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At right, a scene from 1910's "Antony and Cleopatra". Above , a scene from 1913's "The Last Days of Pompeii."

(Click on any picture for a better view) William P.S. Earle's 1923 film "Tutankhamun" became "The Dancer of the Nile" because too many people were tired of hearing the Egyptian king's name. The film used special technology to produce lavish images. The filmmakers painted glass and superimposed images to help create the grandeur of an Egyptian scene. By the time the film came out, it had little to do with King Tut (Dudley S. Corlett, "Art on the Screen: or the Film of Tutankhamen," Art and Archaeology, Dec. 1923, p. 239.) Below are som e images of the film as it was made. All pictures are from Art and Archaeology. Click on the pictures for captions and a better view.
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Carter himself had become an unwitting manufacturer of Tutankhamen--his partner Carnarvon sold article rights, and he sold the idea to the media (too well, perhaps), and reserved the rights to sell the photographic rights as well.(91) A London Times editorial even equated Carnarvon's rules with a "monopoly…and 'commercialism'."(92) The London Star, quoted in Outlook, said "'There was something inherently indecent in the original idea of Click for bigger picturerifling a tomb and unwinding the mummy of a dead pharaoh in the interest ostensibly of science'" no less the "'commercial bargaining'" that came out of the find.(93)

Criticism also filtered into the U. S. press. The Los Angeles Times ran a cartoon depicting an excavator breaking into an Egyptian tomb: "The Scientific Grave Robber," the caption read.(94) Despite the precautions the Egyptians took to hide the tomb, said one reporter for the L. A. Times, "precautions against glass cases in mummy museums is one consideration they overlooked."(95) Not only did some members of the press view the expedition as over-commercialized, they thought Carnarvon himself helped make it so. When an American movie company arrived at the site of the excavation and attempted to film footage, workers hid the goods from view. Carnarvon intended to keep his film rights.(96) Ironically, after his mysterious death, a Berlin film company announced that it was working on a "mammoth Carnarvon picture entitled 'Pharaoh's Revenge.'"(97)

But the argument over mass produced art turned to movies naturally as well. At the time, movies were considered a mass-produced art, as an article from Art and Archaeology shows. "There must be a radical change if the cinematograph industry is ever to rise to the level of a national art institution," the writer said.(98) The article also pointed out that the latest William P. S. Earle production of "Tutankhamen" (eventually changed to "The Dancer of the Nile" because people were sick of the name(99)) attempted to raise the quality of the film through its accurate portrayal of the majestic Egyptian architecture and scenery. The filmmakers accomplished these special effects through painted-on-glass scenery. Art and Archaeology hailed this cheaper way of making dazzling effects because "if production cost less, perhaps producers might be tempted to present more often pictures which would satisfy the cultured public and, at the same time, help to elevate the taste of those who inhabit the small towns." (100) Art and Archaeology was indubitably a highbrow magazine, and the article showed its hope that the high culture event of the tomb would filter throughout American culture.

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The role of the visual and written media in the Tutankhamen coverage also made clear the continuing tension in an American society consistently shaped by technology. The 1920s and 30s had been coined the "Machine Age"(77) because of the vast technological changes in those years, and the tomb offered a set where these ideas could play out. While the latest technology was very much used in uncovering the story of the tomb, it was also used to propagate it. The interaction of technology and the mass media reveals the tensions of the time between mass production and authenticity provided by the tomb's art. The tomb and the excavation site became a place where the modern technology of mass media and society met ancient constructions that supported a country for thousands of years. Metropolitan Museum photographer Harry Burton used a nearby tomb for a dark room to develop his photographs.(78) The writer for National Geographic cracked, "in these days the Valley of the Kings' Tombs could almost advertise, 'All modern improvements' as several of the tombs have long been lighted for the convenience of visitors."(79) The New York Times covered the science involved religiously. In November, the newspaper reported such events as the institution of a telephone near the tomb,(80) electric lights,(81) opening the sarcophagus and filming it(82), and x-raying the mummy.(83) The infusion of technology into an ancient culture fascinated Americans.

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Hollywood was not immune to Egypt's influence in architecture, either. At right, the Grauman Egyptian theater, designed by Sid Grauman and built in 1922, just in time for the arrival of King Tut.

"'Frequently, also, I have observed, scattered over the city, houses havi ng some distinct points of ancient Egyptian architecture, either decorations set into the facades or entire doors and windows of the temple designs.

"'Of recent interest is the new Grauman Egyptian theater in Hollywood, the architect of which I feel s ure builded better than he knew.'"
--Dudley Corlett (Wilcox, Grace. "Ancient Egypt Lives Again in Hollywood." Los Angeles Times. 4 Feb. 1923: III: 9+.)

Full paper including footnotes.

 

Photo Sources:
Corlett, Dudley S. "Art on the Screen: or the Film of Tutankhamen." Art and Archaeology 16, Dec. 1923: 231-40.

American Picture Palaces provided the Grauman theater pictur e.

Related Articles:

Art on the Screen; or the Film of Tutankhamen

Archaeology and Moving Pictures

 

Uncovering Tutankhamen I The Boy King I Buried Treasure I Metropolitan Connections I Cinematic Contributions I Stop the Presses I Literary Illusions I Fashion is King I Americans Abroad I Main