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

AdrianTurner

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I watched the new documentary last night, directed by the ubiquitous Laurent Bouzereau. Running for around 75 minutes, it was less about Ben-Hur than about Charlton Heston's entire life, though it was concentrated on the Ben-Hur period, with some very enticing snippets from his home movies, mostly shot by his wife Lydia. There were interviews with members of Mr Heston's family, with one of William Wyler's daughters, a Zimbalist daughter and - rather oddly - there was a lot of Tom Selleck who added nothing of interest, plus a few interventions from Julian Glover and Hildegard Knef for no particular reason. So it was all a bit choppy and I longed for Mr Bouzereau to recognise the rarity of what he had and just let the home movies run, rough-edged and blurry as they sometimes were. There was some good stuff on the making of Ben-Hur as well as the building of the Heston Citadel on a ridge at Coldwater Canyon, where the doors to his study were taken from the House of Hur (I once entered those doors myself). They also didn't entirely shy away from his espousal of un-PC causes in his later life. The use of Rozsa's music throughout was excellent and made the whole experience surprisingly moving. One last criticism: Heston was widely interviewed but they included just one snippet - I think maybe they should have decided between none or a lot - just that one looked oddly out of place in this context.
 

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AdrianTurner said:
I watched the new documentary last night, directed by the ubiquitous Laurent Bouzereau. Running for around 75 minutes, it was less about Ben-Hur than about Charlton Heston's entire life, though it was concentrated on the Ben-Hur period, with some very enticing snippets from his home movies, mostly shot by his wife Lydia. There were interviews with members of Mr Heston's family, with one of William Wyler's daughters, a Zimbalist daughter and - rather oddly - there was a lot of Tom Selleck who added nothing of interest, plus a few interventions from Julian Glover and Hildegard Knef for no particular reason. So it was all a bit choppy and I longed for Mr Bouzereau to recognise the rarity of what he had and just let the home movies run, rough-edged and blurry as they sometimes were. There was some good stuff on the making of Ben-Hur as well as the building of the Heston Citadel on a ridge at Coldwater Canyon, where the doors to his study were taken from the House of Hur (I once entered those doors myself). They also didn't entirely shy away from his espousal of un-PC causes in his later life. The use of Rozsa's music throughout was excellent and made the whole experience surprisingly moving. One last criticism: Heston was widely interviewed but they included just one snippet - I think maybe they should have decided between none or a lot - just that one looked oddly out of place in this context.
Since they were touching on Heston's entire life, I hope, for balance, they showed Heston's participation in a panel on David Susskind's Open End in 1960. I hope they showed Heston marching in a Civil Rights demonstration, and later as one of the two co-chairs (with Brando) of the stage and screen committee for Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. Lastly, I hope they showed excerpts form the debate on nuclear disarmament between Paul Newman and Heston. Neither one of them were running for office, so they were free to address the issues honestly, and they really did their homework. Consequently, it was a better debate than I've ever heard from political candidates. They didn't put each other down. They didn't one-up each other. Even though I agreed with Newman (pro- disarmament) on most points, I felt Heston did a frank and thorough job and the two of them exposed the situation for what it was -- a dilemma!
 

Richard--W

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I've heard about that debate between the two actors but I've never seen it. Sounds like it would make a fine extra on one of these super-deluxe sets.
Charlton Heston was never anything less than a decent and admirable person.
And so was Paul Newman.
Yesterday I watched a few minutes of BEN HUR, a film I know well and appreciate, and the thought occurred to me that it was composed too wide. Although Wyler makes the most of 2.76-1, the narrowness of the frame puts him at a compositional disadvantage. Sacrilege to say so, but that's the truth. Wyler needed a less narrow frame. 1:85 or 2:35 would better serve his set-ups. Just a passing thought.
 

Robert Harris

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Originally Posted by AdrianTurner /t/314868/a-few-words-about-ben-hur-in-blu-ray/90#post_3854130
I watched the new documentary last night, directed by the ubiquitous Laurent Bouzereau. Running for around 75 minutes, it was less about Ben-Hur than about Charlton Heston's entire life, though it was concentrated on the Ben-Hur period, with some very enticing snippets from his home movies, mostly shot by his wife Lydia. There were interviews with members of Mr Heston's family, with one of William Wyler's daughters, a Zimbalist daughter and - rather oddly - there was a lot of Tom Selleck who added nothing of interest, plus a few interventions from Julian Glover and Hildegard Knef for no particular reason. So it was all a bit choppy and I longed for Mr Bouzereau to recognise the rarity of what he had and just let the home movies run, rough-edged and blurry as they sometimes were. There was some good stuff on the making of Ben-Hur as well as the building of the Heston Citadel on a ridge at Coldwater Canyon, where the doors to his study were taken from the House of Hur (I once entered those doors myself). They also didn't entirely shy away from his espousal of un-PC causes in his later life. The use of Rozsa's music throughout was excellent and made the whole experience surprisingly moving. One last criticism: Heston was widely interviewed but they included just one snippet - I think maybe they should have decided between none or a lot - just that one looked oddly out of place in this context.
You obviously don't understand how Mr. Selleck fits into this. Same for Glover and Knef.

