When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
al-Mummia (Egypt, 1969)
Categories: Good Stuff

FROM EGYPT:  Al-Mummia / The Mummy (1969)

(The Mummy)

Shadi Abdel Salam was the One-Hit Wonder of International Cinema.

He had many successes working in film (including set design for the Elizabeth Taylor / Joseph L. Mankiewicz CLEOPATRA and for Roberto Rossellini’s FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL) before directing al-Mummia; and he created many award-winning shorts afterwards. But the only feature film he directed (also known as THE MUMMY and THE NIGHT OF COUNTING THE YEARS) made him a legend in Egyptian cinema.

Shadi Abdel Salam

Shadi Abdel Salam

This film has long been considered in Public Domain (both the creator and the production company have been gone for decades), so al-Mummia can be viewed on the Web at Google Video, while at Archive.org it can be streamed or downloaded. [Links are at the bottom of the post.]

Despite its immortal status, I knew very little about the film. So I must state that it is NOT a horror film about a mummy that comes back to life. [That’s what I had assumed, and gave up on that narrative about 35 minutes into it.] It deals with hidden tombs and opening the graves of pharaohs, but the core concerns are the morality of these acts, and the larger questions of cultural identity: can knowledge of one’s cultural past form identity?

I’d be the first to admit that (once I got over my disappointment that this wasn’t a horror flick) there are enough cultural differences that the movie can sometimes be a little confusing to an American viewer. Also, the narrative pace may be seen as slow-moving, but actually — if I had been seeing this in a theatre instead of on a computer screen — I probably would have found the pace hypnotic, a feeling that is amplified by the dense and stately music score by Italian composer Mario Nascimbene. (I can’t help but wonder what the movie would be like after a couple of bong hits.)

The ellipses due to parts I couldn’t follow created a great post-viewing experience as I re-screened certain scenes in my mind to understand the scenes that haunted me. When images from a movie keep bubbling up into my consciousness the day after I see a film, that’s Primo stuff.

al-Mummia was produced by Roberto Rossellini, and excels partly because of a gifted and skilled camera crew and, as I said, great music by one of the mid-century masters of European film scores. However, the real astonishment is the totally rich visual direction by first-timer Shadi Abdel Salam: the framing displays knowledge of how to work philosophically with depth and space; the camera movements were designed for psychological effect; the actors are blocked in deeply layered patterns. If he was able to pull off straight narrative with this much unique imagery, I can only dream of how hallucenogenic it must be to see his experimental work.





Doug / PoMo Joan

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