I watched the 1959 version of Ben-Hur with my kids today — it was the first time they had ever seen the film — and I noticed something that had never occurred to me before: the final shot in the film shows a shepherd guiding his flock beneath the empty cross at Golgotha, just like the final shot in Jesus Christ Superstar.
The image above is a frame from the final shot in Ben-Hur.
And here’s a frame from the final shot in Jesus Christ Superstar, which came out 14 years later (it’s hard to see the shepherd when he’s not in motion, but he’s there):
I vaguely recall reading a summary of critical responses to Jesus Christ Superstar several years ago in which the writers wondered what the director was getting at with that image, but now I wonder: what if he was just paying homage to Ben-Hur?
Maybe someone mentioned the Ben-Hur connection in that summary and I forgot. If so, my apologies. At any rate, I certainly won’t forget the connection now.
My kids, incidentally, liked Ben-Hur, but my daughter was upset that Charlton Heston didn’t keep his beard for long, not even “a little bit” (i.e. she wanted at least stubble).
She also made a point of proclaiming that the cloudscape behind Judah Ben-Hur and Quintus Arrius, when they are floating on that piece of flotsam in the Mediterranean Sea, was a “fake” piece of “animation”. I told her it was actually a painting.
I wonder what she’ll make of the new film, if and when she sees it. At the very least, it seems the Judah Ben-Hur of that film will have a beard throughout the movie!