Egyptomania goes to the movies, a review
Last year I was paid 50 bucks by an Italian magazine to review books not available on the Italian market and related to the Horror genre1. I did it, and the reviews were so successful that my 50 bucks gig was not renewed for the second year – it was not worth the investment.
Now, my contract having been dead for over six months, I thought I’ll reprise here some of those reviews, expanding and revising the text.
If you like them, you might consider buying me a coffee or supporting me on Patreon. Unless you did already, in which case, thank you.
Should there be any interest, I will go on with new reviews using the same format.
Let me know what you think in the comments, please.
For starters, here’s a bit about a very interesting non fiction book, called Egyptomania goes to the Movies .
Our latest experiences with the mummies were probably not the happiest: “The Mummy”, which was supposed to launch Universal’s Dark Universe and reboot the franchise popularized by Boris Karloff first and Brendan Fraser next, basically did not work. One of the most magnanimous reviewers described the film as “Tom Cruise saves the world by running very fast”.
But the Mummy, an often neglected horror archetype, is good and fine again, and sends its regards: 2017 saw the release of many collections of stories – classic tales or new ones written ad hoc – centered on Egyptian curses and embalmed cadavers. Nonetheless, it is non-fiction that offers an authentic treasure for cinema and horror fans. Written by Matthew Coniam, an author specializing in the history of cinema, Egyptomania Goes to the Movies: From Archeology to Popular Craze to Hollywood Fantasy is an agile and fun essay, written with a certain irony, which explores the intersection of archeology, popular imagery and cinema.
The popular interest in Egypt has its roots in the Napoleonic campaign of 1798, but it was only in the second half of the ‘800s that the general public – thanks to the nascent industry of popular fiction – discovered the horrors and the delights of the land of the pharaohs . Between social events in which mummies were unwrapped publicly and a popular novel about the loves of an Egyptian queen, those that would become the clichés of a genre took shape. Then, of course, the movies arrived – just as the newspapers were going crazy for the fate of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon.
The rest, as they say, is history.
From the curse of Tutankamen to nickelodeon, from the exploits of Theda Bara, the first dark lady of the silents, to the pharaonic productions (ah!) by Cecil B. De Mille and the threatening silhouette of Boris Karloff, Conian’s book shows how literature is nourished by archeology, and cinema by literature. Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle appear prominently in this vast catalog of the wonders and mysteries of Egypt offered to the general public.
A corollary of the nascent entertainment industry, Coniam evokes a gallery of improbable characters, which include serene Egyptologists, charlatans and assorted crackpots, and the inevitable reincarnation of an Egyptian princess. In addition, we are invited to visit the archaeological excavations on the “Egyptian” sets built by Cecil B. Demille in ’23, and subsequently buried by the desert.
Conian does not enter the minefield of the most recent movies, concentrating above all on the production of classics from the first half of the twentieth century. Fun, fluent, well documented, “Egyptomania Goes to the Movies” is an excellent starting point for a weekend of “binge watching” of old black and white films, perhaps alternating with some good National Geographic documentaries.
Before Tom Cruise began to run very fast to save the world, Egypt was an interesting and powerful cultural phenomenon, which left us a catalog of delicious wonders and absurdities.
The volume is published by McFarland, a publisher specialized in niche essays. The price of the paper edition is stiff (35 euros) and, given the limited runs, it is advisable to grab a copy quickly, before it becomes a collector’s item.