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

marsnkc

Supporting Actor
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
516
Reaction score
85
Points
0
Real Name
Andrew
montrealfilmguy said:
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.
That 'carping, cutting, finding a reading here and a gesture there' won Mr. Heston his Oscar. It's not by accident that actors under your Wylers, Leans and Kazans look uniformly good. Even the most accomplished need help, if 'only' by creating the conditions that bring out the best in them.
Regarding Mr. Vidal, if I live to be as old as Methusaleh, I'll never understand why anyone would want to claim credit for someone else's work. How can people live with themselves and enjoy a reputation that isn't entirely deserved? As Mr. Turner points out, there are parallels between the story here and that of Robert Bolt and his claim as sole author of Lawrence. However, while Mr. Bolt, according to Mr. Turner's biography of the writer, could legitimately lay claim to the bulk of the blue-print - and all of the dialog - for Lawrence, Mr. Vidal apparently has little if any claim on Ben-Hur.
(A bit late in the day, but I've just discovered the difference between Super Panavision 70 and Ultra Panavision 70, and why Ben-Hur is so much wider than Lawrence...:D). However, could someone please explain something else I've just discovered: Around the World in 80 Days was "shot twice, with cameras running at 30 and 24 fps, respectively." This last from a Wiki list of films made in 70mm.)
 

Vincent_P

Cinematographer
Joined
Sep 13, 2003
Messages
2,050
Reaction score
442
Points
1,610
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 
Interesting. I believe famed horror filmmaker Wes Craven was also brought up as a Quaker and also forbidden to watch movies as he was growing up.Vincent
 

AdrianTurner

Banned
BANNED
Joined
Dec 5, 2007
Messages
400
Reaction score
69
Points
110
Real Name
Adrian Turner
Firstly, my thanks to those who have alluded to my book on Robert Bolt which seems to have more popularity on this forum than it ever did in the bookshops. It was never published in the States, though Amazon these days has rather cut through those sorts of barriers.
About Ben-Hur. Like so many other pictures, there was clearly a great deal of acrimony between four distinct personalities - Wyler seemed old school polite, too rich and powerful to gets his hands dirty; Christopher Fry was academic, painfully shy and, I must say, a bit embarrassed by being involved with film people; and Vidal was a grandstander, a man of letters, perhaps annoyed that he never became President and also disdainful of movie people. And then there is Mr Heston - well, there was a terrific ego going on there as well. The fifth man, Sam Zimbalist, was dead even before the chariots hit the starting gate.
The former film historian in me instinctively distrusts everything everyone says. For instance, look how David Lean used to blame Sam Spiegel for cutting Lawrence and also blaming Spiegel for not getting his money! The only truth is the written word. I have asked various Ben-Hur people about the script and - apart from Messrs Wyler, Fry and Heston, I also met Haya Harareet and Miklos Rozsa - and got the same mess of memories. I always fancied doing some hopefully definitive work on the script of Lawrence because I loved the movie and because it failed to win the screenplay Oscar because everyone knew it was a quagmire. I really did want to get my hands dirty with it. I wish now I had gotten access to the files at MGM or pushed an admittedly ailing Wyler at the time for his copies of the various scripts which may be preserved somewhere. That's the only way to really get to the bottom of things. I did ask Mr Fry for a script but he didn't have anything - he had reams of stuff, though, on Barabbas and The Bible.
Two other things about Mr Wyler - I do remember he said he wanted to do something about his ancient Jewish heritage and the current state of Israel - in some ways Ben-Hur is a powerful Zionist statement and this was only 15 years after the Holocaust (Leper Colony). Also, I think Mr Wyler was upset how many people thought the picture only had a great chariot race and that everyone knew he didn't direct that bit.
Anyway, all these ramblings are barely compensation for watching this new Blu-ray!
 

