A Few Words About A few words about...™ Ben-Hur -- in Blu-ray

john a hunter

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ahollis said:
 Check out the American Widescreen Musuem web site for TODD-AO and it is all explained. http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/  The web site also has a lot on Camera 65, which is the process BEN-HUR was filmed in.  I just love the web site and always come away learning something new. 
  
The " concave" effect was clearly the result of the famous"bug eye" lens which helped make the original Todd AO process so special. In fact that shot has stayed with me from the time I first saw the film in 1957 in a 35mm reduction.
 

Robert Harris

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Originally Posted by john a hunter /t/314868/a-few-words-about-ben-hur-in-blu-ray/30#post_3852360
The " concave" effect was clearly the result of the famous"bug eye" lens which helped make the original Todd AO process so special. In fact that shot has stayed with me from the time I first saw the film in 1957 in a 35mm reduction.
I had the pleasure of having "bugs" live with me for a few years. He's currently happily retired in Texas as part of the Wide Screen Museum collection.

"Bugs" had a thing for really nice cabs.

RAH
 

garyrc

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marsnkc said:
Wyler himself, I read, wasn't proud of the movie, and the more I watch it, the slower it gets! The big draw is the chariot race, the anticipation for which carries me through the first part nicely. Otherwise it's pretty much a downer (yet compelling enough to warrant purchasing - and selfishly keeping - every darn edition ever produced!) A huge irony: The Turner hybrid aspect-ratio VHS is the most exciting video version for me. Anyone who's seen it will remember the movie being pan and scanned except for the chariot race. As soon as the chariots start their procession into the arena, the music swells and the scanning device pulls back to reveal the arena in all its magnificent, widescreen glory! I'm the last person in the world to advocate P&S, but in this case the effect was tremendous.
There are several interesting issues brought up in your post.
Wyler seemed very happy with Ben-Hur when he came to Wheeler auditorium at U.C. Berkeley for a long discussion of many of his films. He agreed that BH is not a film that people would have thought of as his cup of tea .. but he accepted the job because it would present a new and different challenge. One of his biographers said that something about the density of the novel interested him.
The larger apparent area of a pan and scan on a CRT would be expected to increase cortical arousal in the brain, and make the movie seem less slow (if interested, see Aesthetics and Psychobiology by Berlyne and Ornstein's The Psychology of Time .
This brings us, IMO, to one of the largest differences between seeing Ben-Hur in 70 mm on a huge screen with incredibly dynamic sound, and seeing it on home video in most people's homes on a relatively small screen with the dynamically compressed sound and relatively too loud dialog that is on the DVD & VHS: in the home, there are sections that seem slow; in 70mm, at least the several times I saw it, the film is very intense throughout -- some of my friends and I had sore muscles from gripping the theater seats during certain scenes. It is so intense that some of the quiet and intimate parts provide a a welcome and cool rest --- but they don't seem to be slow. The movie was planned, edited/paced, and scored with 70 mm in mind.
Heston reported that during one of the sneak previews, while waiting for the audience to come out, someone in the group of filmmakers said [something like] "If they come out talking about nothing but the chariot race, we'll know we've failed." I agree. It is a spiritual & political & familial film about anger, grief, compassion, and the nature of forgiveness. By spiritual, I don't necessarily mean religious, although there is that as well; it seemed to stir spiritual feelings in those of my friends who were atheists and agnostics, as well as Christians and Jews.
.
 

montrealfilmguy

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If you fellas are up for it,i could jolt down a few of Charlton Heston's journal entries during the making of Ben-Hur.
I bought that book twice,first one i had was in bad shape so...
The entries are all enthralling to read,he wrote a little something almost every day from 1956 to 1976.
Touch of evil
Planet of the apes
El cid
The agony and the ecstasy
Omega man
Soylent green
 

