Friday, April 25, 2014

Live-Tweeting the Exodus

Ramses and Nefretiri
Who could resist that look?
Screen shot from The Ten Commandments
Despite the title of my blog, my attempts to tackle the Internet Age have, for the most part, stalled when it comes to Twitter.

I have nothing against Twitter. I set up an account there two years ago (feel free to follow me: @cplesley), and I regularly tweet my blog posts and other news that involves my books, my friends’ books, Five Directions Press, and New Books in Historical Fiction. I follow people who look interesting, and I have a growing number of followers. I have even acquired a rudimentary understanding of hashtags and what they can do.

Yet I never felt as if I really “got” Twitter until last Saturday. There were just too many tweets to keep track of—so many that it was always like dangling a toe in a fast-flowing stream. More than a bit overwhelming. I’d heard of things trending on Twitter, but what that meant in practice—well, it passed me by. 

The Ten Commandments changed all that. Bear with me, please, for a brief digression. My family turned watching The Ten Commandments on TV into an annual event about ten years ago. We own the DVD, which would let us skip the commercials and shave a good 90 minutes off the show time, but we never watch the DVD. The bizarre interruptions are half the fun. I suppose the subliminal knowledge that others were watching too added to our enjoyment, but until last Saturday those others existed only as an amorphous mass: the television audience.

Moses and Nefretiri
talking to the camera
Screen shot from The Ten Commandments
No matter. We didn’t need company—or so we thought. The Ten Commandments is a classic of its genre, so over the top that it screeches past serious and lands in hilarity. There are Yul Brynner’s ever-evolving miniskirts, more gloriously accessorized with every change of clothes; Edith Head, who designed the costumes, obviously told her staff to let it rip. There is the dialogue, which people in my house run around quoting (or misquoting) at random for days afterward. “So let it be written, so let it be done.” “You, Rameses, are nowhere.” “Moses, Moses, you splendid, stubborn, adorable fool!” And “You will be all mine, like my dog and my horse and my falcon. Only I will love you more, and trust you less.” Better yet, at least half the dialogue is delivered straight to the camera. The more lofty the sentiment, the more likely it is that the speaker will not look at the other participants in the conversation but instead will stare into space. We have interactions like that every day, right?

Cue Twitter. During the first of the many, many commercial breaks, Sir Percy announced that The Ten Commandments was trending on Twitter. I checked and couldn’t see it (I told you I don’t really “get” Twitter). Sir P said, “Use the hashtag,” and I did. Sure enough, an enormous scroll of tweets flowed onto the screen. We started reading the better ones to each other—at that commercial break, and the next commercial break. By the time the movie ended, 5.5 hours later, we were barely watching the big screen; the Twitter feed was much more entertaining. Actually, we discovered midway that we were watching different feeds, because there were two hashtags, #TheTenCommandments and #TenCommandments. To cut a long story short, we eventually zeroed in on the second, which seemed to have more miniskirt and wacky-dialogue appreciators and fewer defenders of the Bible (which was not actually under attack).

So what do people say when they are live-tweeting the Exodus, as personified by Charlton Heston, Anne Baxter, and Yul Brynner? I wish I could remember all the funny tweets I saw that night. There were definitely themes: the surprising lack of naturally brown-skinned people in Egypt; the oddity of it being the chosen Easter film, embraced by a group that had forgotten it was Passover, too; parents who insisted the tweeters watch the film with them (sorry, Filial Unit!); late arrivals from the West Coast, struggling to keep up as the plot rolled relentlessly forward; objections to the length, caused by all the commercials. The rest were like us, bowled over by the bizarreness of the dialogue and the gorgeousness of the costumes.

Some of my favorites (and apologies to the tweeters for any mistakes on my part), with commentary in parentheses:

“Did he just call me lovely dust?” (Yes, Nefretiri, Moses did. Way to win over a woman, Moses!)
“Moses wandering off after a bush that burns. Or as they call it in Colorado, commerce!”
“The way he works that cape! Don’t make me root for you, Yul! Er … I mean Ramses.” (My thoughts precisely.)
“Blood water. You’re on notice, pharaoh. But that skirt is working with your bare chest.” (Hello. Yul must have worked out for this role.)
“Swim, horsies, swim!” (Not intended to be funny. We all feel bad for the horses. If it had been up to them, they would have let the people go.)
“Is that a bow Yul is wearing?” (Yes, indeed. A pretty white one, to contrast with his navy blue cape and silver trimming.)
“Wait, isn’t Ramses a firstborn?” (Guess not, or it would have solved a lot of problems. But the screenwriters sure kept his older siblings well hidden.)
“Moses’ mother and some random dude show up uninvited. Just like Passover at my house.”
And the winner is:
“The Red Sea parts? Would you guys on the East Coast stop with the spoilers already?”
(I assume this person was kidding, although with the state of biblical study these days one can never be quite sure.)

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year. One more reason to watch The Ten Commandments.

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