Ben Hur

Ben Hur
R: Sidney Olcott/Frank Oakes Rose. P: Kalem Co. USA 1907
“This first film adaptation of the well-known novel by General Lew Wallace was the first American film production challenged in court for its being an unauthorized adaptation of a copyrighted work. Producer Kalem Film Manufacturing Company had not secured permission to film the novel and was successfully sued by the Wallace estate in 1911 for copyright infringement.
Regardless what you might read elsewhere, William S. Hart does not appear in this film. He had previously appeared as Messala in the Broadway stage play adaptation.”
Carl Bennett
Silent Era

“Kalem’s Ben Hur (1907) offers a spatially inventive variation on the vertically split set by employing an exaggeratedly ‘high’ set which is then divided in two along a horizontal axis. The first shot of this space shows the set (a domestic interior set atop an arch) in its entirety, though only the top half features dramatic action; after a cut, shot scale adjusts to show just the bottom half. Because the first shot incorporates the unused bottom portion of the set, the shot seems top heavy: an inordinate amount of empty space occupies the bottom of the frame. invirting the principle of leaving excess space at the top of the frame that prevails 1907. Aside from the strains this approach places an versimilitude (why would Ben Hur’s home be located on the top of an archway?), its convoluted representation of adjacent spaces almost ensures that this variant remain an anomaly.”
Charlie Keil: Early American Cinema in Transition: Story, Style, and Filmmaking, 1907–1913. University of Wisconsin Press 2001, p. 107