This is the next entry in a Theatre… a Movie… and a Time, a series that was begun here. Since I began with the Epics category with the start of my Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 arc, it was only fitting I’d chronicle a couple of them in this series.
“May God grant me vengeance! I will pray that you live until I return!” ~ Judah Ben-Hur to his childhood friend, Massala, who has sentenced him to the slave galleys
The Nuart Theatre:
Images c/o Cinema Treasures site
Summer 1981: first, a definition.
- Art House
- 1. a cinema which specializes in showing films which are not part of the commercial mainstream.
- 2. a movie theater that shows art films or revival screenings of notable older film.
Growing up surrounded by movie-going relatives, I’d heard, a lot, of great epic films of yesteryear they had seen first-run. William Wyler’s Ben-Hur chief among them. Every so often through the 70s the film would play on some local or network television broadcast, which allowed me to pick up bits and pieces of the feature over the years. Nevertheless, I’d never watched it in its entirety or in a movie theater during this span.
On the other side of the city, the Nuart Theatre had become the preeminent art house venue during that same decade for Los Angeles. In fact, its midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (and other unique and transgressive films) remain the stuff of legend. Yet for all the socially relevant cinema, foreign and independent film that’s been projected on to their hall’s screen, the westside venue was well-known for routinely screening repertory (classic) cinema.
Luckily for me, these two articles coalesced one Sunday afternoon during a certain summer. She-whose-name-is-not-to-be-uttered, who’d never seen the film at all, accompanied me. After lining up for the film’s first of two showings that day, and experiencing all of its 212-minute length (not including the intermission), along with that incredible chariot race sequence on a big screen, I finally understood what my family meant about the epic in general, and this film in particular.