marsnkc

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garyrc said:
There are several interesting issues brought up in your post. Wyler seemed very happy with Ben-Hur when he came to Wheeler auditorium at U.C. Berkeley for a long discussion of many of his films. He agreed that BH is not a film that people would have thought of as his cup of tea .. but he accepted the job because it would present a new and different challenge. One of his biographers said that something about the density of the novel interested him.The larger apparent area of a pan and scan on a CRT would be expected to increase cortical arousal in the brain, and make the movie seem less slow (if interested, see Aesthetics and Psychobiology by Berlyne and Ornstein's The Psychology of Time .This brings us, IMO, to one of the largest differences between seeing Ben-Hur in 70 mm on a huge screen with incredibly dynamic sound, and seeing it on home video in most people's homes on a relatively small screen with the dynamically compressed sound and relatively too loud dialog that is on the DVD & VHS: in the home, there are sections that seem slow; in 70mm, at least the several times I saw it, the film is very intense throughout -- some of my friends and I had sore muscles from gripping the theater seats during certain scenes. It is so intense that some of the quiet and intimate parts provide a a welcome and cool rest --- but they don't seem to be slow. The movie was planned, edited/paced, and scored with 70 mm in mind.
Just now saw your post #39, Gary. Apparently I was scribbling away - with distractions - on what became #40 while you were working on yours. I ran out of time, so had to hit the submit button and run.It makes sense that the larger the image, the more involved one becomes with what's on the screen. That sense of involvement, and added enjoyment, is very apparent to me when I go from watching a DVD on a 22" CRT in my bedroom to a BD on the comparatively 'huge' 50" in my living room. I envy those with good projectors and big screens, because more and more gets lost the smaller one goes down in size. I once mentioned in a thread my acute disappointment with the laserdisc of Goldeneye on that 36" CRT behemoth (it took two to carry) referred to above. I was so excited at the prospect of reliving the sinking feeling I got in the cinema when Brosnan falls and falls and keeps falling down the face of that huge dam at the beginning. As I said then, I got a sinking feeling all right, just not the one I'd hoped for.I have to keep referring to Lawrence at the Cinerama Dome because I always seem to miss out on 65/70mm screenings of other movies, for one reason or another. Apart from the extraordinary effect that huge canvas had on me (almost overwhelming - hence that intensity you experienced with Ben-Hur), I felt I was watching the movie for the first time (which in a way I was, since it was my first time to view Mr. Harris's astonishing restoration). It came as a shock to realize how much of an actor's performance is lost when his image is reduced to Lilliputian dimensions. O'Toole's eyes are indeed the mirror of his soul in that masterpiece. I envy you your opportunity to meet Mr. Wyler, my favorite after David Lean.
Robert Harris said:
I had the pleasure of having "bugs" live with me for a few years.  He's currently happily retired in Texas as part of the Wide Screen Museum collection. "Bugs" had a thing for really nice cabs. RAH 
Yet another example of your generosity to various museums and associations. 'Bugs' was well named. An extraordinary looking piece, judging by the pictures on the site. I just can't imagine that unwieldy looking object being capable of producing such beautiful images.
 

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montrealfilmguy said:
If you fellas are up for it,i could jolt down a few of Charlton Heston's journal entries during the making of Ben-Hur.
I bought that book twice,first one i had was in bad shape so...
Count me in, Ben, and thanks.
 

montrealfilmguy

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Sure thing,
I'm actually finishing my night shift at IBM,then i'm off for three days so after a couple of hours of sleep,tonight
i'll get on it.
I was trying to find a Conan sketch he did a while back about people watching epic widescreen movies all over NY,but on tiny 7-inch screens
and of course Lawrence and Ben-Hur both an appearance.
I checked Youtube to no avail.
I did buy and watch Red river one time on my Ipod touch,because i so wanted to see it.Promised myself i'd never do it again.
 

