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Star Wars (Adjacent) Saturday: Steven Soderbergh on Staging in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

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raiders-of-the-lost-ark-1981_gallery_primary1So I teach a film class to high schoolers, and that means I’m always on the hunt for great ways to teach them about hard to notice things like cinematography and editing, things most of them don’t give one whit about when they’re seeing the latest Hangover movie.

An artist friend of ours introduced me to a concept that Steven Soderbergh recently echoed in his blog:

I operate under the theory a movie should work with the sound off, and under that theory, staging becomes paramount.

Soderbergh is now (mostly) retired from film-making, so apparently he’s spending his time tinkering with other people’s films to see how they work. In the blog linked above, he does this with Spielberg classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the end of the post he has embedded a recut of Raiders wherein he has stripped the color and sound and re-scored with various other pieces, classical to electronic (I mostly recognized the pieces from The Social Network).

The effect is weird at first. It’s difficult to watch the famous opening scene without John Williams’ celebrated score. But after a bit, the new score falls into the background and I found myself just as gripped by the story as ever. Soderbergh’s point is clear: great films tell their stories visually. Strip the dialogue, and it hardly matters. I still know what I need to know through eye line matches, facial and body acting, gestures, various lengths of the camera from objects, and details in the shot. Soderbergh wraps all of this under the phrase “staging.” He quotes David Fincher on the matter:

There’s potentially a hundred different ways to shoot something but at the end of the day there’s really only two, and one of them is wrong.

Furthermore, the film in black and white has its own charms. Of course Raiders calls back to the adventure films of the 30’s, when films were largely in black and white, but as Soderbergh points out it’s also clear the cinematographer was a master of contrast.

If you’re a fan of Raiders or of filmmaking, Soderbergh’s lesson in the importance of staging is a must-see.


Author: Erin Perry

I'm a high school English teacher specializing in AP Literature and Film Analysis. I'm interested in most things geeky, including superheroes, vampires, zombies, teen culture, postmodern philosophy, pop culture analysis, and combinations of the aforementioned. Follow me on Twitter @eriuperry.

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