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“The Mummy” aka “The Night of Counting the Years” is the movie directed by Shadi Abdel Salam in 1969. The storyline is based on the real historical events that took place in the Southern Egypt at the end of the 19th century when the pharaohs’ tombs were opened in the Luxor district.
According to the plot, after the chief of Harabat tribe died, his sons found out that the main source of the family’s profit was the sale of the antiquities stolen from the toms. The main character of the movie, one of the chief’s sons called Vanis cannot accept this kind of trade. After the long and excruciating thought, he goes to the Egyptologist and shows the hidden tomb to him.
Analysis of the Visual Content
The visual aspects of the movie are deeply interrelated with the tradition of the ancient Egyptian pictorial art and mural painting style (Hamam, 2007). The movie characters are associated with the pharaoh epoch – their garments, religion, and language are different from the modern ones. Sometimes it seems that these characters are the revived frescos because they are depicted from very unusual foreshortenings, and their movements are solemn and slow as if their bodies and faces are carved out of stone.
The movie is set on the background of the desert, mountains, and the ruins, of the old temples. The characters speak in the classical Arabic, and their words drowned in the sound of the blowing wind resound like the sublime poetic lines.
The operator of “The Mummy,” Abdel Aziz Fahmy, achieved a high level of artistic expressiveness through the usage of camera movement. The producer and the operator build the composition focusing on the link between the character and the scene. The beauty of nature takes a special place in the artistic style of the movie. The vast and general landscapes of the desert, Nile, and temples constitute one of the crucial semantic contexts for the majority of the movie scenes. The strong impression is made on a viewer by the composition of the black elements and the contrasting white background during the Sheikh Selim’s funeral, the decent into the tomb, when the camera moves down the passages and galleries, etc.
The night scenes in the movie are used for the creation of the special emotional narrative atmosphere. The frame of Vanis’ visiting the archeological vessel lasts about three minutes followed by the panorama view from the overhead crane located on the shore. The camera suspended in the air observes as Vanis goes up to the ship, and it moves along with him. In the final scene, the holistic artistic impression is made by the overall size of the frame where the pale light diffuses, and its contours become emphasized by the lights of the ship continuing to glow in the daybreak.
It is possible to say that the usage of color in the movie is informal, and it serves for the disclosure of the scene’s semantic content. The bright and cheerful natural colors are muted, and primarily the dark-brown tints (i.e. mountains and the black clothes of the majority of the characters) are left and localized in the frame. The usage of this color pallet is in tune with the emotional theme of “The Mummy.” In some cases the colors reflect the severity and aridity of the nature, and, in other cases, they may be regarded as the demonstration of the character’s inner feelings.
The achievement of the success in the expressiveness is possible only through the efficient collaboration of the director and operator. It is possible to say that Abdel Aziz Fahmy managed to identify the artistic form of the movie focusing on the respect towards the created image, the research of time and place where the movie events take place, the detection of the psychological state and the inner struggle of the characters, their connection to the movie events, and on the creation of the overall atmosphere and the color mode of the picture.
Analysis from the Historical and Cultural Perspectives
In the example of Abdessalam’s “The Mummy,” it is possible to observe that the Arabic cinema is highly influenced by the regional traditions and the religious customs. A special place is devoted to the connections with the anterior forms of the artistic culture, folklore and the national literature, as it determines the ideological content of the movie plot.
Along with his peers in the Arabic cinematograph, such as Taufiq Salih and Henry Barakat, Shadi Abdessalam discovered new layers of national history. “The Mummy” is not a commercial picture. But despite the fact that the commercial cinema maintained the dominant position in the second half of the 20th century, overall, the Egyptian cinematograph experienced some serious and favourable changes. While commercial movies focused on the life and problems of the prosperous part of the population, “The Mummy” transfers the audience to the poor regions. Moreover, by depicting the inner struggles of the character, Abdel Salam addresses the issues of ethics and morality. And the focus on the historic and traditional culture of Egypt, contributes to the thematic expansion of the genre of drama.
The big changes took place in the Arabic cinematograph from 1953 to 1970 during the period of the president Nasser rule. In 1957, the government initiated the organizations supporting the cinema, and, in 1959, the Higher Institute of Cinema was established (Shafik, 2007). Nasser proclaimed the course towards anti-imperialism, achievement of the economic independence, and the reassessment of the censorship limitations of the past. As a result, the material, organizational, and financial infrastructures were exposed to some drastic changes in the sector of the public cinematograph. In this period, the national cinema became enriched with new genres and themes; the connections with the national literature became closer. Thus, the quality of the movie scripts and the overall cultural level of the created cinema increased.
“The Mummy” actively helped the viewers to understand and evaluate the historical events and the social changes. It is possible to say that this positive effect on the audience was achieved due to the introduction of the stable governmental financial support of the cinema – it gave the director an additional scope for the creative pursuits and experiments.
“The Mummy” may be considered a reflection of the changes in the artistic activity of the given period. At that time, there was the orientation towards the adaptation and dissemination of the principles of respect and devotion to the national centuries-old traditions, and, at the same time, the attempts to adopt the foreign and new phenomena that came with the colonialism (Shohat & Stam, 1994).
In this way, “The Mummy” is the example of the independence and self-identity of the national movie culture, and it thus makes it successful in the field of cinematograph in general. “The Mummy” by Abdel Salam highlights the issues of the search for the national identity and the foundations of the national religion and culture that dominated in the region before the colonization by the West and the process of the global integration. And it is possible to say that this cultural basis becomes the only foundation for the creation of the distinct and original cinema.
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Hamam, I. (2007). Al-Momia/The Mummy: Shadi Abdel Salam, 1969. In G. Donmez-Colin (Ed.), The Cinema of North Africa and Middle East (pp. 31-40). London, UK: Wallflower Press.
Shafik, V. (2007). Arab cinema: History and cultural identity. Cairo, Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press.
Shohat, E., & Stam, R. (1994). Unthinking eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and media. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.