I’ve never seen a really good-looking 70mm presentation of William Wyler‘s Ben-Hur in a good-sized theatre, so I went to what I assumed would be a showing of same at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian (which has projectors than can show 70mm) last Friday night. There are two or three 70mm prints kicking around, or so I’ve heard. It stands to reason that at least one would be here, and viewable.
2.76 to 1 Camera 65 image copied from DVD Beaver’s Ben-Hur page
But they showed a 35mm anamorphic print, projected with a typical 2.35 to 1 aspect ratio. The problem was that every so often the framing looked wrong — slightly side-cropped — due to the film having been shot in MGM Camera 65, which ultimately allowed for a 2.76 to 1 aspect ratio (which you can see in the most recent four-DVD box set) which meant a portion of what was shot and obviously intended to be seen was missing at the Cinematheque.
The other issue, of course, was that a 35mm print can’t look as sharp and clean as a 70mm print. The sound was pretty good though.
The older crowd that attended the show (some looked like family types who’d driven in from Pomona) may have been content, but not this horse. It was like the Louvre hanging a photocopy of the Mona Lisa instead of the real thing. I don’t why I stuck around until the intermission but I did, sitting there with that sinking, suckered-again feeling that I’ve come to know all too well.