Archive for September, 2019

BEN-HUR (1959)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2019 by cdascher

Ben_hur_1959_posterThis film came with a reputation – of being, shall we say, a lot. I had never seen Ben-Hur and part of why I delayed watching it was that I knew it would be long. Also, my completist partner in crime wanted to not just watch one version – no, we chose to watch THREE. This included the 1959 film this blog is about, the 1925 silent film, of which the ‘59 film was essentially a remake, and a fifteen minute short from the early 1900s. 

I can truly say I got a good sense for Ben-Hur, though I didn’t read the book or check out the comic. There are a few things that really stood out to me about this drama, which depicts conflict when the Romans in their quest for empire take over Judea, causing tension among friends. Chiefly, we follow the story of Judah Ben-Hur, who is a wealthy Jewish prince and merchant from Jerusalem who becomes ensnared in conflict, along with his mother and sister, because of a misunderstanding around a fallen tile from his roof and his own outspoken nature. He is proud of his Jewish faith in a time when the Romans were having none of it. 

When he is taken in as a prisoner of the Romans, he becomes a galley slave for five years. He’s assigned eventually to the Roman Consul Arrius and saves his life after there is an attack on their ship by the Macedonians. Judah prevents him from falling on his sword (more than just a saying in this cinematic journey!), and to show his gratitude, Arrius petitions Tiberius to free Judah and adopt him as a son. Judah spends a year in Rome, enjoying prestige and learning how to chariot race – eventually being asked by an Arab sheik to return to his home of Jerusalem to race in front of the new governor of Judea Pontius Pilate against his old friend Messala (the man responsible for getting him imprisoned). When I speak of the things that stood out for me, though, there are really two: chariot racing and leprosy. 

It felt so sad and uncomfortable to watch how the characters with leprosy were dealt with and I wondered what form that would take in our world and our time. I suppose there are similar kinds of situations, where people are shunned and pushed to the outskirts, but when it comes to human contact being that impossible, I don’t know if there’s anything that can quite compare. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a loved one in that position, and so I must say I remained fairly fixated on that the whole time. We also watched all three versions of this film to get a good sense of it, including the earliest silent version. I love Judah’s character, and I really liked watching the ways in which the different films handling the Jesus representation – particularly decisions to show his body/face or not in various moments. 

Mouse and I also had a lot of conversations about the chariot racing – namely, about how the animals were treated. Mouse knows more about this, but it is my understanding from him that there were many different approaches to documenting this for the different versions. I mostly kept looking at the horses to ascertain, as a former horse girl, whether or not it seemed they felt true terror.  Continue reading


Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2019 by cdascher

slumdogMost of the time, when you see someone succeed, there is an obvious rationality to it. Some mixture of innate ability and privileged position. Then there are the occasional people you see coming out on top, and you just have to ask: Why them? The people who make you wonder if there is some guiding hand of destiny. This is the question that Slumdog Millionaire poses at its opening, as impoverished Mumbai orphan Jamal Malik prepares to answer the final question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (In multiple choice format, of course.) Is he lucky? A genius? Cheating? Or, “it is written?”

Assuming Jamal to be a cheat, he is arrested and interrogated by the police. He withstands torture, but explains his success. Every question of the game has – quite improbably- echoed episodes of his own life; his childhood on the streets of Mumbai with his brother Salim and fellow orphan Latika, their involvement with exploitative underworld figures, his estrangement from Salim, and his long quest to reunite with Latika. 

It had been a while since I had watched this film and I was as riveted the second time as I was the first time. Maybe it’s just something I was born with – the desire for the “it is written” in the world. The mystical, the preordained – that guiding hand. It’s a subject Mouse and I have disagreed over in the past – whether or not destiny is real. I think this film appeals to me so much because it lands on my side. It is real; it is magical. 

One thing that bothered me a little in the film, though it really was not that big of a deal, was that I thought the different actors playing Latika at different stages were not believable as being one continuous person. I can understand this when you are casting a child and an adult, but the middle-tiered castings were very confusing to me when put against the final actor who plays adult Latika. That’s not here or there, but it really would be my only critique of this film.  Continue reading