio’s new DVD and Blu-ray release of The African Queen is a project six years in the making–beginning at Romulus Films, where the original three-strip negative still existed, and including a screening of that print with the film’s cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, to better understand the filmmakers’ original intentions.

With only five Blu-ray titles in its collection so far, Kino, America’s leading distributor of silent cinema, is another company that seems to concur with the slow-but-steady method of DVD releases. In November, the company entered the Blu-ray market with Buster Keaton’s The General, which has been one of the company’s best-selling titles throughout each of its iterations (VHS, laser disc, and DVD), making it a natural choice.

“You look for the best of the best,” says Eric Wilkinson, Kino’s vice president of DVD sales and distribution. “The General is in the top fifteen films of all time according to Sight & Sound and it’s on the AFI 100 Years, 100 Films fist. Despite its age, it’s something that people want to own. And people who want to own this movie want as close as they can get to the original theatrical experience. This transfer on Blu-ray does just that.”

Unlike other classic titles, which need to be Frankensteined together by talented restoration experts, Keaton’s comedy is one film where the original 1926 negative has survived with relatively few blemishes to the print.

“What I like about it is that the film is restored, but not to the point where they digitally ‘scrubbed’ it, for lack of a better term,” continues Wilkinson. “It doesn’t look like it was filmed yesterday. While, on one end, it’s a razor-sharp print and it looks beautiful, there are elements in the film that would be inherent to seeing it when it was originally released that are still in there. There’s grain, of course, because it was shot on film, and then the occasional hair. They didn’t clean it up so much that it looked fake or like a new movie trying to look old.”

Though the proliferation of classic titles on Blu-ray appears to be slow in coming, Prange notes that “Some high-profile catalog came out much faster on Blu-ray than it did on DVD. For instance, The Godfather came out in 2008 on Blu-ray, just two years after the format launched; that’s twice as fast as it took to hit DVD.”

“Studios really wanted to boost the Blu-ray market,” she claims. Which should offer some sense of relief to those on the fence about switching to the newer format. With studios on board and excited about pushing the format, they’re investing a lot of money for the long-term–and won’t be looking to jump ship to a new format any time soon. Not even digital streaming, a medium that Blu-ray can complement.

Mike Atteberry, editor-in-chief of High-Def Digest, believes that “Blu-ray is going to be around for a while. Many of the studios are wisely positioning Blu-ray releases by including digital copies and DVDs along with the Blu-rays, so movies can be played in all rooms (and probably in minivans nationwide), even as Blu-ray players enter more homes and venues. As many players also allow for playback of streaming movies and downloads, it sets Blu-ray up as another viewing option (the best as of now), but doesn’t make it an either/or situation.”

Even Troma–home of The Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD–is getting in on the act. “We at Troma are experts at losing money,” says the studio’s cofounder, Lloyd Kaufman. “We were arguably the first studio to make DVDs; everything was great except that nobody yet had DVD players. With Blu-ray, we waited. Now that Blu-ray has proven expensive and not really popular with a lot of our fans, we have decided to plunge in and lose more money,” he laughs. Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead launched in February, followed by Tromeo & Juliet and Class of Nuke ‘Em High.

Though it’s now a distant memory, the “format war” is one reason why Blu-ray titles in general (not just classics) have had a long road to retail shelves. “Initially, because of the format war, the companies and studios siding with HD DVD or Blu-ray were rolling out their latest and greatest blockbusters in an effort to convince buyers to make a move toward one side or the other based on the titles available on each,” says Atteberry. “Once Blu-ray came out as the dominant HD format, I think it was just natural for studios to switch their existing high-def catalogs over to Blu-ray first, then start working their way through the rest of their catalogs, often starting with the more recent films since, in theory, unless something has gone really wrong, a newer release’s picture and audio elements should be in excellent condition.”

But could the dearth of classic titles be a result of demand more than supply? Are classic film lovers, as a general rule, not as quick to adopt newer technologies? “I actually think true classic film fans are among the first to adopt new technologies once they see the benefits for themselves,” suggests Atteberry. “Show someone a Blu-ray of Casablanca, then ask them to go home and watch their old DVD copy. I’m pretty sure they’ll spend the next hour and forty-two minutes making plans to revisit Rick’s in high definition as soon as possible.”

