Hollywood has a sad history of lost props and costumes. On one hand, you can't blame them. Who can predict what is going to become iconic? Why not reuse that pretty white dress from The Seven Year Itch? But then there are unforgivable examples. The Wizard of Oz was pretty iconic by the time MGM decided to do a garage sale of props, and pieces of history (such as the Lion's suit) flew out the door for pennies. Even when plucky individuals like Debbie Reynolds have tried to set up some kind of museum or preservation group, no one is interested in funding it. Movie history, like so much "real" history, is unappreciated by those with the money to study it. So, The LA Times' story about the lost set of Cecil B. DeMille's 1928 The Ten Commandments isn't at all surprising, but Peter Brosnan's quest to find it is pretty fascinating.
DeMille filmed his original Ten Commandments in the scorching Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes of Santa Barbara, California. As old film buffs know, it was a popular location to film anything that needed a desert sequence until the mid 1940s, when films began shooting on location. There are a few remnants of Gudalupe's glory days kicking around the town, but none so weird and creepy as DeMille's Art Deco Commandments set, which is buried somewhere under the dunes. Pieces of it have popped up from time to time and decorated the town, but the majority of it is still lying in the trench DeMille bulldozed it into.
Brosnan has been trying to find it for nearly thirty years, but has had no luck securing enough funding. He had hoped to film a documentary about DeMille's lost city, but unable to truly dig it up, he's decided to change the focus to that of Gudalupe's glittery history in the hopes of helping a struggling town find its economic footing.
But even that documentary is on shaky ground. Brosnan has hours of local stories about Guadalupe's glory days -- tales of cowhands who worked as extras, and hung around the likes of Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks -- and is hoping for a grant that will allow him to purchase the editing software he needs to put it all together. He's still in talks with Paramount about licensing some clips from The Ten Commandments to illustrate the documentary properly. It sounds as though all of it is in a depressing quagmire.
Can no one help this guy? The documentary sounds wonderful all on its own, and as someone who loves film and history in equal measure, this quest appeals to me on every imaginable level. I can understand the difficulty in finding funding -- real Egyptian digs have problems raising enough money, so part of me hesitates to say anyone should spend thousands to find fake Egyptian artifacts. But this is history, and I would love to see Hollywood take it up as a film preservation project. Why not do as Brosnan suggests, and pair up with a local university and use DeMille's Egypt as a training ground for archaeology students? You'd have hands to dig up modern history, and you would help some students earn those necessary internship credits.
And just think of what you might find! I'm skeptical there's much of the structure left -- it was bulldozed into a trench, after all -- but there might be some incredible pieces to look at. It was designed by Paul Iribe, a founder of the entire Art Deco movement, so it must have been breathtaking. Perhaps some of its splendor survives. I know I can't be alone in wanting to see it. Come on, Hollywood! What about you, Paramount? DeMille filmed with you guys! Can't some of that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen haul go to rediscover his the glory days, and help Guadalupe in the process?