Things best forgotten… ?

John and I recently watched a recording of Ben Hur on our TV.   The film had been shown some time over the Christmas period.

It can be fraught, re-watching a well remembered film.   I recall being terribly impressed with the epic Cleopatra when I first saw it.   Watching it years later, I was struck by what a bad actress Elizabeth Taylor was, and that Richard Burton looked ridiculous in his ‘Roman’ uniform because his legs were too short.

This year, my enjoyment of Ben Hur was marred from the start because my expectations were entirely wrong.   It seemed to me to be in the wrong country, Charlton Heston was wearing the wrong clothes, I didn’t recall Christ or Pontius Pilate being in the film, and where was Sophia Loren?    At this point John pointed out to me that it wasn’t ‘El Cid’ and I realised I was watching the ‘wrong’ film.

In old films, the acting tends to be so bad to our modern eyes – contrived, melodramatic, ridiculous accents, slow.   Charlton Heston was not too bad, and whoever played Pontius Pilate was  actually very good – but the women were stilted and wooden and the actor playing Marcellus, the villainous counterpoint to Heston’s heroic Ben Hur was simply dreadful.

I have never been a friend or admirer of Rome.  I had a vigorous argument at Bognor when a guide extolled to Alexandra the magnificence of Rome’s engineering and their promotion of skills and crafts.   When I responded that they had done so by enslaving other nations and were therefore to be despised and not praised, and that any free thinking people would spit at the very memory of their greed and cruelty, and that no technical advancement could possibly excuse the evils they had committed, he looked quite shaken.   So you would expect I would be sympathetic to this film, but as it lumbered on I became increasingly irritated and impatient.

Heston, whom I once admired, of course besmirched his reputation in his – let us give a  kind interpretation here – senility by his support for the gun lobby.   He was probably one of those who think a solution to the Columbine problem is to arm every primary school teacher.

All in all, Ben Hur was a disappointment.

But there were two good things.

Christ, although visible in the film, did not show his face, and I thought this was clever, for any face would be  a  disappointment.

And then this film is like an opera where you have to sit through interminable dross for one superb aria.   For I have to say, the chariot scene is still a magnificent spectacle, all the more so when you remember that it had been enacted in reality, and is not a computer animation.   Then you look and wonder at the technical difficulties, how many takes they needed, how much it cost, the danger involved etc.

So there’s my impression of Ben Hur.    It’s not El Cid.