I believe that they had all seen Ben-Hur at one point or another, and as they were available, why not.

I refused to be in the documentary, although I'd seen the film numerous times, and recalled where I'd seen it. And for the record, my son, who had seen the chariot race projected not long ago in 70mm, also turned down the request. I'm told that several members of this site also refused, even though they had heard of the film, and had pre-ordered the Blu-ray.

What's the old Groucho Marx line about "any club that would have me as a member..."

RAH
 

Robert Harris

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Originally Posted by Robert Crawford /t/314868/a-few-words-about-ben-hur-in-blu-ray/90#post_3854184
I hope it's not getting a little hot in here.


Crawdaddy
Certainly not. Simply agreeing with Mr. Turner, that there are far better ways to make documentaries. With their previous work on the reconstruction of the original silent version, image what a documentary from Photoplay might have been like. Far from the "there's a face that viewers might recognize, let's throw them in" category. Or to re-phrase quality over quantity.

RAH
 

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Originally Posted by Robert Harris /t/314868/a-few-words-about-ben-hur-in-blu-ray/90#post_3854190
Far from the "there's a face that viewers might recognize, let's throw them in" category.
In other words: "The Kevin Burns Method" of documentary making.
 

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montrealfilmguy said:
Guess i don't need to type all the Heston stuff anymore.
Included in the Bluray.
Charlton Heston: The Ben-Hur Diaries. One of the most fascinating non-disc extras ever included in an Ultimate Collector's Edition, this 128 hardcover book is a replica of the journal Heston kept during and after the filming of Ben-Hur. It's a typical small diary, with dates on each page, and Heston's typed reminiscences at the bottom of each page, along with his schedule for the day. But stuffed inside this impressive journal are a wealth of other items, like photographs, ticket stubs and the like. Unusual and unusually interesting.
Alos totally convinced now,it'll be nice next to the Ten commandments BD.
John Hodson said:
Five reasons to love Ben-Hur:
1) In DTS HD MA - Miklos Rozsa's fantastic thundering score that is almost omnipresent but never, never intrudes.
2) With respect to the (not that hidden) subtext, it's also as camp as a boy scout outing to the biggest Gang Show in the world. Frank Thring helps in this respect. Considerably.
3) Stephen Boyd; possibly his best screen role, and the moment he hisses 'the race goes on...' and expires, the bloody beating heart is ripped out of the film.
4) They don't make 'em like this any more; no, seriously, they don't - huge sets, a humongous cast, fabulous, fabulous stunts. No CGI; human beings, craft and guile.
5) The Blu-ray; films like this were made for Blu-ray. And this Blu-ray delivers on every front.
'Down Eros; up Mars...'
One HUGE reason to grab this set with both hands and hold on tight:
http://www.highdefdigest.com/news/show/Industry_Trends/Blu-ray/Disney/Disney_Will_Make_All_The_Blu-ray_Money_It_Can/7716
 

