The Egyptian (1954)

egyptian-fixedSince I “quit” smoking, I find this simple task of writing a word or two about a movie I watched almost impossible. I guess it’s kinda sad that I need a cancer stick to focus my thoughts but more than a decade of exposure to nicotine and cigarette smoke established this behavioral pattern which is really difficult to lose. Pavlov would’ve had something to say about it, as well as any smoker out there so why am I trying to say what any of them could’ve said better is a mystery to me. I guess that it has something to do with kickstarting of the engine – it has been running solely on tobacco fumes for quite a while that these days it needs a good kick before it is able to shift gears. It doesn’t really help that ‘quit’ was typed within quote marks (as many of you have undoubtedly noticed) – ongoing process takes so much more energy than the finished one.

Anyhow, The Egyptian. It fascinates me how well one can see historical patterns within products of Hollywood if one knows where to look. Consider this. Sometime around 1954 new first world problem came into existence. This problem impacted most financiers and decision makers in the Industry – it was the problem of television which brought with itself a really peculiar puzzle which needed to be solved for the future to actually happen. It was the puzzle of “why should anyone pay for the cinema if there are tons of movies readily available on the TV” variety. Puzzle doesn’t appear too difficult because we can easily think of an answer or two. You could take him/her out on a date with a nice, socially acceptable, pretext (because nothing spells French kissing like a giant tarantula on a war path), you couldn’t really compare quality of the image on a tiny TV-set with the quality of an image projected on a screen and so on. Reasons like these may seem plausible though one should be aware that the concept of general public is dubbed ‘general’ precisely because there are no movie buffs in it. Since general public was Hollywood’s main source of income, Hollywood needed to devise something that will successfully compete with the rise of the Television, keeping the profits from declining as long as it was possible. It devised Cinemascope.

vlcsnap-2014-07-28-23h02m22s56Cinemascope was the format of spectacular, colorful, epics which no TV-set of the time could reproduce in its entirety. If you wanted to see the ancient Egypt in all of its glory – well – you had to pay a ticket for the nearest theatre. I guess you can spot the repetition of the pattern in our day and age? On the one hand we have relatively cheap, mass technology which offers far more possibilities than TV ever could, on the other hand we have a relatively static media which was born in the 19th, dominated 20th, and is ready for retirement in the 21st century. Once again, Industry faces the same old challenge and, once again, movies like The Egyptian spring all over the place.

vlcsnap-2014-07-28-23h02m30s122Apart from the grandiosity of the production, movie itself offers almost nothing to averagely intelligent viewer of today. Let’s not kid ourselves, it didn’t offer anything to averagely intelligent viewer of yesterday (remember that we’re talking about a year in which Rear Window came out?). Once can understand pathos, one can even understand pseudo-Christianity as a means to an end (on a meta-level), one can sympathize with cardboard dolls instead of characters and with poor actors who had to bring these nothings to life, one can understand all of it and one can attribute it to Time. If one does this often enough, though, sooner or later one must ask himself is there an end to it? Should everything be attributed to (and vindicated by) time? Where is the line that marks the border between the style and ideology? I could “vindicate” The Egyptian by some sort of positivistic thought. I could but I won’t. The time has come to finally dispose of relativism of post-modernity and to make a stand for something, however ethereal it might prove to be in the end. From this perspective (which will become true from now on) The Egyptian sucks big time. Do avoid it.  

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay by Philip Dunne
Casey Robinson
Based on The Egyptian 1945 novel
by Mika Waltari
Starring Edmund Purdom
Victor Mature
Jean Simmons
Gene Tierney
Michael Wilding
Bella Darvi
Peter Ustinov
Tommy Rettig
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Alfred Newman
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Edited by Barbara McLean
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

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