Tuesday, April 03, 2018
"The Ten Commandments": 1956 classic spectacle shows Biblical tribalism
Every Easter weekend, a broadcast network (usually ABC) airs Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments”, from Paramount, in 1956, in VistaVision (remastered in different formats now). I remember the prelude at the RKO Keith’s in downtown Washington: “This is a story that takes three hours and thirty-eight minutes to tell.”
But what is impressive today is the tribalism of that world. It was particularly devastating for any family to lose its first-born son. “Let my people go!” makes sense in a world divided into internally cohesive “peoples” or tribe-nations.
For all its length, the passage across the Red Sea “chunnel” (preceded by the Pillar of Fire) seems rushed. Particularly compressed is the rendition of the Ten Commandments to Moses (Charton Heston), while “the people” make their golden calf, melting down their possessions for “idol worship”, which seems like an ancient setting of the modern problem of upward affiliation.