“Let My Actors Go”
Movie sets often feature archaeological remains, but how often do they become archaeological sites in their own right? Parts of Cecil B. DeMille’s first version of The Ten Commandments (see “Lights, Camera, Plagues!”) were filmed on a massive set built in the sand dunes near Guadalupe, California. To prevent competitors from shooting their own films on the site and beating him to the box office, DeMille buried the set under the sand once he was done, and there it lay undisturbed for 60 years.
In 1983 New York University film-school grad Peter Brosnan came across a cryptic passage in DeMille’s autobiography, in which the director mused: “If, a thousand years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization, far from being confined to the banks of the Nile, extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America.”
Rather than wait a thousand years, Brosnan and some fellow film buffs went to California in search of the buried ruins. “This was right after the first El Nino winter, one storm after another all winter,” recalls Brosnan, now 46. “Those storms had wiped about two or three feet of sand off the dunes, so when we went out there, there were just acres of statuary staring up at us out of the sand.”