Welcome to Weekend Binge. Every Friday we’ll bring you an over the top title designed to keep you from going too crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The (very) long look: Ben-Hur
Director William Wyler took sword and sandal / biblical epic to new extremes with this 1959 installment, which ties into Titanic and The Return of the King for most of the Acadamy Award in history. The film stars Charlton Heston as the main character, a Jewish prince living under Roman rule in the first century. Judah Ben-Hur has just about all the comforts he could want until he runs into his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd), who – for reasons never expressly stated – turns against Judah. , stripping his family of wealth and condemning him to servitude. Several years pass, and Judah plots to avenge his last name first as a soldier, then as a tank driver. His rising fame brings Judah back into conflict with Messala, as well as with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Ben-Hur begins to have a religious revival through his interaction with the preacher Jesus of Nazareth, as he takes on Messala in a final chariot race.
So where is gay, you ask? The late great Gore Vidal wrote the screenplay to Ben-Hur and, in the 1990s, revealed that he wrote down the Judah / Messala relationship as having overt homosexual overtones. In Vidal’s backstory, the couple had been gay lovers as teenagers. When they reconnect years later, Judah rejects Messala’s advances, prompting the latter to dismantle Judah’s life and family. Star Charlton Heston has always denied Vidal’s story, although William Wyler’s direction and Stephen Boyd’s performance certainly suggest a gay affair between the two characters. Contemporary writings from other production staff seem to confirm Vidal’s side of the story: Judah dumped her ex-boyfriend Messala.
In other words, Ben-Hur is a Christian epic that also happens to be gay AF.
We are sure here for that. Besides the merriment, Ben-Hur offers a lot more to enjoy, including terrific performances by Heston (who won an Oscar), Boyd and Hugh Griffith (who also won an Oscar), thrilling action in the tank scenes, and some of the most lush production designs Hollywood has ever created. In a medium known for his ambitious epics, Ben-Hur ranks among the best ever produced.
Normally we recommend a streak as part of our Weekend Binge feature, but at over three and a half hours, Ben-Hur is a frenzy in itself. We recommend it as a way to celebrate Easter, the queer way… at least until someone makes a movie where Jesus is actually gay. No one has adapted Terrence McNally’s “Gay Jesus”, Corpus Christi yet! We’re just saying …
Streams on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, and VUDU.