And so does that of Lawrence of Arabia, which just played at the Music Box in a new DCP restoration. As much as I admire its craftsmanship, intelligence, and historical sweep, I could never get into David Lean's celebrated epic. It looks almost too pristine—as if you'll blow the perfect images out of place if you breathe too hard. Somehow Lean's desert landscapes convey the same exacting brilliance as his interior shots, suggesting giant painted frescoes rather than real locations. Lean was a successful film editor before he started directing, and many have noted the editorial quality of his storytelling. Detail follows detail with flawless order, always directing attention to the shape of the overall construction; I imagine Lean could have been a successful architect.
Lawrence of Arabia, of course, is one of the great skyscrapers of film history, with slick, tall surfaces that encourage you to look up in admiration. Tess, on the other hand, is designed like a long row of cottages, and it encourages you to look around. Perhaps I identify more closely with Polanski's period epic because I have an easier time imagining myself living in it.