To accompany the "Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film" exhibition at the County Museum of Art, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is presenting a series of films in the museum's Bing Theater that continues Wednesday at 8 p.m. with the American premiere of a newly restored print of "Ben-Hur" (1926), a joint project of Turner Entertainment and Thames Television under the supervision of Kevin Brownlow and David Gill.
The restoration, which includes not only tinting but 10 minutes of exquisite two-color Technicolor sequences and a superb score recorded by the MGM studio orchestra in 1931, only heightens the impact of the still vital and stirring religious spectacle, adapted from Gen. Lew Wallace's novel and directed by Fred Niblo.
At once immense and intimate, it tells of the travails of a young Jerusalem nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur (Ramon Novarro), under oppressive Roman rule, while in the background the story of Christ (whose face is never seen) unfolds. Reduced to a galley slave, Ben-Hur endures a long odyssey, embracing spiritual redemption and climaxing in a brutal chariot race in Antioch that pits him against his one-time friend, the Roman centurion Messala (Francis X. Bushman).
Through Niblo's astute direction the drama attains the visual eloquence of a mime play that allows the film to transcend the declamatory style of traditional silent cinema acting. In addition to the justly famous chariot race, which was directed by Reaves Eason and employed 42 cameras, there is a splendid sea battle, directed by Alfred Raboch.
The costumes, which are remarkably authentic-looking, are credited to Camillo Innocente, Erte and Harold Grieve (who also shared the art direction credit with Cedric Gibbons and Horace Jackson).
For full schedule: (213) 857-6010.