garyrc

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marsnkc said:
It makes sense that the larger the image, the more involved one becomes with what's on the screen. That sense of involvement, and added enjoyment, is very apparent to me when I go from watching a DVD on a 22" CRT in my bedroom to a BD on the comparatively 'huge' 50" in my living room ...
I have to keep referring to Lawrence at the Cinerama Dome because I always seem to miss out on 65/70mm screenings of other movies, for one reason or another. Apart from the extraordinary effect that huge canvas had on me (almost overwhelming - hence that intensity you experienced with Ben-Hur), I felt I was watching the movie for the first time (which in a way I was, since it was my first time to view Mr. Harris's astonishing restoration). It came as a shock to realize how much of an actor's performance is lost when his image is reduced to Lilliputian dimensions. O'Toole's eyes are indeed the mirror of his soul in that masterpiece.
I envy you your opportunity to meet Mr. Wyler, my favorite after David Lean.
.
Size counts, and size must be supported by clarity and solidity, as it is in large screen 70 MM. I think of the difference between 70mm and ordinary TV images as the difference between looking up at a full size piece of monumental art -- such Michelangelo's DAVID -- compared to looking down at a small plastic replica of DAVID in a museum gift shop, under florescent light.
I met and chatted with Mr. Wyler twice, once at the U.C. seminar, and once at a sneak preview of The Children's Hour, with Lillian Hellman present. The conversation made its way around to Ben-Hur both times. While he could be funny, and was polite, the part of his personality that seemed to stand out was passion for film and for life. I do agree with the poster who cited The Big Country, Friendly Persuasion, and Ben-Hur as having pacifist threads running through them. The passion and compassion in both The Best Years of our Lives and Detective Story tap into that a little, albeit indirectly. When Jesseman West, the original author of the stories that were incorporated into Friendly Persuasion was working with Wyler on the film he told her that he was not a pacifist, but he could understand the sentiments. She pointed out that Quakers do not practice pacifism because it is a rule or an article of faith -- that would be imitative action, and Quakers abhor imitative action ... instead, Quakers look into their souls and decide what course of action to take, if any. Quite often this leads to non-violent behavior, but not always. Each must decide. Wyler liked that.
 

Robert Harris

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Quote:

Originally Posted by garyrc /img/forum/go_quote.gif


Size counts, and size must be supported by clarity and solidity, as it is in large screen 70 MM. I think of the difference between 70mm and ordinary TV images as the difference between looking up at a full size piece of monumental art -- such Michelangelo's DAVID -- compared to looking down at a small plastic replica of DAVID in a museum gift shop, under florescent light.

I met and chatted with Mr. Wyler twice, once at the U.C. seminar, and once at a sneak preview of The Children's Hour, with Lillian Hellman present. The conversation made its way around to Ben-Hur both times. While he could be funny, and was polite, the part of his personality that seemed to stand out was passion for film and for life. I do agree with the poster who cited The Big Country, Friendly Persuasion, and Ben-Hur as having pacifist threads running through them. The passion and compassion in both The Best Years of our Lives and Detective Story tap into that a little, albeit indirectly. When Jesseman West, the original author of the stories that were incorporated into Friendly Persuasion was working with Wyler on the film he told her that he was not a pacifist, but he could understand the sentiments. She pointed out that Quakers do not practice pacifism because it is a rule or an article of faith -- that would be imitative action, and Quakers abhor imitative action ... instead, Quakers look into their souls and decide what course of action to take, if any. Quite often this leads to non-violent behavior, but not always. Each must decide. Wyler liked that.


While the general audience may not be aware, David Lean was brought up in a Quaker family, with a Quaker education. I don't know how much of that made its way into his work, but it may show through. As a child, he was not permitted to go to the cinema.



RAH
 

montrealfilmguy

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That is something i didn't know about Big country.Having a pacifist thread and all.
I've been wanting to see it for a while now.It just looks like the kind of film that would appeal to me.
Having Jean Simmons AND Carroll Baker in the same film also helps quite a bit.
And right before submitting this i went and bookmarked Matt's review.
I keep surprising myself with the blind buys lately.
 

montrealfilmguy

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So my entries of Charlton Heston's journal will consist of the date,the year and only the snippet about Ben-Hur contained within
each entry.
Here goes,
January 15,1958
-As for Ben-Hur,there is nothing approaching a final word on it.Willi is proving the champion decision-avoider of the industry.
Very damaging to the ego.
January 17,1958
-Mgm is anxious to make a deal for either part in Ben-Hur.
MGM was by this time apparently anxious to get me commited to the picture,while waiting for
Willy to make up his mind which part he wanted me to play.
January 21,1958
-Then,on picking up Herman tonight,i found Willy had finally decided i should play Ben-Hur.
January 22,1958
-Edd Henry closed the deal today.250,000 dollars for 30 weeks and prorated after that.Plus travel and expenses for all.
Not bad compared to the 65 dollars a week i got from Cornell 10 years ago.
Looks good so far right ?
 

