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The Archaeologist in Fiction Film

by Dr. Kurt Denzer

"He is so noble" says the waitress, impersonated by Mia Farrow, in the German version of Woody Allen`s "The Purple Rose of Kairo" about the archaeologist whom she so much admires until he steps down the screen into her life. He simply cannot believe that somebody may watch such a bad film that often. But it is not because of the qualities of the film the young woman spends so much time in the cinema yet for her feeling attracted to the erotic qualities of Tom Baxter, the archaeologist in the film. Such deep admiration is only beaten by the stamina, wealth of invention, and cleverness, as well as the fitness and braveness of an Indiana Jones, who, in "The Temple of Doom", brought a lady, who does not yet believe in him, and a boy through the most incredible dangers of Spielbergian trick phantasies.

Neither this personal readiness for action nor the instinct of protection is known by the archaeologist in "March or Die" played by Max von Sydow. For his own protection and the protection of his team he hires a detachment of the French Foreign Legion. Unmolested by Arabian tribes he wants to excavate a prescious Moroccan statuette of a woman to take it to the Louvre, but the savage Sons of the Desert simply think this is robbery of valuable cultural asset. Even Gene Hackman as hard-boiled commander does not like the imperial fuss of the scientist, and Catherine Deneuve as the daughter of the deceased archaeologist, who had discovered the site, does not find any sense in the excavation and the "taking home" of the statuette.

This kind of strain endured by the above archaeologists can hardly be imagined to happen to the species of scientists played by Cary Grant in "Bringing Up Baby". The former vaudeville acrobat Archibald Alexander Leach, alias Cary Grant, gives the bone-dry paleanthologist an irisdescent appeal which is the reason for the comic effect in the film.

Neither the acting stunt-man Jean Paul Belmondo as The Soldier nor his counterpart Jean Servais as The Fanatical Archaeologist, looking for a huge treasure in the Brazilian jungle, can reach this comic effect. But the archaeologist is duped by director and script in his role as treasure hunter when in a cave the once protecting soil collapses in the moment he finds the twinkling jewels because stump grubbers root out trees to build a Trans-Amazonic motorway.

In short: The figure of the archaeologist, for script writers and producers, seems so much to stimulate the imagination and to attract the audience, to be so timeless and good for the box-office that it can be used in all genres. But hardly a grain of truth is found while digging. Archaeologists are no figures of the present, hardly anyone of them busies himself with activities of the work he was trained for. This is true with many jobs appearing on the screen, but even a surgeon shows more of it than these film-archaeologists.

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