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'The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles' premieres at BYU

By Rosemarie Howard

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 4 2011 4:46 p.m. MDT

Charlton Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments."

Courtesy AMC

Have you ever wondered whose voice was used to dub the voice of God in Cecil B. DeMille's epic movie "The Ten Commandments?" Would you like to know why there is no frog plague scene in the same movie or how the parting of the Red Sea was created?

The answers to those questions and many others can be found in the recently released documentary about "The Ten Commandments," which was produced by Paramount Pictures and premiered at the BYU Lee Library in Provo on March 29.

It seems a fitting parallel. In the fall of 1956, DeMille's epic film "The Ten Commandments" previewed exclusively to a Salt Lake City audience.

When asked "Why are you going to Salt Lake City to preview a film that has to pass the test of audiences all around the world?" DeMille's response was, "If the audiences of Salt Lake City, Utah like this film, I know that it will play anywhere."

"The response to 'The Ten Commandments' by Salt Lake City audiences was absolutely overwhelming, as the preview cards attest," said James D'Arc, curator of the Arts and Communications Archive and the BYU Motion Picture Archive. Viewers responded with words like "wonderful movie," "beyond description," and "I was very moved by it."

"The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles" received an enthusiastic response as well.

"To hear them talk about the extras having to be fed and just the layers of technology to get that shot of the parting of the Red Sea, it's just phenomenal," said Christa Woodall, a BYU alumna who attended the documentary's premiere.

"Never before has a feature-length documentary been made of the making of 'The Ten Commandments' — until this year," D'Arc said.

One of today's top producers of archival film documentaries, Laurent Bouzereau, was brought on board by Paramount to oversee the creation of "The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles." According to Cindy Walker of Paramount Home Entertainment, the intent was "to reveal what a monumental achievement the film truly was and to help show why it remains such a beloved classic today.

"Our intent was to unearth documents and artifacts that have never been made public to shed new light on the timeless classic that is 'The Ten Commandments,'" Walker said. "We wanted to take viewers back in time — over half a century — to experience what it was like to make the film and hopefully reveal what an unprecedented accomplishment it was for DeMille."

A main source of information for the documentary project was the BYU Special Collections archives. In the 1970s, they acquired the DeMille papers, a vast collection indexed in a 588-page oversize hardbound book.

"There are 1,263 archival boxes full of papers, notes and production records dating from DeMille's family history, going back to the Civil War and ending in the early 1960s," D'Arc said.

The collection includes 38,000 photographs and more than 11,000 pieces of production artwork: scene renderings, costume sketches, research paintings — concept art, storyboards all individually cataloged, identified, inventoried and digitized to CD-ROM.

"It was one of the most amazing experiences I've had in the 20 years that I've worked at Paramount," one of the executives said. "To go there and hold in my hand the original 1923 telegram to Cecil B. DeMille from Adolph Zukor regarding the opening of the first (1923) version of 'The Ten Commandments,' or hold costume sketches by famed designer Edith Head was just unbelievable."

"In the end," Walker said, "Paramount licensed over 200 items from the archive, and we could not be more thrilled with what we came away with."

The results of the research, along with Bouzereau's writing, directing and production skills, is a sparkling, well-made documentary that runs about 75 minutes.

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