AdrianTurner

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One of the things that upsets me about the various accounts of the making of Ben-Hur is the inescapable presence of Gore Vidal - a man I admire, I like his eloquence, his wit, his patrician pomposity. I think he can take criticism and, rarely for an American, he appreciates irony. However, his claims on the screenplay of Ben-Hur are hugely exaggerated, in my view. The way he says he was called in to save the picture, immediately saw it for what it was (a story of thwarted gay love) and wrote it as such, apparently to the horror of Mr Heston. I don't doubt that Mr Vidal contributed to the script - but I was once fortunate to spend a day in the company of Christopher Fry who gave a completely different slant on the sequence of events, saying that he essentially rewrote the dialogue but retained the essential structure of Karl Tunberg's script and that Mr Vidal also polished one or two sections. Mr Vidal often seems to suggest that he wrote the whole thing. I don't believe that's true for a moment and certainly in my chats with Mr Wyler back in 1981 I do recall he mentioned Mr Fry quite a lot and that he never mentioned Mr Vidal.
The whole Ben-Hur screenplay saga is similar to Lawrence of Arabia but without the blacklist element. A pity that Mr Fry - and indeed Mr Vidal - never got their names lit up in MGM Camera-65.
 

montrealfilmguy

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Adrian,
some of the entries i will be writing in the next week or so,should put all your doubts to rest.
 

marsnkc

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garyrc said:
Size counts, and size must be supported by clarity and solidity, as it is in large screen 70 MM.
I do agree with the poster who cited The Big Country, Friendly Persuasion, and Ben-Hur as having pacifist threads running through them.
Amen. That's why I chose my 50" pro panel over a larger unit, and why I prefaced 'projector' with 'good' in an earlier post. I'd rather watch a movie on an iPod than a 35mm film blown up to 65mm dimensions.
A friend of mine owned one of the first rear projection TV sets ever built (I think it was 52"). To watch a second generation VHS copied at the 6-hour speed (to fit three movies onto one tape - a fortune in those days) on that monstrosity was a torture I hope even Torquemada couldn't envision. For my friend, size trumped resolution hands down. It took another decade of improvements before I graduated to a 36" calibrated......CRT!
The poster you refer to is Adrian Turner. His biography of Robert Bolt is one of those rare treats I dreaded coming to an end (like a favorite film - before the miracle of home theater - that rarely got shown). No hagiography, thank God! (his sympathy for Michael Wilson - for truthful reasons uncovered by his forensic research - and own sly wit, among other qualities, prove that), I rationed myself to a chapter a day, and towards the end found myself flipping to the last page to see how many I had left!
Thanks for the Heston quotations, Ben. I'm a sucker for inside stories!
 

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marsnkc said:
I'd rather watch a movie on an iPod than a 35mm film blown up to 65mm dimensions.
Andrew, you're overstating your case. Dr. Zhivago was filmed in 35mm and "blown-up" to 70mm. No-one has ever suggested that the 70mm prints looked bad. Freddie Young himself in one interview said "I defy anyone to tell the difference".
 

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Robert Harris said:
Quote:
While the general audience may not be aware, David Lean was brought up in a Quaker family, with a Quaker education.  I don't know how much of that made its way into his work, but it may show through.  As a child, he was not permitted to go to the cinema. RAH 
Paul Schrader also was not allowed to see movies for what his parents thought were religious reasons (they were not Quakers). He remembers begging his mother to let him see Walt Disney's The Living Desert, but no go. Of course, he ended up writing some of the darkest movies ever.
AdrianTurner said:
One of the things that upsets me about the various accounts of the making of Ben-Hur is the inescapable presence of Gore Vidal - a man I admire, I like his eloquence, his wit, his patrician pomposity. I think he can take criticism and, rarely for an American, he appreciates irony. However, his claims on the screenplay of Ben-Hur are hugely exaggerated, in my view ... The whole Ben-Hur screenplay saga is similar to Lawrence of Arabia but without the blacklist element. A pity that Mr Fry - and indeed Mr Vidal - never got their names lit up in MGM Camera-65.
My hypothesis is that Vidal may have written a long script, but not the long script, while working primarily with Zimbalist. He took credit for "everything" up to the chariot race, but, as you say, others deny that. I'm guessing that some of his script did find its way into the final film. I always wondered if the words of Tiberius were written by Vidal, because they sound like his writing and speaking. When Wyler first read the Tunberg version, he said [something like] "This sounds like Andy Hardy. " I heard Wyler praise Christopher Fry repeatedly. Fry, Vidal and two others are mentioned as contributors in the program book sold during the 70 mm run of Ben-Hur. There was a rumor that the ill-feeling about the screenplay dispute had something to do with the film not getting the Best Screenplay Academy Award, when it got practically everything else in sight. I believe the Guild rules or guidelines for screenplay credits changed shortly after Ben-Hur, partly because of it. Now they urge writers to keep every scrap of paper or dated drafts on their hard drives. Still, short of audio recordings of story conferences, it's hard to establish who wrote what, and even then ... For a while, it was hard to get screen credit unless you could show that you wrote at least 1/3 of the movie ... but now we see 4 and more people credited every once in a while.Mr. Turner, thank you for writing the Bolt book ... now I need to read it!
 