John Hodson

Producer
Joined
Apr 14, 2003
Messages
4,607
Reaction score
473
Points
4,110
Age
63
Location
Bolton, Lancashire
Website
filmjournal.net
Real Name
John
Ignore. Obviously.
 

garyrc

Agent
Joined
Oct 7, 2009
Messages
25
Reaction score
0
Points
10
Real Name
gary
Vern Dias said:
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
Yes, and both of these factors were big, rather than small. It saddens me to remember the sparkling bright images in most 70 mm projection compared to the very dark images we often get today.
As a former projectionist, perhaps you can answer these questions:
  • Are carbon arc lamps virtually or completely gone? Is it true that theater chains require that lamps be burned down to a very dark level before being replaced?
  • Did a studio, distributor, or anyone else ever ask you to jack up the volume at a certain point in the film? The projectionists at the St Francis in San Francisco for the 70mm version of Paint Your Wagon told us that they were asked to turn it up a few minutes into the film after the audience had a chance to adapt to the SPL (when the wagon rolled down the hill), so that the rest of the film would be at the filmmakers' desired volume. That made me wonder if the marvelously full and loud sound in 70 mm films like 80 Days or Ben-Hur were partly due to planned manipulation in the booth.
 

garyrc

Agent
Joined
Oct 7, 2009
Messages
25
Reaction score
0
Points
10
Real Name
gary
marsnkc said:
However, could someone please explain something else I've just discovered: Around the World in 80 Days was "shot twice, with cameras running at 30 and 24 fps, respectively." This last from a Wiki list of films made in 70mm.)
For 80 Days, the two cameras were set up side by side, so the acting should be the same. The 30 fps condition was used for 70 mm, and the 24 for printing on 35 mm. The stated purpose of using 30 fps (in the program sold in the 70 mm theaters, in the section called " What is Todd-AO?") was "to smooth out the action over a larger screen." I suspect it also had to do with the Critical Flicker Frequency (CFF) which varies with brightness. The CFF is the number of flashes per second for a given brightness that merges the flashes together (due to persistence of vision) into one steady light. As you can see from recent posts, the 70 mm image was very bright and rather beautiful. With a darker (35mm) image 24 fps is a more than adequate frequency to keep flicker from showing, but with the extreme brightness (never washed out!) of 70 mm, I'll bet that American Optical -- or someone -- thought a higher frequency would be needed. Only Oklahoma! and 80 Days were filmed at 30 fps for 70 mm. In a few later 70 mm films, filmed @ 24 fps, a nearly white sky or white cloth, etc., -- since white let almost all of the projector light through -- would pulse or flicker a bit. I don't know whether the projectors were set up to provide two flashes per frame yet, but using 48 flashes for 24 frames, without paying for more film, may well have been what solved the problem. I didn't see any flashes in 70 mm projection after Camelot. If the projectors always provided 2 flashes per frame, then maybe 60 flashes per second produced a steadier image than 48 flashes.
 

Robert Harris

Archivist
Reviewer
Joined
Feb 8, 1999
Messages
12,812
Reaction score
16,516
Points
9,110
Real Name
Robert Harris
Originally Posted by garyrc /t/314868/a-few-words-about-ben-hur-in-blu-ray/60#post_3852916
For 80 Days, the two cameras were set up side by side, so the acting should be the same. The 30 fps condition was used for 70 mm, and the 24 for printing on 35 mm. The stated purpose of using 30 fps (in the program sold in the 70 mm theaters, in the section called " What is Todd-AO?") was "to smooth out the action over a larger screen." I suspect it also had to do with the Critical Flicker Frequency (CFF) which varies with brightness. The CFF is the number of flashes per second for a given brightness that merges the flashes together (due to persistence of vision) into one steady light. As you can see from recent posts, the 70 mm image was very bright and rather beautiful. With a darker (35mm) image 24 fps is a more than adequate frequency to keep flicker from showing, but with the extreme brightness (never washed out!) of 70 mm, I'll bet that American Optical -- or someone -- thought a higher frequency would be needed. Only Oklahoma! and 80 Days were filmed at 30 fps for 70 mm.
If one views the current DVD of 80 Days, which is the 24fps version, it is rather easy to see that most, if not all, of the non-sync shots were used from the 30fps version, and they run very slooowwwly.

