A Brief History of the Inspiration, Ingenuity and Megalomania That Made Hearst Castle
If you can't make the trek to San Simeon in the middle of the California coastline, you may find this 2006 DVD the next best thing to being there. Running 40 minutes, this 1996 IMAX documentary was produced specifically for the National Geographic Theater at the Hearst Castle Visitors Center with the intent of providing tourists the history and cultural context for publishing magnate William Randolph Heart's palatial weekend home at San Simeon. Directed by Bruce Neibaur, a specialist in IMAX documentaries ("Mysteries of Egypt"), the feature is a condensed dramatization of the genesis and construction of the undeniably magnificent estate that rests in splendor five miles up the hills. You will learn that Hearst Castle was built on a 40,000-acre ranch that Hearst's father, George Hearst, originally purchased in 1865 after he struck it rich in silver. During periodic camping trips in the area during his childhood, young William became fond of this site. His mother Phoebe, a former schoolteacher, also took him on holiday to various European castles, museums and other important attractions, all of which made a vivid impression on him.
When Hearst inherited the ranch in 1919 upon his mother's death, the property had grown to an astounding 250,000 acres, and construction on the estate began that same year. It continued unabated through 1947, when Hearst stopped living at the estate due to ill health. San Francisco architect Julia Morgan was the pivotal figure who designed most of the buildings and kept Hearst in check for his excesses (for example, building him a private zoo) and his impulsiveness in tearing down structures and having them rebuilt at a whim. There are unknown actors playing all the key roles, including Hearst as well as a fictional starlet who was invited to one of Hearst's typically elaborate weekends when he would invite a plethora of Hollywood stars and world-famous dignitaries to have fun. Although that sounds like a lot of ground for this film to cover, the abbreviated length of the movie feels just right for covering the history of the subject. Production values are first-rate, and the DVD captures the IMAX experience to a surprising degree.
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