While the new release titles Twilight, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and The Hangover proved to be the highest-grossing Blu-rays of 2009, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the overall best-selling, according to the DEG. In fact, in an overall home entertainment market that sank five percent in sales, Blu-ray was the one “bright spot,” according to the organization’s end-of-year report for 2009. Sales of Blu-ray devices were up seventy-six percent, with more than $500 million in revenue in discs generated in the fourth quarter alone. (Clearly, it was a very Blu holiday season.)

“The home entertainment business is doing remarkably well given the overall economic environment,” noted DEG president Ron Sanders, who is also president of Warner Home Video. “With Blu-ray titles topping $1 billion in sales and Blu-ray hardware now in seventeen million homes, the format is well on its way to mainstream consumer adoption,” added DEG chairman Bob Chapek, also president of distribution for The Walt Disney Studios (the studio behind Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).

“I think classic films are every bit as important to the Blu-ray marketplace as recent blockbusters,” offers Atteberry. “High-Def Digest readers always want to know if a new release title is hitting Blu-ray with high quality video and audio, but they seem to be just as interested, if not more so, in knowing that a film like The Third Man, Gone with the Wind, or The Wizard of Oz has been given the attention these classic films deserve. If a studio invests the necessary time and money into restoring a classic film for high definition home video release, I’m confident Blu-ray customers will make it more than worth their while.”

Which means it is up to the consumer–and classic film lovers in particular–to make the demand known so that additional classic titles will be brought to Blu-ray. “The more that quality films are available on Blu-ray, the more that film lovers are going to buy Blu-ray players,” concludes Kozlowski. “And that’s how we’re able to offer a foreign-language classic like Contempt on Blu-ray, so that everyone can enjoy it in the best viewing experience possible. And if Lionsgate/Studio-Canal or another studio can find a way to generate interest in the art of film amongst new consumers, there’s also an artistic value on that which goes beyond dollars and cents.

Casual video gaming is now serious business

About 2 million people have helped transform a virtual greasy spoon into a four-star restaurant by becoming Flo–a character in a video game who diligently seats customers and takes orders.

The ponytailed waitress is the central figure in Diner Dash–one of the best-selling casual video games. These online amusements are usually filled with cute cartoon images and can be played on a variety of devices, from personal computers to cell phones.

“We target a large audience: gamers who don’t own a video game console,” says Eric Zimmerman, co-founder of Gamelab, which created Diner Dash in 2004. “We make innovative, small-scale games.”

The company is one of several local firms that have ridden the casual game wave; they have even created a gaming district of sorts in Manhattan. So far, they have had the field to themselves. But some giants have taken note of the games’ popularity and are expected to step into the market soon.

Gamelab, the most established of the New York firms, launched in 2000 and projects sales of $4 million in 2007. The 32-person shop recently moved from its digs in TriBeCa to a 5,000-square-foot office in Chelsea, near the headquarters of rival developer Large Animal Games.

Competitive edge

large animal, which was founded in 2001, has doubled its staff in the past year, to 17, and expects to expand to 35 by 2009. The company has produced more than 50 games, which are distributed by major Web portals and online game sites, including and

The New York firms say they have a competitive edge because of their development experience and the flow of creative talent from such local schools as Parsons, The New School for Design and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which offers the Interactive Telecommunications Program.

“Art talent is strong here,” says Wade Tinney, co-founder of Large Animal and a Parsons graduate. “There are lots of people who do not want to move to the West Coast.”

Revenues from casual games are expected to rise 68% this year from 2006, to nearly $750 million, and are projected to reach almost $2 billion by 2009, according to research firm IDC.

The games, which include other hot titles like Solitaire, cost relatively little to produce–$50,000 to $250,000–and generally retail for about $20.

“There’s a lot of growth in casual games,” says Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch. That growth is attributed primarily to improved access to affordable broadband.

The audience has also become more diverse. Forty-four percent of online gamers are female, the vast majority of whom play casual games, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Hard core

even with more users, the smaller New York City developers face an uncertain future as major players–most recently Electronic Arts in Redwood City, Calif.–enter the gaming market.

The larger companies are trying to move beyond the hard-core gamers–typically males aged 18 to 34 who own a Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox console.

“Companies of their size will shake the casual game space up,” Mr. Tinney says. “It hasn’t been supercompetitive until now.”

As competition intensifies, production costs are likely to rise and distributors are likely to be more selective, analysts say.