RAH
 

Phil Carter

Second Unit
Joined
Jan 9, 2003
Messages
337
Reaction score
0
Points
110
Age
47
Location
Austin, TX
Real Name
Phil
Thanks for your most reassuring Few Words, Robert. As with last year's release of "Ten Commandments", I was hopeful yet fearful that the restoration efforts would not be up to snuff. I'm greatly reassured by your comments and can't wait to see this one. Again, thanks!
 

marsnkc

Supporting Actor
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
516
Reaction score
85
Points
0
Real Name
Andrew
garyrc said:
For 80 Days, the two cameras were set up side by side, so the acting should be the same. The 30 fps condition was used for 70 mm, and the 24 for printing on 35 mm.
Thanks a million for your thorough explanation, Gary. I guessed that the second camera might have been for a 35mm version. What threw me was the phrase 'shot twice', leading me to believe that the same scenes were shot one after another for each camera, basically requiring separate set-ups. If they'd said 'simultaneously' the penny would have dropped. There's the (apocryphal?) story that Sinatra bowed out of Oklahoma when he clocked the two cameras, ignorantly complaining that he'd 'signed up for one movie, not two'. His complaint would have had merit if it had indeed been 'shot twice'. Otherwise, the two camera set-up, albeit different formats, was no different than your typical multi-camera job on many a shoot. (I've never seen it, but my friend's wife was in Dirty Dingus Magee. She reported that for one location scene, Sinatra arrived by helicopter, informed the director that he had 'one shot at it', did the take and took off. As a song interpreter he has no peer, but there isn't a day goes by that I thank the fates that he lost out to Brando for Waterfront!)
(It just occurred to me. Wouldn't a 70mm set-up require more lighting than for 35mm? If so, I'd imagine some adjustments (lab, or whatever) having to be made for the latter).
 

Matt Hough

Director
Reviewer
Joined
Apr 24, 2006
Messages
21,774
Reaction score
11,358
Points
9,110
Location
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough
Originally Posted by marsnkc /t/314868/a-few-words-about-ben-hur-in-blu-ray/60#post_3853097
Thanks a million for your thorough explanation, Gary. I guessed that the second camera might have been for a 35mm version. What threw me was the phrase 'shot twice', leading me to believe that the same scenes were shot one after another for each camera, basically requiring separate set-ups. If they'd said 'simultaneously' the penny would have dropped. There's the (apocryphal?) story that Sinatra bowed out of Oklahoma when he clocked the two cameras, ignorantly complaining that he'd 'signed up for one movie, not two'. His complaint would have had merit if it had indeed been 'shot twice'. Otherwise, the two camera set-up, albeit different formats, was no different than your typical multi-camera job on many a shoot. (I've never seen it, but my friend's wife was in Dirty Dingus Magee. She reported that for one location scene, Sinatra arrived by helicopter, informed the director that he had 'one shot at it', did the take and took off. As a song interpreter he has no peer, but there isn't a day goes by that I thank the fates that he lost out to Brando for Waterfront!)
(It just occurred to me. Wouldn't a 70mm set-up require more lighting than for 35mm? If so, I'd imagine some adjustments (lab, or whatever) having to be made for the latter).
It wasn't Oklahoma! that Sinatra bowed out of. It was Carousel, and if he'd been a bit more patient, he could have done the movie since engineers arrived at a way so the film wouldn't have to be shot twice (it was being shot in Cinemascope 55). I'm glad he left because he would have been miserable casting as Billy Bigelow.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jimbo64

marsnkc

Supporting Actor
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
516
Reaction score
85
Points
0
Real Name
Andrew
A friend just informed me that it was Carousel, not Oklahoma, that Sinatra bailed out on....:rolleyes:
 

marsnkc

Supporting Actor
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
516
Reaction score
85
Points
0
Real Name
Andrew
You beat me to it, Matt. I was writing #71 as you were on #70. Hope Nancy doesn't sue me!
 

