'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille'
(Peter L. Brosnan, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlton Heston, Agnes DeMille, Jesse Lasky, et al / DVD / NR / 2020 / Random Media)
Overview: In 1923 Cecile B. DeMille made his first version of 'The Ten Commandments.' He built a huge City of the Pharos. When he was done, it vanished!
30 years ago Peter Brosnan heard this story in a bar and decided to hunt for it. After wandering in the California dunes, he found it and now he wants to dig it up!
DVD Verdict: When legendary director Cecil B. DeMille wanted to re-create ancient Egypt for his landmark 1923 silent film, 'The Ten Commandments,' (without the benefit of today’s modern CGI capabilities), he and his talented crew had no choice but to actually BUILD a City of the Pharaoh set on the sand dunes near Santa Barbara.
Almost 50 years later, two young filmmakers heard the story of this buried city and decided to mount an archaeological dig to find and excavate the set.
Their adventure, which they thought would be an amusing lark, the work of maybe a few weeks or months, became a thirty-year crusade. Buoyed by encounters with DeMille’s surviving colleagues and relatives, they realized their goal in 2012, when significant pieces from the set were finally unearthed.
'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' allows viewers to experience every step of their journey and, at the same time, explore the vision and determination of director DeMille, whose creativity and ingenuity paved the way for today’s blockbusters.
Well, we have all heard, and seen the mighty 'The Ten Commandments' film, but I personally never knew there had been a silent version by the same director!
'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' not only brings that film to light, but explores the build up to it, therein providing a birds eye view of what turned out to be a rather extraordinary effort to make the film.
This quite fascinating documentary also manages to provide an insider's perspective on the heyday of old-school Hollywood, and how things would came together back then to craft such a project, by such an esteemed director as DeMille.
Simply put, 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' began as a filmmaking enterprise: "Let's dig up a 1923 film set and make a movie about it!"
It seemed like a good idea to a handful of young filmmakers - including director, writer and star Peter Brosnan - in 1983. They never could have guessed their dream would take nearly 30 years to be realized.
But in 2012, with funding from an independent "angel" (and their generous $300k donation) an archaeological excavation of the site finally took place. What that excavation found is at the exciting climax of 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.'
But the filmmaker's, and just prior to their massive excavation dig, had the county pull their permits to dig on that land just 72 hours before mobilization, and so from the off things were not running smoothly for the guys.
But, and with a Captain Ahab-type obsession fueling his every footstep, Brosnan pushed on and, well, the rest, as they say, is now itself history.
Furthermore, 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' actually plays out as a quite wondrous history lesson, and most assuredly showcases the large landscape of old-school Hollywood, cinematic, epic spectacles.
As we open the filmmaker begins to research the story in 1982 and over the following 30 years (!) he tries to uncover what happened to Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 set of 'The Ten Commandments' that was built in the Guadalupe sand dunes.
As you would expect, the filmmaker's very own quest ends up becoming a part of the wonderful narrative and so juxtaposed within the search we get some lovely old film footage, local history, and lots of Hollywood nostalgia.
We also learn that an astonishing 95% of silent films have been lost over time, so it seems justly important to now unearth something like 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' and learn more about one of the most famous films ever made.
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 many other studios would have rushed in and used it for their very own new projects.
Thus, by tearing them down and burying them he prevented that from happening!
And so with the Easter season upon us, and 'The Ten Commandments' available in both a new Blu-ray edition and on ABC in its annual airing, 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille' is a wildly fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary (which actually focuses on both versions of DeMille’s classic).
Chock full of historical aspects of the film, it very quickly becomes a fascinating cinematic effort to behold, trust me. Sadly, after all this time, not everyone who signed up to be a part of it is still with us, the financial people behind it have changed hands many times, and even voice over moments (from people who were in the film are lost as they pass away), but the town of Guadalupe learnt a long time ago to embrace their film heritage; and have done so magnificently. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) and enhanced for 16x9 TVs.