In an effort to avoid getting squeezed, Gamelab is developing multiplayer games, while Large Animal is exploring alternative distribution methods, such as pay-as-you-play rather than downloads.

Large Animal also recently launched Playwidgets, which lets players customize games with photos; they can then be shared with friends or added to blogs.

Because advertisers sponsor Playwidgets, Large Animal expects the product to increase revenues. Though the company, which is privately held, declined to disclose financials, it says that it is considering raising venture capital funds.

“It is important that we are well-funded so that we can move quickly and make products on par with or better than those made by companies with deep pockets,” Mr. Tinney says.

Home theater setup

Living room cluttered with budget gear? Upgrade your system and do Hollywood’s gems some justice.

When it comes to TV screen size, everyone can agree: as huge as your room’s viewing distance will accommodate. For the best cinematic experience, get something big and beautiful like (1) Samsung’s PN60E7000FF plasma ($2,120) . The slim design makes this 60-inch monster seem unobtrusive, and the plasma panel boasts rich colors and deep blacksareas where LCDs fall short. Plus, its Smart TV software includes streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu, so you can ditch the Roku.

While the HDTV may be a looker, its paltry speakers don’t do much for the soundtrack. Add a sound bar and subwoofer from GoldenEar. The (2) SuperCinema 3D Array ($1,000) is an elegant box that does a super job of mimicking surround sound, saving you from the clutter and wires of a six-speaker arsenal. (3) GoldenEar’s ForceField 3 sub ($500) will cover the low end, adding 1,000 watts of punch to the explosions and thundering drums.

Pick up a receiver that can drive the sound bar, manage multiple sources like gaming consoles and cable boxes, and stream music over AirPlay or DLNA. We like the (4) Pioneer VSX-1122-K receiver ($600) . It’s a powerful command center that packs a respectable seven HDMI inputs and has a companion iPad app that lets you fine-tune myriad settings. For movies on silver discs, hook up a (5) Panasonic DMP-BDT220 Blu-ray player ($100) , a compact, quick-loading model that offers the best bang for the buck out there. And you can leave the remotes under the couch cushion if you get a (6) Griffin Beacon ($30) , which lets you control everything with your smartphone.

Now it’s time to pop some corn and christen the setup. We recommend Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy; while the moody lighting shows off the plasma’s prowess, the bone-crunching action and Hans Zimmer score will immerse you in aural bliss.

Traynor YGL-2

When the discussion turns to North American-made tube combos under $1,000, Traynor’s YGL2 deserves to be on the short list of top contenders. Its look is classic Traynor, and it isn’t laden with functions, but this combo packs everything needed for a wide range of gig-worthy tones at a price that’s quite impressive.

As with many two-channel amps, the YGL2 is configured with footswitchable Clean and Overdrive channels that feature independent Gain controls, an Overdrive Volume control, shared three-knob EQ, and global Master and Reverb controls. Pushbutton switches for USA/Brit and Vintage/ Modern modes expand the palette considerably, though both are panel-only options and not selectable with the included 2-button footswitch. Put it all in a compact cabinet, and the YGL2 is startlingly loud for its size, with 30 watts of EL84-generated class-A power (cathode biased, with no negative feedback) driving an efficient Celestion Vintage 30 speaker.

When an amp with four EL84s enters the room it’s virtually impossible to not think of Vox. True to form, the YGL2 presents that spanky, chimey, British-style tone throughout all settings, and despite its impressive versatility, that element defines the YGL2‘s character to a great extent. The Clean channel likes to be wound up with its Volume at least to 10 o’cLock, the Master about halfway, and the Brit voice engaged to begin showing what it’s made of–and pushed to anywhere past this point, you can readily hear that Vox-like bloom and shimmer in raked chords or arpeggiated runs.

Engaging the USA mode with the Overdrive channel’s Gain knob turned down and the Master up, I tapped convincing Fender-style pushed cleans that were perfect for scorching Texas blues or punchy rock rhythm playing. The reverb isn’t the lushest on the planet, but it does its job and sounds good on these cleaner tones. At higher Gain settings, the Overdrive channel’s juicy, harmonically rich tones lean more toward retro rock, snarly india and alternative riffing, and gnarly all-country. But I had no trouble getting wailing lead tones and singing feedback with my humbucker and single-coil guitars, and the YGL2 seems able to cover just about anything you throw at it depending on how you set the controls, and whether you use a distortion or best fuzz pedal with it.