montrealfilmguy

Supporting Actor
Joined
Apr 17, 2011
Messages
541
Reaction score
4
Points
0
Real Name
Ben Weaver
July 7,1958
-Again i had not a word to say all day but spent most of it roaring past Steve's bloody,twitching form on the sand and then turning to go back for my
victory wreath while he's carried limply off.This will play much better in Fry's vastly improved script which i read yesterday,weeping at his ending,after Calvary.
November 13,1958
-Christopher Fry put it well one day at lunch."If i were writing an original screenplay instead of a semiclassic novel," he said, "I wouldn't have the girl's role in the story at all.
The significant emotional relationship is the love/hate between Messala and Ben-Hur.The audience knows this and they're not interested in the Ben-Hur/ Esther story.
On January 7,1959,the very last shot of Ben-Hur is recorded (excluding future reshoots ).For the record,it's a close-up of Heston as he watches the descent from the cross.
As he rushes to the airport to go to the Big country premiere in London,Wyler goes to shake his hand and says,"Thanks,Chuck,i hope i can give you a better part next time."
March 6,1959
-MGM seems corporately glad to see me,all sorts of executive brass with extravagant opinions about the Ben-Hur footage.Let's see what
Willy says when he's through cutting.
July 6,1959
-Willy's extra coverage on the Cruxificion gave me another chance on that scene,which i felt i'd done well in January. Maybe i did it better this time.
 

Vern Dias

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Apr 27, 1999
Messages
142
Reaction score
0
Points
10
Age
77
Real Name
Theodore V Dias

  • Are carbon arc lamps virtually or completely gone? Is it true that theater chains require that lamps be burned down to a very dark level before being replaced?

  • Did a studio, distributor, or anyone else ever ask you to jack up the volume at a certain point in the film? The projectionists at the St Francis in San Francisco for the 70mm version of Paint Your Wagon told us that they were asked to turn it up a few minutes into the film after the audience had a chance to adapt to the SPL (when the wagon rolled down the hill), so that the rest of the film would be at the filmmakers' desired volume. That made me wonder if the marvelously full and loud sound in 70 mm films like 80 Days or Ben-Hur were partly due to planned manipulation in the booth.
Yes, carbon arc is just about dead. The manufacturers of the carbons quit manufacturing them years ago and the remaining stock is just about depleted. I doubt there are more than a handfull of theaters is the US still running carbon arc.

What happens with xenon lamps in a properly run theater is that they are installed and initially run a lower wattage. As the lamp envelope blackens, the amperage is increased until the rated wattage of the lamp is reached. After a 100 hours or so at full power, they are replaced and the cycle is repeated. It is also important that the lamp be properly sized to be able to provide proper screen illumination levels at the end of it's life.
However this means more expensive lamps, lamphouses, rectifiers, and power bills. So you can imagine what happens in most theaters most of the time in the real world.

The only film I can remember that came with a cue sheet for the sound was "Giant". We had to ride gain on this film and there were probably 20+ cues calling for level changes.

It was not unusual to receive instructions to run at a specific level for the entire film. House level + 1 or 2 points, etc.

