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December 14, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Dubai International Film Festival, famed German director Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Nosferatu; Cave of Forgotten Dreams) has disparaged Lawrence of Arabia as “not really that good anymore.” Herzog criticized the screenplay by Robert Bolt for depicting the Arab world as “very stupid.” He added: “Lawrence of Arabia doesn’t portray the Arab world in a good way.” Herzog’s remarks may have come as a surprise to organizers of the DIFF, who selected Lawrence to kick off their first festival in 2004. Herzog said that for a forthcoming film he himself is educating himself about the Arab world — “about the region, about Islam, about [the] Bedouin … about the dignity of the Arabian world. This is something which you cannot learn from Lawrence of Arabia. It does not show what is true of today.” (The film, however, does depict T.E. Lawrence, played by Peter O’Toole, doing precisely what Herzog says he himself is doing — immersing himself in Arab culture.) In a December 1962 letter to director David Lean, published in Lawrence of Arabia, the 30th Anniversary Pictorial History (1992), by L. Robert Morris and Lawrence Raskin, Bolt told of receiving a phone call from a Muslim “Prince of some kind” who remarked that Lawrence “was the first film he had seen in which a Muslim people were accorded absolutely equal status with the whites, being neither sentimentalized nor belittled.” Herzog, who fancies himself a “rogue” filmmaker, may also discover some aspects of Arab culture woefully restrictive for a Westerner. For example, in some areas of the region the films of Egyptian-born Omar Sharif, one of the stars of Lawrence, have long been banned because Sharif kissed Barbra Streisand, a Jew, in Funny Girl, and in 2005 a death fatwa was declared against Sharif after he appeared as St. Peter in an Italian film.