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Richard--W said:
Yesterday I watched a few minutes of BEN HUR, a film I know well and appreciate, and the thought occurred to me that it was composed too wide. Although Wyler makes the most of 2.76-1, the narrowness of the frame puts him at a compositional disadvantage. Sacrilege to say so, but that's the truth. Wyler needed a less narrow frame. 1:85 or 2:35 would better serve his set-ups. Just a passing thought.
I agree. It wasn't as bad in the theater (in 70 mm) on a huge somewhat curved screen. Also, there is an irony here. The Ben-Hur cinematographer, Robert Surtees (Sr.), had just praised the much more moderate shape of 70mm Todd-AO (2.2:1) three years before in the Around the World in 80 Days Almanac in the section "What is Todd-AO" (page 65, for those who want to read the rest). Surtees did not shoot 80 days, but had shot Oklahoma! in Todd-AO a few years before. He said, " ... big closeups are better and we don't have to worry about space at the sides as is the case with CinemaScope." Imagine his shock when he found out he would be shooting Ben-Hur in a process that had more space at the sides to worry about than any other one strip process. When Wyler came to U.C. Berkeley, he was asked about the aspect ratio. "Well, I didn't love it," was his response. He went on to say he felt they dealt with it pretty well. He did come to enjoy wide screen and wide angle photography when he was shooting The Big Country in Technirama a few years before. Of course, Ben-Hur had never been shown on television at that point, and when it finally was, it was Pan & Scan. Years later, first letterbox broadcast (on PBS) looked pitiful on the large CRT we had then. After his Q & A , a few of us chatted with Wyler. He had his one deaf ear toward us when we asked why Ben-Hur had never been re-released (this was before the '68 70 mm revival) , and he thought we were asking why it wasn't one of the dozen or so of his films shown at U.C. in the weeks leading up to his appearance. A look of near horror passed over his face, "Not here," he said waving his arm at Wheeler Auditorium's pitiful screen and speakers. He said Ben-Hur needed the big screen and powerful sound. Something people who run Ben-Hur on a small HDTV with the built-in speakers should keep in mind.
I believe the decision to use Camera 65 (Ultra Panavision 70 with MGM's imprint on it), with it's 2.76:1 AR, was chiefly made by studio executives. They may ave been grooming it to replace three strip Cinerama.
 

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AdrianTurner said:
There was some good stuff on the making of Ben-Hur as well as the building of the Heston Citadel on a ridge at Coldwater Canyon, where the doors to his study were taken from the House of Hur (I once entered those doors myself).
For the less fortunate among us - satellite pic of what Mr. Heston described as "The House that Hur Built" (precariously situated on the side of a hill!). Unfortunately, it's directly overhead, so all one can see are the rooves (roofs?). I've been threatening for years to hop down there on my Vespa and take a pic, assuming it's even visible from the road. (The catalyst for owning a Vespa - bought when they were reintroduced into the U.S. in 2001 - was not the more obvious Roman Holiday but a picture I'd seen of one Willie Wyler riding his on the set of Ben-Hur. Needless to say, I was delighted yesterday to read that Mr. Spielberg's purchase of his was inspired by the same source. I'd be most grateful if anyone has a copy they could post.
http://g.co/maps/cxkk7
 

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I'm *really* disappointed in the pool. I'd imagined two side by side. With a sunken walk way in between.
 

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It's the reason I never bothered going up there! To make matters worse, he had only one tennis court. I mean.........:rolleyes:
 

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I'm saddened that he can no longer enjoy it. Mr. Heston worked long and hard to gain what he achieved.

RAH
 

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Amen. My sad experience was to watch him, supported by two canes, wind his painful way around tables at a Golden Boot awards event in Bev. Hills I attended
 

montrealfilmguy

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Thank god the Wayne world's clip is on Youtube.
Heston's voice is pure gold in this.
the good part starts around the 1 minute mark.
Like Mike Myers,it"s ok to shed a tear.
 

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garyrc said:
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.
This occurred for me with the 1955 film version of Oklahoma! , which having only seen it on television for many years, seemed very slow to me as compared to a competant live stage production of the piece. In the early 1980s, I want to say 1982, the film was shown at the Egyptian in Hollywood. My understanding was that they were screening various TODD-AO films there prior to dismantling the original projection equipment from the 1950s. The theater itself was rather in disrepair at the time, I recall the carpets being frayed and dingy, and seats sagging and the fabric thin. However, the presentation of the film was a revelation - I was thoroughly involved and loved very frame. The sound was stunning as well - I felt like I was sitting the middle of the orchestra. I could fully understand how awestruck audiences must have been seeing this film in TODD-AO in 1955. In fact, it was this screening that inspired me to seek out large screen presentations of these classics as I understood how dimishing television could be.
I was, in a sense, luckier with Ben-Hur because I had never seen it on television and saw it for the first time at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. I was completely immersed in the story and blown away by the epic proportions of everything in the film. I saw it with my brother, sitting in the center of the front row. During the slave ship scene, when the ships are burning and many of the people are in the water, we could clearly see that they were little models as they bobbed around. We joked later that they were "Fisher-Price people"; as children we had Fisher-Price toys that came with these little wooden people with round heads. Sometimes we would play with them in the water and they would bob around just like the models in the film.
A more modern film that was particularly stunning at the Cinerama Dome was Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I was lucky enough to see at the Dome for the first time. I recall being able to read the titles of the books on the shelves at Indy's house. I was completely exhausted by the end of the film.
Isn't it ironic that the processes originally intended to make movies seem larger than television now diminish them on television. Thank goodness home video technology has come to the point where we can have such effective presentations at home, even if they can never quite achieve the impact of theaters like the Egyptian and the Dome.
KP
 

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Marvelous screencaps here:
http://caps-a-holic.com/hd_vergleiche/comparison.php?cap1=2208&cap2=2192&art=full&image=1&cID=589&action=1&lossless=1#vergleich
What a huge difference from the DVD.
 