The Modern mode proved more virile throughout most settings, retaining the amp’s full measure of clarity and note attack, although Vintage mode could be useful for a spongier blues voice on the Overdrive channel, or maybe a mellower jazz tone when using the Clean channel.

The rear-panel features are a little basic–only a series loop, and no level control for it or the direct out–but that aside, anyone seeking an all-tube 30-watter that has the ability to nail some classic British and American tones, and lands at well under a grand, should try out the YGL2. As has always been the case with this Canadian company,Traynor gives you a lot of amp for your money.

Just Audio’s Headphone Amplifiers: AHA-120

Never mind the source file, why does mobile music lack sound quality? Style headphones are just that–style over substance–while iPods, MP3 players and phone/music player variants are barely satisfactory. This situation can be improved, however, by inserting a headphone amplifier between your player and the headphones. Just Audio has two on offer: the µHA-120 (55 x 25 x 85mm) and the slightly larger AHA-120 (80 x 28 x 125mm), the latter shifting at the weight of a couple of mobile phones, the former around half the weight of a single phone.

Simple, solid and well built, both feature a rechargeable battery that lasts around 18 hours, a rotary volume knob, a headphone socket, source (iPod, MP3 player, tape machine, etc.) and a mini-USB charge port. The AHA-120 also features a rotatable impedance knob to precisely match your headphones to the unit.

I played a range of pop and vocal jazz through the Sennheiser PX 100 (30 [pounds sterling]), HD650 (300 [pounds sterling]) and HD800 (1,000 [pounds sterling]) headphones via the ubiquitous iPod Classic 80GB.

Let’s start with the juHA-120. Despite the price, my first mistake was to equate size with quality. This tiny amp had a spacious, airy upper mid-band with a meaty bass that provided immense transparency, making the quality difference between the PX 100 and the HD650 plain. What shocked me was how well it drove the superb HD800 headphones–these are tough to get going–and how dynamic the sound was.

Moving to the AHA-120: the better-quality components plus the useful impedance control improved the general performance of the PX 100 headphones, giving them a more natural open presentation. The HD650 impedance was moved from 32 to 300 as the soundstage broadened, while the upper midrange became more complex. Vocal harmonies revealed their layering while instrumental separation provided a busy, yet clear, delivery. The play on the HD800 was so good that both the headphones and AHA120 highlighted the inadequacies of the mastering on the pop chart tracks, their compressed bass and peak-limited vocals, while bathing in the top-quality mastering of the jazz vocal: the fragility of the treble and the metallic attack of the acoustic guitar.

If you find the idea of portable grooves frustrating, book a demo of either or both of these Just Audio units. they have the power to restore your faith in mobile music.

Yamaha THR10

Packed in a crafty retro radio-like casing that shouldn’t trigger any angst from home-design freaks if you leave it on a coffee table or in your bedroom studio, the Yamaha THR10($460 retail/$299 street) is a powerful tool for guitarists who want to practice, compose, or record without dragging a full rig into the house. And if you happen to live with an extremely fussy architect, fashion designer, or art director, just show them the digital THR10 includes “virtual tube illumination” that casts an orange-hued glow behind the speaker grille. Arty types love lighting effects.

Interior decor concerns aside, the 10-watt THR10 offers five amp sounds (Modern, Brit Hi, Lead, Crunch, Clean), bass and acoustic settings, a flat option, eight effects (chorus of top rated chorus pedal, flanger, phaser, tremolo, delay, delay/reverb, spring reverb like top reverb pedals, hall reverb, and if you download the free THR Editor at, you also get a compressor and a noise gate), five user-memory buttons, tap tempo (for delays), an onboard chromatic tuner, an aux input (so you can rock out with mp3s or other tracks), and a USB connection. The THR 10 is bundled with Cubase AI software, so if you don’t already have a DAW, you’re ready to record, edit, and mix tracks. It’s also light and portable, and can be run on batteries (eight AA) or AC power. A THR5 is also available, as is a THR Session app for iOS 5.0 or later devices.

I tested the THR10 with a Gibson Les Paul, a Hanson Chicagoan (with mini humbuckers), a Taylor SolidBody (with two single-coils and a humbucker), and a Fano Alt de Facto JM6 (with P-90s). I did some noodling and low-volume rehearsals/songwriting sessions with the amp and stereo speakers rocking, and I also employed the THR10 as an audio interface for Garage-Band, as well as for the included Cubase AI software.

