The Lost City of Cecil B. Demille (2017; Peter Brosnan)
By Daniel Barnes
An amateurish but compelling documentary passion project from Brosnan, a low-level screenwriter who spent several decades obsessing over a piece of Hollywood history buried in the California sands.
When Cecil B. DeMille filmed his 1923 silent version of The Ten Commandments, he was forced to shoot in Guadalupe, a small coastal town situated 25 miles south of San Luis Obispo, rather than in Egypt. DeMille compensated by constructing one of the most lavish and stunning sets of the silent era in the Guadalupe dunes – an enormous Egyptian palace complete with a couple of dozen sphinxes and gigantic statues of the pharaoh.
A legend persisted that DeMille ordered the set buried after production wrapped, and the story sparked Brosnan’s imagination, beginning a long odyssey to examine and excavate the site. Brosnan intercuts his own journey through local bureaucracy and unreliable corporate sponsorship with a somewhat dubious biography of DeMille, but despite some chintzy production values, it’s still an absorbing story of Hollywood archaeology.
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