I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark this afternoon at the Castro Theater with my dad. He’s in town and had never been there before, and Raiders is one of his favorite movies, and it was playing there, and I wanted to hang out with my dad, so, kind of a perfect storm.
I think I’ve seen it once before, plus scenes in the background at parties or bars or whatnot, but it’s very different in a theater. You’re seeing it, as they say, as it was meant to be seen. I was also seeing it with a firm understanding of what was going to happen, so I was able to see details I hadn’t before.
It’s just an incredibly well-crafted film. It’s campy when it should be, serious when it should be, John Williams is a genius, the sound editing in general is almost perfect (in the theater a couple people whooped at the Wilhelm Scream, it was a good audience), and–and this is what struck me the most–no Checkhov’s Gun went unfired. Everything was called back to once. Even the sand in that first scene is referenced at the end, when they open the Ark–the motion the Nazi uses to throw away the sand from the Ark is the same Indy used when he was measuring the bag. Same angle, too, if I recall. Sure, we all know about the set-up for the snakes quip, but I had no idea the call-and-response thing was done so thoroughly.
The only “bad” cuss word was in German, too. My dad and I both remarked on it at the time (we’re both speakers). The worst thing said in English is “god-damned.” And maybe the anti-Nazi stuff was a little in-your-face–we all know Nazis are bad, after all–but the little touches, like the Mercedes hood ornament snapping off or the only cuss word being in German, are just hilarious.
And the sound editing! My god, the sound editing. What follows is a random list.
- The use of total silence was just stunning. They didn’t do it very often but it really served to underscore what happened.
- In the fistfight at the airplane, every punch was the same sound effect. It’s a combination of camp and brutality that worked really well. You understand that Indy is getting the shit beaten out of him, but it also sounds like a “Bang! Pow! Zam!” Batman-style bit of cartoon violence due to the repetition. Or, to my mind, like a video game, though those didn’t quite exist at the time.
- Of course there’s a Wilhelm, but it’s still funny.
- The syncing of Williams’ score with the acting is just… brilliant. When the soundtrack can deliver a joke all on its own, you know you’re dealing with some smart cookies.
And having a good crowd is important. You could hear people doing the suck-in-the-breath-and-cringe thing right before the incident with the propeller, and everybody clapped after he shot that one guy, they cheered John Williams in the opening credits. It really feels good to be in on the joke, you know? And I contributed my part. I wasn’t expecting any less from a Sunday afternoon matinee crowd at the Castro–that’s why I took my dad there, after all–but it’s really uplifting to do stuff like that.
I guess Vonnegut said it best:
“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”