Vern
 

garyrc

Agent
Joined
Oct 7, 2009
Messages
25
Reaction score
0
Points
10
Real Name
gary
marsnkc said:
Thanks a million for your thorough explanation, Gary. I guessed that the second camera might have been for a 35mm version. What threw me was the phrase 'shot twice', leading me to believe that the same scenes were shot one after another for each camera, basically requiring separate set-ups. If they'd said 'simultaneously' the penny would have dropped. There's the (apocryphal?) story that Sinatra bowed out of Oklahoma when he clocked the two cameras, ignorantly complaining that he'd 'signed up for one movie, not two'. His complaint would have had merit if it had indeed been 'shot twice'. Otherwise, the two camera set-up, albeit different formats, was no different than your typical multi-camera job on many a shoot. (I've never seen it, but my friend's wife was in Dirty Dingus Magee. She reported that for one location scene, Sinatra arrived by helicopter, informed the director that he had 'one shot at it', did the take and took off. As a song interpreter he has no peer, but there isn't a day goes by that I thank the fates that he lost out to Brando for Waterfront!)
(It just occurred to me. Wouldn't a 70mm set-up require more lighting than for 35mm? If so, I'd imagine some adjustments (lab, or whatever) having to be made for the latter).
There are several photos online of the two cameras simultaneously shooting 80 Days. I believe they were both 65 mm cameras (the size of the negative for 70mm), at least contributing the benefits of a big negative to even the 24 fps, 35mm prints (as do VistaVision and Technirama by running the camera film sideways to get bigger frames, then printing it on conventional sized 35 mm running vertically). So, I think you are right; they meant "simultaneously," not the less precise "twice." We all have to watch that sort of thing.
Unfortunately, Mike Todd was dead by the time 80 Days finished its more than one year long 70 mm run, and virtually all (if the S.F. Bay area is an adequate sample) of the 35 mm prints were somewhat soft, and used MONO OPTICAL sound that was limp, un-dynamic, and completely lost the high musicality of the film in both the sound's effect on perceiving the editing/photography, and in its actual music. Of course, the other characteristics of mono optical were there to degrade the experience as well, including higher distortion and rolled off highs. Even the VHS-Hi Fi soundtrack was better (with a few dropouts). The DVD soundtrack sounds like they put a limiter or compressor in the chain.
I do not know for a fact whether they used two cameras or one in shooting Oklahoma! Maltin states that they were completely separate "takes," but I don't know if that was a conclusion on his part, or a documented observation. We heard that they were working on a reduction printer, but were not happy with it.
RE: Reduction prints, the 35 mm reduction prints of Ben-Hur were highly variable (unlike the 70 mm prints made with TLC). Most were O.K., but at least one of those had little of the facial detail of some other 35mm prints, and strikingly less that the 70 mm, naturally. One had a weave in it. One was purple.
Back to 80 Days, my guess is they wouldn't need more lighting for 70 mm, although at 30 fps, the exposure time for each frame might -- or might not -- be shorter, necessitating more light. In the photos, it looks like both cameras were Todd-AO cameras, with one just running a little slower.
 

Robert Harris

Archivist
Reviewer
Joined
Feb 8, 1999
Messages
12,812
Reaction score
16,516
Points
9,110
Real Name
Robert Harris
garyrc said:
Maltin states that they were completely separate "takes," but I don't know if that was a conclusion on his part, or a documented observation. We heard that they were working on a reduction printer, but were not happy with it.
Oklahoma! was shot with two camera, generally different takes. One 65mm/30fps, the other 35 scope/ 24fps.

RAH
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jimbo64

montrealfilmguy

Supporting Actor
Joined
Apr 17, 2011
Messages
541
Reaction score
4
Points
0
Real Name
Ben Weaver
I looked through my Random house book to see if it had any good pics of the 2 cameras,but nope.
 

Everett S.

Movie King (formally a projectionist)
Joined
Aug 24, 1998
Messages
739
Reaction score
132
Points
610
Location
Wilmington,De
Real Name
Everett
I for one love the box sets.I can't wait !
I saw this in 1969 in 70mm great film! 2,000 seat theatre that was sold out.
 

ahollis

Lead Actor
Joined
Mar 1, 2007
Messages
7,776
Reaction score
3,401
Points
9,110
Location
New Orleans
Real Name
Allen
Originally Posted by garyrc /t/314868/a-few-words-about-ben-hur-in-blu-ray/60#post_3853125
I do not know for a fact whether they used two cameras or one in shooting Oklahoma! Maltin states that they were completely separate "takes," but I don't know if that was a conclusion on his part, or a documented observation. We heard that they were working on a reduction printer, but were not happy with it.
Not only were two cameras used, there is a distinct different feel for each versions and different blocking in some scenes. Most noticeable is the "Kansas City" number and "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" number. As for as the feel to the different films, I always felt the Todd-AO version was fresher and more spontaneous than the CinemaScope one. I had heard that the Todd-AO version was shot first, but do not know for sure.

EDIT:
Let me clarify that - What I mean is that as scenes were shot the TODD-AO was the first of the two. I did not mean they shot the film in TODD-AO, then started all over in CinemaScope. Interesting how when you write something it means one thing and you read it again and it's like, that is the stupidest thing I ever wrote.
 

montrealfilmguy

Supporting Actor
Joined
Apr 17, 2011
Messages
541
Reaction score
4
Points
0
Real Name
Ben Weaver
there are 2 pages of statistics and trivia in my 80 DAYS book.
It says 13 cameras were used including 9 Todd-AO's
 

Forum Sponsors

Forum statistics

Threads
343,728
Messages
4,688,251
Members
141,023
Latest member
manikatbnema