Ben-Hur (1959 Film) - Chariot Race Sequence

Chariot Race Sequence

Film critic Kevin Brownlow has called the chariot race sequence as creative and influential a piece of cinema as the famous Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin, which introduced modern concepts of film editing and montage to cinema.

The chariot race in Ben-Hur was directed by Andrew Marton and Yakima Canutt, filmmakers who often acted as second unit directors on other people's films. Each man had an assistant director, who shot additional footage. Among these were Sergio Leone, who was senior assistant director in the second unit and responsible for retakes. William Wyler shot the "pageantry" sequence that occurs before the race, scenes of the jubilant crowd, and the victory scenes after the race concludes. The "pageantry" sequence before the race begins is a shot-by-shot remake of the same sequence from the 1925 silent film version. Wyler added the parade around the track because he knew that the chariot race would be primarily composed of close-up and medium shots. To impress the audience with the grandeur of the arena, Wyler added the parade in formation (even though it was not historically accurate).

The original screenwriter, Karl Tunberg, had written just three words ("the chariot race") to describe the now-famous sequence, and no other writer had enlarged on his description. Marton and Canutt wrote 38 pages of script which outlined every aspect of the race, including action, stunts, and camera shots and angles. According to editor John Dunning, producer Sam Zimbalist was deeply involved in the planning and shooting of the chariot sequence, and the construction of the arena.

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Ben-Hur (1959 film) - Chariot Race Sequence - Myths
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