Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Ten Commandments (1956)

A film I've seen many times that always retains its power to impress me with its unforgettable images and epic story. It's a testament to DeMille's art that he pushed himself to create his largest and most ambitious film so late in life and at the end of his illustrious, decades-long career. It's an uneven film in many ways, particularly in its barnstorming theatrical-style performances (sometimes bordering on camp) and florid dialogue, yet these seemappropriate for DeMille's 19th century, Victorian theater sensibility. This is the church pageant as David Belasco might have produced it if he'd had access to VistaVision and Technicolor.

I grew up with the film in its annual broadcasts on ABC on the night before Easter during Passover, and have viewed it on VHS and then on several DVD editions over the years. Watching the film on Blu-ray for the first time, I was blown away by the amount of background detail I hadn't fully appreciated before. Lines of extras stretch far off into the distance, literally disappearing over the horizon. There is one establishing shot of the Hebrew slaves working on the Pharaoh's treasure city in Goshen that contains so many elements that I had to pause the disc for a moment to observe them all.

There is another moment, too, that always chokes me up for its powerful simplicity: it's the moment when Moses is cast out of Egypt, and begins his trek into the desert toward Sinai. He appears as a mere speck on the horizon of the desert sands, distinguishable only by his red robe, a stranger in a strange land.

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