Lecture: Dr. Howard Miller – “Redeeming Messala: Ben-Hur Beyond the 1959 Epic”

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October 25, 2018 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
General Lew Wallace Study & Museum
200 Wallace Ave
Crawfordsville, IN 47933
Larry Paarlberg

It’s possible that more adaptions of Ben-Hur have appeared in the past thirty years than in the previous eighty. And their variety and geographic reach are without precedent in the adaptation history of the novel. In addition to the 2016 film, there is novel that makes Judah Ben-Hur the villain, not Messala, his Roman betrayer. Another novel, a whodunit, suggests that there was foul play—murder even—during the filming of the chariot race of the silent film. An Off-Off Broadway stage play features not only Wallace’s cast of characters but also Lew Wallace himself and the alleged Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt! And what are we to make of the Ben-Hur musicals that appeared in both Orlando, Florida and, of all places, Singapore?

In his last lecture of the year, Dr. Miller will attempt to make sense of this explosion of wildly different and far-flung adaptations. Using many video clips, he will argue that many of them were responses to the achievements of and reactions to the 1959 MGM film. He will discuss the ways in which the celebrated chariot race in the 1959 epic influenced a generation of young directors and producers of spectacular action movies, like Star Wars and Gladiator. But his principal focus will be on the ways in which many of the adaptations attempt to forgive and redeem Messala, with results that would have no doubt astounded and probably flummoxed the General. The Study’s exhibits and lectures over the past two years have focused on the adaptation history of Ben-Hur. Join with us now and discover how it all turns out!

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