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Richard: Thanks to two wonderful revival theaters in my area, I’ve been fortunate enough to see both the 1926 “Ben-Hur” (at the Lafayette in Suffern, NY) and the 1959 version (at the Loew’s Jersey, Jersey City, NJ), but seeing them together the way you did must’ve been really wild, like you said.
Another reason why I’m so down on today’s movies: last night I dug out an old New York Times movie section from April 1968, and it was filled with ads for great movies playing all over the city – not just 1967 holdovers like “The Graduate” and “In Cold Blood” but new releases that had already opened in the early months of 1968, films like “2001”, “Planet of the Apes” and “The Odd Couple”. If I look at the movie section in today’s paper, I’ll only get depressed.
Richard, Vincent and CC: This is a very interesting and entertaining discussion, but there’s one thing we can all agree on: the movies of the ‘70’s as well as the older classics make most of today’s movies shrink to practically nothing by comparison. It’s almost April and there hasn’t been one new movie released all year that I’d want to go out and see. I probably won’t see any until “Star Wars Episode III”, a prequel to a '70’s movie. On top of that, the best theatrical experience I’ve had so far in 2005 was 1959’s “Ben-Hur” at the Loew’s Jersey.
The “2001” print that played the Uptown in DC in 2001 was the cut version. The 162 minute version was seen only by a lucky few, like Paul Noble. I saw it at the Capitol in June 1968 and so missed it by several weeks, but I have an old New York Times from 1968 which features a letter to the editor written by Jon Davison, who became a film producer in later years (“Robocop”, etc.). This letter gives us some idea of what the original version was like:
TO THE EDITOR:
After seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” at a press preview, I was eager to see it again. Monday I cut poetry class, went to the theater and discovered someone else had been very busy cutting.
Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent work has been butchered; the sad result of the critical abuse heaped upon it by critics conditioned by TV pacing and Lester’s running, jumping and falling down editing. Almost 20 minutes have been removed, including some important plot threads. (This is a film that can ill afford to spare them.) The cuts (numbering somewhere near 30) were rather sloppily made on the print Loew’s Capitol is projecting. When I asked the manager about the deletions, he denied them, but a nearby projectionist added, “They only cut some of the parts that didn’t mean anything.”
Some of the parts that “didn’t mean anything” were: The computer’s asking for permission to repeat the message from mission control telling of its own malfunction; parts of the scene in which Dullea removes the faulty communications unit; the computer’s turning off the pod’s radio before killing Lockwood (thus puzzling the audience when Dullea asks HAL if he has been able to establish radio contact yet) and a host of visual cuts and shortening of scenes.
Besides the wholesale slicing, MGM added two meaningless title cards, which grate on the film’s visual style. The bastardization, complete with sloppy splices and uneven pacing, is now being viewed by even more confused audiences than met the original. But the most confused of all is MGM, whose lack of artistic faith in its own film led it to cut what it couldn’t comprehend, thus destroying what it hoped to save.
JON F. DAVISON
Graduate Film Student
New York University
New York City
Elsewhere in the same Arts and Leisure section (April 28, 1968), there’s a short article quoting Kubrick on how he himself has cut 19 minutes out of the film:
“Nothing has been deleted entirely,” he said. “These were simply short cuts here and there – it’s a common practice – to tighten and make the film move more rapidly.”
Anyway, I hope Richard W. Haine is right and the cut sequences still exist. I’d love to see them someday.
Vito: you’re right about today’s Fox fanfare. It doesn’t have the impact of the original orchestration we heard in, say, “The King and I” (1956), which was perfect. I can’t figure out why Fox made changes and so-called improvements in something that never needed any. Maybe some future Fox exec will change it back again someday.
Vito, thanks for that great story about the Fox Fanfare. 20th Century Fox had the best-looking AND the best-sounding studio logo in the history of the movies.
You’re welcome, Christian. That’s the first photo I posted to the web – I’m glad it worked. I hope you find your book. I’m looking forward to reading some of those stories.
Mike: the Loew’s officially closed in 1986. Here is the theater history page from their website:
The Stanley no longer shows movies but you can take a tour of the theater, which has been fully restored by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The State, sadly, no longer exists. In its place is a high-rise apartment/office building which hasn’t opened yet. The State is the one I went to the most when I was a kid in the 1960’s (they got all the Disney movies).
Pete’s right – there’s no exit music in “Ben-Hur”. Besides, the exultant music Miklos Rozsa composed for the final shots and the end title card couldn’t be topped anyway. Better to let the audience go out having just heard that.
