Hidden for more than 90 years beneath the rolling sand dunes of Guadalupe, California, an enormous, plaster sphinx from the 1923 blockbuster movie “The Ten Commandments” has been rediscovered and is now above ground.
The public will be able to see the sphinx on display as early as next year, once it has been reconstructed — a necessity since it became weather-beaten during its stint beneath the sand, said Doug Jenzen, the executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, who oversaw the recent excavation.
The roughly 15-foot-tall (4.6 meters) sphinx is one of 21 that lined the path to Pharaoh’s City in the 1923 silent hit, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. He later remade the film, with Charlton Heston as Moses, in 1956.
Legend has it that after filming ended, the movie crew dynamited the set and buried the sphinxes in a trench, but Jenzen has found little evidence of such a dramatic end. Instead, the wind, rain and sand likely collapsed and buried a large part of the set under the ever-shifting dunes. The sphinxes are in roughly the same place they were during filming, he said.
In fact, the film helped guide an excavation of the site in 2012.
“We’d work during the day, and we’d watch the movie at night to figure out what we were finding,” said M. Colleen Hamilton, a historical archaeology program manager and senior historical archaeologist with Applied EarthWorks in California.
I rarely put forth or publicize online petitions but I will make an exception here. The oldest standing monument to the film industry is falling apart and needs preservation before it is torn down. Vitagraph Studios was a leading maker of silent film from its studio in Brooklyn. Warner Brothers bought the company in 1925 and of course the film industry had already moved out of its New York original home to Hollywood.
Personally, I’d like to see a government-sponsored early film museum created in the area around the smokestack. It’s an incredibly valuable piece of the nation’s cultural heritage and is worth the investment.
I have been light on the blogging lately because of a week that has gone as the following:
Monday–teach, drive to brother in law’s house, watch Jets be the Jets and lose hilariously
Tuesday–visit Valley Forge, give lecture at Muhlenberg College, forced to ditch all my Lutheran jokes after finding out there are hardly any of my people there.
Wednesday–tour coal mine with Muhlenberg students. Buy chunks of coal for office decorations.
Thursday–eat ridiculous and amazing breakfast sandwich at Allentown’s indoor farmer’s market that includes not only eggs and bacon–but deep fried bacon! Drive to Providence in rain.
Friday–move to a new apartment.
Saturday–clean old apartment in the futile attempt to convince my landlord not to screw me on the deposit.
That was actually the short version that left out a bunch of stuff. So all I have to say right now is this: Face/Off was awesome. I should watch it again.
Now that I finished my 2nd book manuscript in 3 months, I have time for a vacation. About 50 minutes in fact before I get to the 4000 things that must be done yesterday. So I spent it watching John Ford’s 1951 film This is Korea. This is the Korean War version of the World War II documentaries the military commissioned from leading film directions. While I don’t know if it quite matches the artistic glory of John Huston’s The Battle of San Pietro, This is Korea is probably the best war documentary Ford made.
Ford pushed this project hard, convincing the government to allow him to make it. And he had to put together the editing, narration, voice work, sound, and concept. But the real heroes here are the war photographers, filming this absolutely jaw-dropping footage. I can’t easily find a number of U.S. military photographers who died in the war, but no doubt the number was significantly above zero, especially given that these guys were right on the front lines. Amazing.
Now, Ford does slightly simplify Korean history for American audiences. The film starts with him painting a Korea at rustic peace before the evil commies arrived. I mean, sure, there’s those 40 years of brutal Japanese occupation, but hey, let’s not let history get in the way of a pat narrative. And Ford never was too much into subtle imagery or messaging in his feature films, never mind a documentary made to get Americans on the home front to sacrifice for the cause–give blood or send care packages at the very least. But he was pretty bloody convincing to me in doing that. His soldiers’ lives are brutal. Terribly cold weather, dug in enemies, hills, a lack of clear progress. Throughout it all, the soldiers are brave. Not heroic. But just regular guys doing a job and doing it well and dying at it.
Well worth a viewing.
A couple of weeks ago, I referenced Stanley Kubrick’s 1953 film The Seafarers, a promotional film he did for the Seafarers International Union. I couldn’t find an easily accessible copy at the time but have since alleviated that problem. Here it is, although not entirely safe for work given that seamen love pictures of topless women and evidently so does Kubrick.
Now, this is not the greatest film ever, nor does it really showcase Kubrick’s future talents, although the long, languorous shot of the food in the cafeteria is pretty great. Really, it’s more interesting as a window inside the mid-20th century labor movement. If you are looking for your leftist ideal of a labor movement, replete with socialism, cross-movement solidarity, etc., you never were going to find it in the SIU. It was formed as an AFL counter to Harry Bridges’ International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). What this union is about, as it states repeatedly, is security for workers. For most workers, this is the most important thing a union can offer and it, not radical social change, was at the core of labor’s appeal. This film was intended for use in convincing new members to sign up and it’s pretty effective in that, focusing on the concrete benefits for workers and their families and the internal democracy of the union.
Narrated by Don Hollenbeck of CBS News (imagine the reaction if Brian Williams or Wolf Blitzer narrated a union promotional film today!), this is just a really useful document for understanding American unionism at the peak of its power.
I was unaware that Stanley Kubrick had made a documentary about the Seafarers International Union in 1953. I have not seen it, but it is now available here, although I will have to wait until I am back in the U.S. to watch it.
John Le Carré on Philip Seymour Hoffman as A Most Wanted Man comes close to its release date. I’m excited about it but it’s going to be hard to watch just because you know you are watching Hoffman’s last great performance (I know he’s in some Hunger Games movies yet to be released but the chances of me watching those are low so for me this is it).
I mostly hate the whole Star Wars series and am generally disinterested in science fiction. But as a man of a certain generation, I have of course seen all the original Star Wars movies, for better and worse. So Hardware Wars, which I don’t doubt many of you have seen, was of moderate interest. I can’t exactly say this is good or even near the level of Spaceballs, which is a bad movie. But it might be the first Star Wars parody, which is something. Right?
I turn my book into my editor in 36 hours. I am delirious. The only thing keeping me going is The Gay Shoe Clerk.
So I am teaching a short 4-week summer session course on Cold War Film. It only meets 10 times (4-hour sessions) so while the official course title is Recent America through Film, I’m concentrating on the Cold War since it’s not really possible to do a broader topic justice. And just because it says Recent America doesn’t mean I’m going to let something as silly as a course title stop me from showing foreign films as well. Plus we can’t understand the U.S. in the Cold War without understanding other nations as well.
I mention this because I am making them get a Netfilx account as part of their course “readings” and keep a film notebook on films they watch outside of class. What films would you show? We can think broadly here–either films that are really Cold War-themed in an obvious way or some film(s) from the era that aren’t political but some up an era.
The films I presently planning on using in class, subject to some change include parts of the Animated Soviet Propaganda set (paired with bad Cold War US propaganda from the Chamber of Commerce), Atomic Cafe, Salt of the Earth, The Day the Earth Stood Still, I Am Cuba, The Battle of Algiers, Punishment Park, Red Dawn, and Goodbye Lenin (I think). I could also skip a post-Cold War film and go with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which has certain advantages.
So what should I put on the list of possible films for them to watch outside of class? I have lots of ideas, but I am sure I am forgetting things.