Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille (2016)


The Ten Commandments (1923)

In 1923, Cecil B. DeMille and his crew headed to the Nipomo Dunes of Guadalupe, California, a small town 160 miles north of Hollywood. DeMille brought with him carpenters, electricians, sculptors, painters, set decorators and many more to build a giant set for his new film The Ten Commandments (1923). His crew got to work on building a 900 feet wide and 100 feet tall set which included 20 Sphinxes and four 35 ton statues of Ramses. It was one of the biggest sets in movie history. Too big to build on the Paramount Studio lot, DeMille needed a wide open space that could double as Egypt and the Guadalupe dunes was just the location. The whole project was one of Biblical proportions well-suited for a film director whose approach to films was nothing less than epic. Too large to move back to Hollywood, the set's fate was up in the air. What would DeMille do with it? If he left it there, rival filmmakers would discover it and take advantage of their masterpiece to make their own movies. DeMille would have none of that. So he decided to bury the set, the entire set, in the sands of the dunes.

"If, a thousand years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian Civilization... extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America. The sphinxes they will find were buried there when we had finished them." - Cecil B. DeMille

Fast forward 60 years later. It was the early 1980s and filmmaker Peter Brosnan and his team had set out to find the buried set of The Ten Commandments. It was a project that would be plagued by setbacks and bureaucratic red-tape. Brosnan's documentary, The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille (2016), tells the story the archaeological dig that spanned over 3 decades. What seemed like a relatively straightforward dig became anything but that. The film also explores the making of DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923). Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Brosnan and his team searched for those who worked on the film and Guadalupe locals who either witnessed the production or were extras on the set. As a result of their work to capture these stories, Brosnan provides a plethora of archival footage. In this we find lots of interviews with extras, witnesses and with other figures including Agnes DeMille (Cecil's niece), screenwriter Jesse Lasky Jr., actor Pat Terence, actress Leatrice Joy (audio only) plus many of the people involved in the archaeological dig. There are also contemporary interviews with Peter Brosnan, his team members including Bruce Cradozo, Richard Eberhardt, Kelvin Jones, and DeMille's granddaughter Cecilia DeMille Presley. And to my surprise the documentary also covered the making of the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments which helps complete this almost century long story.

https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-lost-city-of


What the film lacks for in production quality it makes up for in a riveting story. The archival footage of the dig and the last surviving witnesses to the 1923 filming add much value to this documentary. I was riveted by the story of Brosnan and his team's quest to uncover the buried set. This is a fascinating documentary and well worth the time of any serious classic film buff.

The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille is now available for digital download. I encourage you to give this one a try. You can find the movie on iTunes.

Additional links: My review of The Ten Commandments (1923).

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