Thursday, June 4, 2015

Jason goes to Silentfest--Closing Night

I once again had to work on a weekday, and with the festival now ending on Monday instead of Sunday, that meant I missed another day of matinees. But I was there for the ending, the spectacular BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST (1925): Interesting bit of trivia, the 1959 Charlton Heston remake was directed by William Wyler, who was one of 60 assistant directors for the famous chariot scene in this silent version. The film is a masterpiece, with a far more religious focus than the remake (it's notable that the 1959 version drops the "A Tale of the Christ" from the title.) While the 1959 version has removed as much of Jesus as it can (other than a hand cameo) the 1925 version opens with the Nativity (including the three wise men and the manger,) and all of the religious scenes are given extra emphasis with 2-strip Technicolor. Ramon Navarro gives a soulful, sometimes heartbreaking performance compared to Heston's square-jawed stoic hero. And Francis X. Bushman is fantastic as the villain Messala (another bit of trivia, he didn't want to play the villain until his friend who had played Messala in the stage adaptation told him it was the best role. That friend--William S. Hart.)

Overall, the movie is brilliant. It had a legendarily troubled production (which Kevin Brownlow devotes a chapter to in his seminal work, The Parade's Gone By) and so it was never a possibility for it to make a profit. But it is still an incredible achievement, and a brilliant way to end the festival.

Accompanying was...no one. They actually used a Carl Davis score on a recorded soundtrack. I believe using a soundtrack instead of live music is actually a first for the SF Silent Film Festival. And as much as I love the live music, this soundtrack was pretty fantastic.

Running Time: 141 minutes
My Total Minutes: 398,627

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