marsnkc

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You're right, Robin, and I admit I've only ever seen Dr. Zhivago in 35mm, and in fact no 35mm movie blown up beyond its normall projection size.I shouldn't condemn something I've never seen, but the words 'blow-up' give me the willies!
 

montrealfilmguy

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first the most important part.
:jawdrop:
You sir,have written a book on Robert Bolt ?
Words fail me, i am at a loss to find a suitable panegyric for your tremendous work.
As a screenwriter,i have for quite some time now regarded the Robert Bolt screenplay of Lawrence to be the ultimate
standard by which other screenplays should be measured.I've always thought the words spoken by most of the characters
have a musical quality to them.I have nothing but the highest praise for the poetic way for which Mr.Bolt wrote the script for what
is now hailed as a masterpiece.
I saw the restoration 7 times in 1989 at the Place du Canada cinema here in Montreal,and to this day,these 7 times hold the top
spot for best cinematic experience ever.
Now back to Ben-Hur,
I will now skip a bit ahead (the Yakima Canutt chariot training )and select a few entries dealing with the Fry-Vidal situation
April 23,1958
-I met Willy at the airport as well as Sam Zimbalist and Gore Vidal to a great accompanying fanfare of press and so forth.
Sam Zimbalist was the producer of Ben-Hur.I believe it was he who persuaded Willy to employ Gore Vidal briefly for some work on the script.
May 2,1958
-I had a talk with Willy who seems to be getting the script under control.I was a little worried that even he might be outnumbered on this one,but he seems to be confident
,with Christopher Fry here now.
Christopher Fry,Willy's choice as writer had arrived and from this point on was on the set every day through the end of shooting,to the profit of the picture
and to the eventual chagrin of Vidal.
May 8,1958
-Had lunch with Fry on the script.I gather from Gore Vidal that Willy is not having it all his own way with the rewrites.Sam is all for shooting it the way it is.
Gore was a little out of touch by then.Willy always has it his own way,on rewrites and everything else.
I have maybe 3 or 4 entries left on the whole Fry-Vidal situation.Grabbing some food and back in an hour.
 

montrealfilmguy

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May 9,1958
-I got a commitment from Willy to rehearse next week on some of the Messala-Ben-Hur scenes.Sam is against this.I think the
idea of the script being changed at all upsets him.
May 15,1958
-Today we rehearsed Vidal's rewrite of the crucial scene with Messala.Indeed the crucial scene of the whole first half of the story
since it contains the seed of so much that follows.This version is much better than the script scene and Willy brought his virtues out in his usual manner
as we worked:picking,carping cutting finding a reading here and a gesture there till you're smothered by his concept,which then proves to be excellent.
We never shot this scene of Gore's nor indeed any of the attempts he made on other sequences.I stress the point because Vidal has gone extravagantly
and disdainfully (qualities,i fear,he cannot avoid ) on record about his authorship of the Ben-Hur screenplay as well as writer-director relationships
in general.As i said,he's a clever man,but not about these things.
May 20,1958-First day of shooting on Ben-Hur.
Tomorrow, i'll be posting entries about the film's reviews and the Oscars,and still more Fry-Vidal stuff.
 

Vern Dias

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70mm blowups from 35mm originals had nothing to do with image resolution enhancement.

It was actually done for two reasons:

To provide for 6 track audio, which was not possible with 35mm at the time.

To increase the illuminated area of the film in the projector aperture which allowed for a brighter image on the large screens installed in the 70mm venues. 70mm accomplished this by spreading the physically damaging infrared heat on the film over the larger film area, allowing the arc lamp amperage (and light output) to be increased considerably over what 35mm film could handle.

Vern Dias
 

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