Tone is obviously subjective–just ask any two guitarists–but I found that all of the THR10’s amps sounded pretty inspiring and fun, and if a preset was bugging me for a particular application, the Gain, Bass, Middle, and Treble knobs offered enough control to dial in something appropriate. I also found the amp sounds reacted well with guitar Volume-knob and finger- or pick-attack dynamics. There is a slight edge to the midrange frequencies that might–depending upon your personal taste–be too buzzy for so-called “master” tracks when recording, but this didn’t hamper any of my enjoyment while blasting around my room or devising riffs for songs. While I didn’t perceive any “3D-style” audio from Yamaha’s Extended Stereo Technology, the sound output is clear, articulate, and loud enough to be comfortably heard in a two guitar, bass, and light percussion session.

The THR10 also takes pedals well. I often incorporated various fuzzes, distortions, and wahs into the signal chain without discerning artifacts, compression, overt coloration, or other sonic glitches. In fact, I took to using the THR10 for initial auditions of stompboxes before using them with my normal live-performance and studio rigs.

As an audio interface for DAWs, the THR10 worked flawlessly. Any latency was low enough to not capture my attention at all. The amp tones and effects absolutely gave me the juice to cut tracks that I was happy with, and, in most cases, I used the THR10’s sounds for the final mix. In those few instances where I replaced the THR10 tone with a guitar amp plug-in, I still thanked the Yamaha box for inspiring me to play something cool.

There are a lot of so-called practice amps out there that offer gobs of sonic capabilities, as well as home-recording applications. Most all of these products sound very good, so perhaps we should delete all references to “practice amps” and replace the phrase with “micro amp” or “mini amp” or the appellation of your choice. Personally, I’d hate to limit the THR10’s options. The box gave me some excellent “conventional” guitar tones, and it let me craft some deliciously off-kilter sounds, too. It provided instant gratification when I wanted to practice at home for a few moments, it delivered some hip recorded tracks, it made the grade for small ensemble sessions, and, in a pinch, I’m sure I could use it onstage via the USB or headphone output. I think I’ll call the THR10 my “little monster.”

KUDOS Looks retro fabulous. Good sounds. USB Out/Aux In. Bundled with Cubase AI.


Do you need a 4k TV?

You’d be forgiven for doubting the staying power of 4K TVs, new sets that have four times the resolution of HD (and can also be called Ultra HD, or UHD, TVs). After all, the companies pushing them are the same ones that just finished telling you how much you need a 3-D TV in your living room. But unlike 3-D, 4K has a shelf life: With the exception of Craig Sager, 4K stands to improve everything you watch, not just Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

The best HD TVs have 1,080 horizontal lines of resolution, each consisting of 1,920 pixels. 4K TVs, however, have twice as many lines and twice as many pixels per line. The result is a picture with four times the number of pixels–and clarity–as HD. Just remember to temper your expectations: Going from clear to clearer won’t provide the same jolt as going from SD to HD. SD to HD was kind of like trading in a bus pass for a Mercedes. Moving from HD to 4K is more like swapping that Mercedes for a Maybach.

But even a Maybach is nothing without gas. Right now, no network broadcasts in anything higher than 1080p. To get around this, many 4K TVs have built-in upscalers. They work, slightly improving your picture quality, but they’re not going to blow you away.

Until 4K is adopted by broadcasters (which probably won’t happen for at least five years), the best way to experience it is by watching video through a 4K media player, like the FMP-X1 from Sony ($700; When I hooked up the X1 to a 65-inch 4K Bravia XBR ($4,500), even the menu screen surprised me; it was like looking out a freshly cleaned window after years without Windex. Flip to the wrong show and a bird would fly into this thing. Granted, the movie the player first offered was After Earth, which no one should watch on any TV, but once I moved on to the other options, both the TV and 4K shined. After a day or two of movies, I found myself clicking on video options I wouldn’t normally be interested in–mostly underwater nature videos, and a puppy getting a bath–just to appreciate the image clarity.

For now, unless you really love movies or just hate discretionary income, you don’t need a 4K TV. Even if you give in and watch After Earth, you’ll exhaust the native 4K options relatively quickly. Besides, most of us watch more TV shows than movies, so until UHD becomes standard, 4K TVs remain a tantalizing promise of what TV can and will be. But at least the ball is rolling. Hopefully toward that adorable puppy.

