In 1982 Peter Brosnan heard a story about an ancient Egyptian City buried in California. For thirty years he has been fighting to dig it up.In 1982 Peter Brosnan heard a story about an ancient Egyptian City buried in California. For thirty years he has been fighting to dig it up.In 1982 Peter Brosnan heard a story about an ancient Egyptian City buried in California. For thirty years he has been fighting to dig it up.
But what if you learned that there was a bit of history of classic silent film making that still existed? Not a page or two of a film script or a few feet of film but almost an set built up from scratch to be a part of one of the most expensive and awe inspiring films of its time. An entire city buried in the dunes of California and undiscovered for decades. Wouldn't that be something worth discovering?
Such was the mindset of film maker Peter Brosnan when he heard the story about the buried sets for Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Not DeMille's 1956 classic but his first take on the film released in 1923. After hearing the stories about the construction of the massive set used in the film and how it was demolished when the film finished, his curiosity got the better of him.
In 1982 he went to Guadalupe, CA, and met some of the folks who lived there and talked to them about the production. A few of them were even in the film and still living. Through the information he gathered he went to the nearby dunes where folks had noticed that while the sand shifted and changed the shapes of the dunes they didn't seem to affect just one of them there. This was where the set had been.
Using a combination of the story of Cecil B. DeMille and his career and the search for this lost city, Brosnan tells a fascinating story that offers not just the tale of his search but a source of information about the way films were made when they first began. For instance one might ask why, after constructing such a huge and costly set, would DeMille order it destroyed? The answer, provided in the film, is that had he left it standing other studios would have swooped in to use the same set for their own movies, many of which would have been rushed into production to beat the release of his film and thus making the sets seem old to movie goers by the time his film came out. By tearing them down and burying them he prevented that from happening.
Bouncing back and forth with the historical aspects of making the film is Brosnan's own journey into both digging up the lost city and his making a film about it. If ever there were a tale about bureaucratic red tape, the need for less government intervention and corruption it is this story. Brosnan didn't try to dig up the city once but several times over the years. The end result was that it took over 30 years to finally get the story told and the film artifacts recovered. And by then time had taken its toll on them.
I'll admit that for many this film has a dry subject matter to be discussed. But when you consider the historical aspects of the film it becomes a fascinating movie. In the end not everyone who signed on to be involved in the project is still alive, the financial people behind it change from one to another, voices from people who were in the film are lost as they pass away and the town of Guadalupe learns to embrace their film heritage.
It may not be a blockbuster film or have a chance of beating out the next Marvel hero to grace the screen. But the movie is interesting and worth watching to learn about his lost city. Who knows, maybe there are more lost treasures just waiting to be found. For now enjoy the story of this one.
- May 2, 2018