I hope some of you who are reading this were there to see “Ben-Hur” last night. The picture and sound were beautiful, and the chariot race was never before as thrilling as it was from the front row of the Loew’s.
Maybe this link will work better:
Here’s a link to a picture I took in 2003 of the “King and I” footprint block. I hope it works:
Another funny line, from early on in the film: Cedric Hardwicke to Heston: “We have heard how you took ibis from the Nile to destroy the venomous serpents which were sent against you when you laid siege to the city of Saba.” Try saying that 3 times fast! Whether you take it seriously or not, “The Ten Commandments” is a real cinema treasure.
I remember The Closing of the Capitol being talked about on NBC’s Today Show in September 1968, but I was too young to attend. By the way, CConnolly, was the Anne Baxter “Ten Commandments” line you mentioned, “Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn splendid adorable fool”? There were so many lines like that, but that one came to mind first. During one long-ago annual TV showing, my brother kept track of how many times the name “Moses” was spoken in the film. It ran into the hundreds.
I remember The Closing of the Capitol being talked about on NBC’s Today Show in September 1968, but I was too young to attend. By the way, CConnolly, was the Anne Baxter “Ten Commandments” line you mentioned, “Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn splendid adorable fool”? There were so many, but that one came to mind first. During one long-ago annual TV showing, my brother kept track of how many times the name “Moses” was spoken in the film. It ran into the hundreds.
I agree with CConnolly. In 1989 “The Abyss” was shown at the Music Hall for one night only prior to its official opening day (in 70mm I think), and the place was packed. And didn’t Bob Furmanek say he saw the latest Harry Potter movie there last year? Was that open to the public or was it an invitation-only event?
Gee I don’t know, CConnolly … “Psycho” (1960) filled the entire orchestra section of the hall – thousands of seats, and on a weeknight yet! – while when I saw both “Kill Bill” movies on first run they each played to half empty theaters. But you can’t go by me – I’d go see any movie that played the Music Hall.
Before “The Exorcist” started that night, Friedkin told a great story relating to what CConnolly and R.H. said: in 1973 he and writer/producer William Peter Blatty were editing the film at Warner Bros' editing facility at 666(!) Fifth Avenue. They took a break for food at a nearby deli, and passed Radio City. Friedkin said to Blatty, “Well, there’s one theater our movie will never play!”
About the beat up print of The Exorcist REndres told us about: there was a splice during an early scene with Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn, creating a jump cut where Linda Blair seemed to teleport across the room from one place to another. It got a huge laugh from the patrons in the Hall.
Ron: I was wondering about that myself. When the WB series began, it was advertised as the First Annual Classic Film Festival. One year later the Universal series was the Second Annual, then it just died. I figured they’d get to RKO eventually, and then I’d fulfill a longtime dream of seeing “King Kong” at Radio City.
I’d like to second what R.H. and RobertR said about the classics series shown at Radio City in the ‘90s: some of those shows I attended (Psycho, Jaws, The Exorcist, My Fair Lady) looked like complete sellouts to me. There was a struggle to find seats, even down near the front. I’m sure if the Hall did what Valencia suggested (old time movie/stage show combination with the Rockettes) and charged 2004 Christmas Show prices for it, they’d sell out the house for sure. I know I’d go, along with every New Yorker who posts on Cinema Treasures.
“Ben-Hur” at the Loew’s Jersey on March 5th – 44 years after I first saw it there when I was 6 years old. I was hoping this day would come someday.
In recent years I only remember the curtain being used for “Lawrence of Arabia” in 2002, and now “Raging Bull”. It was definitely not used for “The Phantom of the Opera” on New Year’s Eve – it might have made the movie a little better than it was.
I saw “Raging Bull” at the Ziegfeld last night and the crowd was bigger than I expected, and very much into the movie as well. The presentation was quite good too – only 3 commercials and one trailer, and they opened and closed the curtains. It was also my first time seeing black and white on the Ziegfeld screen. I’m glad I went. Now let’s see if they extend the exclusive engagement beyond the originally announced ten days – I’m sure they’ll do better with this great classic than with the latest Hollywood dud they’ve got booked into the theater next.
I saw THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI here last weekend, and they put on quite a show: newsreel, cartoon, audience singalong, etc. And the theater itself was beautiful. I’ll be going back again for sure.
This link will take you to some great pictures of the theater’s Cinerama screen when it was known as the Casino. How wonderful “How the West Was Won” and “2001” must have looked on that screen: