Shot4Shot Raiders of the Lost Ark

Happy Friday everyone.  I want to thank everybody for your visits; the blog is now 1 month old and this week was an all-time high for readership.  So if you’re enjoying, please keep reposting and telling people about Shot4Shot!  I’m having a blast.

Here is the second of two shots celebrating the 30th birthmonth of this iconic film.  This shot is in a less flashy scene of the movie, one that might even make you impatient, because it’s a narrative interruption of Indy’s uncovering and entering the Wells of Souls to, at long last, reveal The Ark of the Covenant.  I mean come on, it’s asking a lot – it’s like being told to wait a day to open presents on Christmas morning.  (Or Hanukah or Kwanzaa morning.  Those work like that, right?)

It was with this very feeling as a lad that I once reached for the remote to fast-forward to the ‘more exciting’ part of the film. Thankfully, I stopped myself, saying, “Self, let’s investigate more closely what’s going on in this scene.”  And when I did, it quickly became one of my favorites and a case study in dynamic, economical staging.  Isn’t that Film Appreciation all over – stopping to take a look, never knowing what you’re going to find or learn from.

So this whole scene is only 4 really precise set ups.  Which is pretty awesome when you consider all the dramatic beats.  The first shot, and the focus of today’s post, is the meat of the scene – the long oner, with just the simplest dolly movement.  In and out and maybe a little side to side.  I love how Spielberg can do so much with so little.

Add to this the beautiful depth created by the open flap of the tent, the draped fabric everywhere, the search light and shadows on the tent wall, and the classically Spielbergian to-and-from-camera blocking of the actors.

Spielberg’s Extra Touches

One of my favorite moments of the scene (not in the oner) and a great example of always striving to create visual stimulation, is the well-timed hit of the search light behind Marion when she comes out from behind the divider to reveal the dress.

Another technique I love is tying 2 visual beats together through a simple TILT or PAN, which is always a good idea (I’m posting one of my shots next week on this point).  Why have separate shots when you can link them?  In this case, when Belloq grabs the booze, and then again when Marion sets her clothes atop the knife. It’s such a simple thing, but I’ve seen countless directors miss opportunities to use this simple, visually-interesting move.  In this scene, Spielberg uses them as brilliant little asides, both tilt downs revealing the true subtextual and conflicting motivation of each character. (His booze & sex/her’s knife and freedom.)

So there’s a lot going on here.  But most excitingly, the elegant and engaging blocking on such a simple dolly track to create a scene so visually robust and interesting, mostly in one shot.

Not sure if I’ve been clear or not, but I love this movie.

Oh, one last thing, there’s a little continuity error that always pops out at me.  I wonder if you know what it is?  Grand prize: bragging rights.

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