Guest
If the dvd and blu-ray are both the OAR, then why is the blu-ray cropped (even slightly) on both sides in every shot? Just curious.
 

garyrc

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KPmusmag said:
This occurred for me with the 1955 film version of Oklahoma! , which having only seen it on television for many years, seemed very slow to me as compared to a competent live stage production of the piece ... The sound was stunning as well - I felt like I was sitting the middle of the orchestra. I could fully understand how awestruck audiences must have been seeing this film in TODD-AO in 1955. In fact, it was this screening that inspired me to seek out large screen presentations of these classics as I understood how diminishing television could be.
I was, in a sense, luckier with Ben-Hur because I had never seen it on television and saw it for the first time at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. I was completely immersed in the story and blown away by the epic proportions of everything in the film. I saw it with my brother, sitting in the center of the front row ...
A more modern film that was particularly stunning at the Cinerama Dome was Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I was lucky enough to see at the Dome for the first time. I recall being able to read the titles of the books on the shelves at Indy's house. I was completely exhausted by the end of the film.
Isn't it ironic that the processes originally intended to make movies seem larger than television now diminish them on television. Thank goodness home video technology has come to the point where we can have such effective presentations at home, even if they can never quite achieve the impact of theaters like the Egyptian and the Dome.
KP
Thanks for sharing those experiences. Each of the sections of your (condensed) post that I have taken the liberty of bolding is a great example of the superiority of properly presented 70mm and 6 track magnetic sound. Much of this difference centers around higher excitement (higher cortical arousal in the brain) elicited by great, warm, dynamic sound and a large (necessarily clear) picture. These forces are under control of the filmmakers when a film is exhibited in the way they intend and anticipate, but they are taken away when -- to cite the most extreme case, more common in the past -- a once impressive classic film is released to television or a theater with a small screen and the print is in mono optical sound, rather than 4 or 6 track magnetic.
Oklahoma!, etc.: Musicals -- or films that depend on music that are not musicals (like Ben-Hur & Raiders of the Lost Ark) can be very strongly affected by a reduction in anything that has to do with the excitement of the sound (dynamics, spaciousness). People seeing musicals in mono optical often used to say that the stage production was "Better" or "Had more energy." In my experience, with multi-track magnetic, the opposite has often been true: movie people can afford to bring in huge, exciting orchestras for the few recording sessions that are necessary, but theatrical productions can afford a relative handful (they bring in extra players to create the Broadway album!) If the movie soundtrack is properly presented it can be so exciting that it can even seem to affect the visual component. My friends and I have had several A-B-A experiences along that line. For instance, we saw The Unsinkable Molly Brown with stereo magnetic multitrack sound, then saw it in mono optical. As we walked out of the theater, we asked each other things like "What happened to the dancing?" So much "energy" was missing from the dancing, because the excitement attributed to it was actually transmitted by the now missing dynamics, shimmering high frequencies, driving bass, and reverberation of feet hitting wooden floors pumped through the now mute surround channels. We then saw Molly Brown again in mag stereo, and the energy of the dancing was back! There are many other examples I could detail, but I'll just list a couple more that were drained of their energy by improper presentation: Paint Your Wagon as a whole, The King and I, especially the dancing and the Little House of Uncle Thomas, Fiddler on the Roof. In each case, the energy of the singing, dancing, and score came back when experienced once again in multichannel mag.
Behavioral scientists studying Art repeatedly encountered more liking and more frequent preference (perceptual choice) for a given work -- including film -- when they induced greater cortical arousal in the experimental group, but not the control. Such manipulations were achieved by using white noise, changes in lighting levels, changes in loudness, and --- in the bad old days -- the use of amphetamines. I can dig up some of the references, if need be, but I'll bet they are on Google.
The exhaustion at the end of Raiders is exactly what I felt in the 70 mm blow up, but not in a 35mm presentation in which the sound was not quite loud enough. I have never been so (plesantly) exhausted as after the 70 mm presentations ('59/'60 & '68) of Ben-Hur
 

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At my local Walmart, they have the two disc blu-ray of "Ben-Hur" for $19.96. I'm glad that they offered it, beside the Ultimate Collector's Edition.
I'm going to watch it later today.
 

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