Archive for Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

The Easter Sunday Intertitle: A Tale of the Christ

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 5, 2015 by dcairns


Sadly, Manuel de Oliveira, the oldest film director in captivity, died this week aged 106, possibly from surprise. (I apologise for the levity, but for the whole weekend, God is dead, so we can do what we like until the resurrrection.) I know virtually nothing of MdO’s work so I was prompted, belatedly, to run one of his films, and selected the very odd MON CAS (1986), in which a short play by José Régio is filmed — quite literally filmed happening on a stage — four times. The first version is more or less conventional, using long takes and mostly long shots to allow the actors to be as theatrical as they like; the second is in b&w and presented at double speed, evoking a silent movie — as sound, Oliveira allows some text by Beckett to bleed through an ambient projector whirr; then we get the same action again but dubbed, so that backwards gobbledygook emerges from the characters’ mouths, as if they were trapped in David Lynch’s Black Lodge; then we get a new text, a “straight” version of The Book of Job, performed against a backdrop simultaneously suggestive of the Puttin’ on the Ritz number from BROADWAY MELODY and an Italian post-apocalyptic fantasy painted by Fernand Leger.


As I say, very odd. The whole thing is very impressive, particularly the staging, which manages to pretend that no film-making is going on at all, while slowly evolving its own version of cinematic language.

My ulterior motive was to get a biblical intertitle out of it for today’s post, but Oliveria stages his “silent” sequence without titles. A shame, because the twenties design displayed in sets and costumes is lovely.

So I turn to BEN-HUR, A TALE OF THE CHRIST to sing us out. Take it away, Fred Niblo!


The phantom camel is baffling, but nice. Happy Easter!