Best Latex Waist Cincher – Top Names to Go For

Waist cinchers are the ideal pieces of shapewear for women who want to slim down their wastes and achieve that toned hourglass figure that drive men crazy. Lots of waist cincher reviews state that there are some common types out there that most women go for. Waist cinchers made of latex are considered to be ideal for beginners. These comprise of only a few bones that are weak, and hence these offer more flexibility to users. Although these make some unusual wrinkles on the sides and may be visible from beneath the clothing, these can be ideal to wear for beginners. At the time of working out, there can be ideal to wear in the gyms. Read on to know which the best latex waist cincher is that you can get in the market.

Ann Chery Women’s Workout Waist Cincher

It is one of the ideal waist cinchers out there that you will love to sport while working out. It can boost the thermal activity in your waist area and lead to more amount of sweating, thus helping more toxins to be removed from your body while working out. The shapewear is made of a combination of cotton and latex and comprise of an inner lining. It can provide your waist with a lot of comfort and help you to run easily and participate in the fitness activity that you like.

Ann Michell Classic Latex Waist Cincher

It helps make the waist look smaller by 3 sizes from the very moment that you begin to wear it. It enhances your posture and makes you sit straight and walk taller. It removes a few inches from your waist and can shape your body into an hourglass form by shaping your waist and flattening your tummy. It offers you all the excellent features that can be offered by a high quality cincher.

Vixen Long Latex Cincher 2 Hook

It removes inches from the abdomen, back and the waist through perspiration and compression. This can result in long-term fat loss. The product is supported down the middle part of the abdomen with eye closures and 2 reinforced columns of hook. The shapewear rises to slightly below the bust and can minimize your back pain. You may also wear your much loved piece of bra with it.

Pink Cheetah Print Vixen Work Out Band- 3 Hook

The shapewear can accelerate the pace of your fat loss through micro massage, perspiration and high compression. You can wear it comfortably beneath your casual clothes every day for as long as 8-10 hours. You need to keep wearing it every day for a minimum of one month in order to see long-term weight loss through compression. The band of the outfit has been made from a latex core and boasts of a soft cotton exterior and comprises of interior lining. It sits tightly at the waist and extends to the upper abdominals. The product is supported down the middle part of the abdomen with eye closures and 2 reinforced columns of hook.

Softball Bats – Hitting Softballs the Right Way

It seems pretty easy to hit a softball, particularly when you watch pro softball players hitting singles and doubles. However, before you try swinging your best usssa softball bats, there are some important things that you should keep in your mind. These are some of the basic things about the game and game-playing that you should understand. Whether you are an ace or simply starting out with softball playing, the following tips will help you a lot in hitting softballs in the right way.

Take additional batting practice

It makes sense to take some additional batting practice, and this is generally the first step that players in a slump need to take. There is no other alternative for hard work. As a hitter, you need to spot the basic error of flaw in your approach and make the necessary adjustment and train yourself again to swing your bat in a proper manner. Hitting can appear to be too complicated in the middle of a slump. Going back to building your swing can help simplify the process. Soft-toss drills and tee work can help players feel and concentrate on the basics of the swing. As a hitter, you need to walk through the fundamentals and slowly build practicing your batting.

Hip rotation is important

Hitting a softball is not only about having strong arms, although the sight of the beefy arms of famous batters such as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire would make you think otherwise. However, hitting softballs is not only about having bulky arms. Hips and lower body are also very essential. Rotating your hips well can assist you in generating power, so that you are able to swing your bat authoritatively at any time. You can do this will the help of your softball coach. You would also do well to check a few instructional softball hitting videos in order to pick up a few drills and hitting tips along the way.

Get the right bats

You cannot do with just about any softball bat, and not all bats for softball playing have been created equally. You can get bats in varied materials, grips, weights and lengths. It is essential for you to get one that is of the proper size in order to get the most of out of the bats that you use. Some amount of trial and error is needed. Eventually however, you will need to make some amount of adjustments while you progress with your game playing. You should get a bat of an ideal brand, size or weight for you, that you are most comfortable with. Hitting can become difficult for you in case you are uncomfortable with any of the aspects of your bat. You should take out some time to try out a number of bats in order to find one that suits you perfectly.

Using the above tips can help you to improve your techniques of softball hitting as much as possible so that you have the perfect idea of how to begin your game.