Film fanatics and friends Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. They can be black and white, colour, silent, filled with the sound of music, western, or eastern. As long as they are a film, they are ripe for inclusion.
We are in to the top 20s, and Yasser has picked something suitably mark the occasion. Will Fred like it? Read on and find out…
You can read the entires from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.
Fred: This week you chose ‘The Ten Commandments‘ – the sort of film people think of when they think of the word ‘epic‘. I know you love ‘epic’ cinema. Why is that?
Yasser: I’ve always been intrigued by ancient empires – Egypt, Rome, Greece in particular – and I love ‘sword and sandal‘ movies.
FS: Yeah, I like those movies too. I’m a big fan of enormous, golden age epics with a cast of thousands as long as they are well done, and not made purely to show how much money was spent.
FS: The ultimate is surely ‘Ben Hur’, so I am left wondering why you picked ‘The Ten Commandments’?
YA: I had to choose between ‘The Ten Commandments’, ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘Spartacus’. I remember sitting as a child watching it again and again. It holds sentimental value for me.
FS: You see, out of those three, I’d say that ‘The Ten Commandments’ is the vastly inferior film, but I guess the sentimental attachment isn’t there on the others.
YA: It’s like last week. ‘East is East‘ is a film I can relate to, ‘Topsy-Turvy‘ is one you can relate to. This is one of those movies me mam could put on when I was young, I’d sit on the arm of the sofa, staring at the screen in awe. She could go off and do other things and when she came back I wouldn’t have moved from where she left me.
FS: To begin with, we have the introduction by Cecil B. DeMille, the movie’s director.
YA: That was odd to me too (laughs). I’ve not seen anything quite like it before.
FS: It’s symptomatic of what is wrong with the film, or more accurately the director. It’s very self-important, serious, stoic, pious. Even the start credits are like that.
YA: The credits?
FS: They are full of pomposity. The director credit reads “Those who see this motion picture – produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille – will make a pilgrimage over the very ground that Moses trod more that 3,000 years ago“.
YA: Oh dear! Sounds like he’s trying to flog the history of it as his own. He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.
YA: I didn’t like DeMille’s narration of the picture.
FS: It’s cringe-worthy. He thought he was the moral guardian of America.
YA: You don’t like him I take it (laughs)
FS: I admire him, but on the whole his films are pretty dull. In fact, he’s like James Cameron. Both of them are totally convinced that everything they make is going to be the greatest movie ever made.
YA: So we know you don’t like the arrogance of DeMille, or the rigid acting of the opening scenes. Was there anything else ridiculous in the film?
FS: I appreciate it’s difficult, due to the subject matter, to inject any light-heartedness into the movie, but it’s pretty stodgy which is again due to the director’s heavy-handedness. This is particularly so in the final scenes where Moses (Heston) is up Mount Sinai and the crowd decide to forge a golden calf and stage an orgy.
YA: The way certain things were done, though, was fantastic. The effects were mostly great for that time, but I do remember laughing at the river running red after Moses touches his staff in the water. You can see Heston’s body turning red as the blood in the water rises within the shot. The orgy was comical.
FS: DeMille was known for his orgy scenes in his silent films.
YA: I wouldn’t even think it was an orgy.
FS: I think the problem is that he was a great silent director who never moved with the times or modernised his style. His films look old-fashioned.
YA: I thought the late, great Charlton Heston was spectacular. (impersonates Fred) “Have I mentioned that I met him once, Yasser?”
FS: (laughs) My 17th birthday… Seriously though, I think he’s very good. He’s certainly the best thing in it until he grows a beard.
YA: You like his chiseled jaw, eh? (laughs)
FS: You reckon?
YA: I don’t like the way women in that era acted at times. I like strong female characters, but the actresses in that era were overly melodramatic.
FS: I think she’s pretty good. The one person who is wasted is Edward G. Robinson. I love him, but he doesn’t get much to do and his demise is quite funny when it’s meant to be serious.
YA: I didn’t like his character and everything he said, though serious, seemed funny because he has a somewhat comedic face in the film.
FS: (laughs) That’s his real face!
FS: It’s Heston’s movie, isn’t it? He’s the main focus and his performance is very nice. I think a lot of people don’t give him credit for how good an actor he was because he played these rather humourless, statuesque figures.
YA: Strong heroes are statuesque and humourless. If in doubt, be like Batman.
YA: I watched ‘El Cid‘. He plays noble characters quite well.
FS: ‘El Cid’ is very, very good. ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy‘ where he plays Michelangelo – he’s good in that, as long as you ignore the fact that Michelangelo was a homosexual midget in real life.
YA: (laughs) ‘Ben Hur’ is probably his best role. Almost made the list, as did ‘Spartacus’.
FS: ‘Spartacus’ would have got 10/10. It almost made my list. For me, that’s the best of the genre. A brilliant cast, none of whom are crowbarred into unsuitable roles just so there is a star name on the screen. ‘The Ten Commandments’ has a good cast, but unless you are one of the main three you don’t have much to do.
YA: Heston is the man. I can only describe him as a man’s actor. Do you know what I mean?
YA: I like the film because it is based on a wonderful story. It can be perceived as one of the earliest underdog stories. Egyptians ruling another people, forcing them in to slavery, and the revolt against them.
FS: It is. I agree.
YA: I like how it promotes the idea that a man can be governed by a nation, but not ruled.
YA: So, sum up and rate ‘The Ten Commandments’ please.
FS: I appreciate the lists are personal, but for the first time I am compelled to say that, much like you probably can’t believe I included Woody Allen over ‘Casablanca‘, I think you really missed a trick picking ‘The Ten Commandments’. It’s not even a particularly spectacular epic, nor is it the most interesting, so I am surprised as you love the big production films. The story can’t be faulted for interest value, but I really wished you’d picked ‘Spartacus’. 6/10
FS: Some movies can get away with nearly four hours running time. It is better than ‘Borat‘ and ‘East is East’, but I can understand their inclusion more. ‘Borat’ is not my cup of tea, but to someone who likes that sort of thing I can see it’s a good example of its type. ‘East is East’ had plot elements that you could relate to in a way I will never be able to. But this? Over other biblical/ medieval epics from the ’50s and ’60s? I understand that less.
Look out for part two, on ‘Chinatown’, later this week.