DATELINE: Sphinx Knows
It may sound like something from John Waters, but this documentary marks a failed 30-year attempt to find the buried Egyptian city built by DeMille for his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.
In 1982 young Peter Branson was inspired to go out into the desert, like some prophet without honor to locate the giant city with its dozens of sphinxes. No one told him it was a foolhardy endeavor.
Intermixed with the story of how Cecil B. DeMille single-handedly made the genre of the Hollywood epic, the film shows how little Hollywood knows of its own history. Its title is The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.
Time and again, over three failed archeological digs, the studios would not fund this project to dig up what is under ten feet of sand in Guadalupe, California.
When done with his expensive movie, DeMille buried the city to prevent rival studios from using it for knock-off movies.
DeMille nearly broke Paramount and Adolph Zukor with his silent version with a cast of thousands, endlessly wrecked chariots, and technicolor scenes.
When he tried to remake the Charlton Heston-Yul Brynner version in 1955, he met nearly as much resistance as the documentary filmmakers who think they wasted time and money spinning their wheels in the sand.
Of course, the importance of the film is how it collects the memories and images of those silent film extras and production crew as they slowly went on to a production of their own deaths.
In that way, Peter Branson may have lost his fellow producer, his original archeologist to the terrible political idiocy of the Santa Barbara County bureaucrats, but he saved a special part of Hollywood history.
This film is a testament and a gospel for movie aficionados.