The lost Egyptian city of DeMille
September 16, 2002 1:03 PM   Subscribe

The lost Egyptian city of DeMille In 1923, Cecil B. DeMille built an Egyptian city in the dunes of the Guadalupe Desert north of Los Angeles as the set for "The Ten Commandments," the first true Hollywood epic. Cost over-runs on the filming left too little money for a complete dismantling of the set, so DeMille had it buried instead. In recent years the set has been partially uncovered by Pacific winds, revealing the remains of three-story-tall plaster sphinxes and other artifacts, and leading to a campaign to excavate and preserve this important piece of film history.
posted by me3dia (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Cool post. Love the background info:

Organizers hoped that modern Hollywood would fund subsequent recovery work -- but their funding requests were snubbed...Organizers have now raised over $40,000 (nearly $180,000 is needed) to save the rapidly deteriorating set. No funding, to date, has come from Hollywood studios.

Amazing. But, on second thought, given the depth of Hollywood's respect for history, maybe it's not so amazing.
posted by mediareport at 1:31 PM on September 16, 2002

There's a similar anecdote in Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver, a faux documentary about a pioneering New Zealand director named Colin McKenzie. It's a pretty funny, if not hilarious, movie; it's mostly about creating a kind of new folk hero for New Zealand; McKenzie was not only the first filmmaker to use sound photography and color photography, but he was also built and piloted the first successful aircraft.

The pertinent part of Forgotten Silver to this DeMille story is the construction of gigantic sets for his Biblical epic Salome in the forests of New Zealand. I had gleaned that Jackson and co-director Costa Botes were making a direct reference to something, but hadn't realized exactly which old Hollywood tale they were alluding to.

Here's a self-link about the film (search for the string "Forgotten Silver" and start reading at its second occurrence).
posted by blueshammer at 1:47 PM on September 16, 2002

"wheres your set now....sheee"
posted by clavdivs at 2:01 PM on September 16, 2002

Hmmm, would you rather fund excavations of ancient Egyptian ruins, or shitty 1923 Hollywood replicas of ancient Egyptian ruins?

Ok, now replace "you" with "the idiots running Hollywood," and ask the same question...
posted by zekinskia at 2:11 PM on September 16, 2002

zekinskia, once you get done filling up your nose with rain, think about it. History is history.

True, the Egyptian history is grander and by far more precious, but interpretive history isn't confined to ancient dynasties and peoples; our own is important to us, and better we preserve it now than wait until it's 5000 years old, and effectively gone.
posted by dhartung at 2:24 PM on September 16, 2002

Mummy: "I'm ready for my excavation now, Mr. DeMille."
posted by ZachsMind at 2:27 PM on September 16, 2002 [1 favorite]

"alright folks....thats a wrap..."

interpretive history is exciting. This project reminds me a bit of the history concerning copper mining towns here in michigan.
cool link me3dia
posted by clavdivs at 2:38 PM on September 16, 2002

Thanks, guys.

Apparently, DeMille mused in his memoires that he hoped archeologists would discover the set hundreds of years from now and believe they had stumbled onto evidence that the Egyptian empire once extended to California. That passage inspired the team profiled on
posted by me3dia at 2:44 PM on September 16, 2002

very cool...thanks....I think Vegas will be excavated in much the same way someday...I wonder what they'll think of us...
posted by amberglow at 2:44 PM on September 16, 2002

zekinskia, the point is this is a piece of Hollywood's own history. You'd think they'd show some interest, at least, and toss in their pocket change. Say, ten or twenty grand.

"I'm ready for my excavation now, Mr. DeMille."

Funny, that line could have worked coming from Gloria Swanson in the original. I actually watched Sunset Boulevard for the third time a few months ago with a guy who used to call himself slightly bisexual but now calls himself mostly gay. He blames Norma Desmond.
posted by mediareport at 3:37 PM on September 16, 2002

Charlton Heston could only cough up $500?


And is this still a going concern? Seems like all the dates on the site are 1998-1999.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:01 PM on September 16, 2002

There's a scene in Nathanael West's "The Day of the Locust" where the protagonist, Tod Hackett, wanders through a graveyard of abandoned Hollywood sets. It's a meditation on the hollowness of created history, and a beautiful passage in a very short book. As soon as I read about this project, I immediately remembered it wistfully, and thought about how surreal it is that created history has become real history.
posted by readymade at 9:05 PM on September 16, 2002

skallas, you caught me. It was too cool to pass up. :)
posted by me3dia at 9:30 PM on September 16, 2002

A friend of mine in L.A. has seen some of the remnants that have been dug up and says they are amazingly crude and nasty bits of plaster of paris. But what do you expect? This was a film set and probably doesn't warrant very close scrutiny. Movies are illusions, studios are not glamorous palaces but empty black sheds and props and sets can look like shit in the cold light of day. And it has been suggested that rather than wanting to create a mystery de Mille left it all in the desert because he was too much of a cheapskate to break it down and take it back to L.A. Maybe contemporary Hollywood has stayed clear of it because it knows what a disappointment it all could be.
posted by rolo at 10:27 AM on September 17, 2002

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