' Cinema Romantico: Thursday's Flashback to the 80s Freeze-Frame(s)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday's Flashback to the 80s Freeze-Frame(s)

Steven Spielberg’s Cinema Romantico-certified masterpiece, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, was based on the old pulp magazines and adventure serials that he, and his collaborator George Lucas, loved so much, which is why the movie pleasingly skedaddles from one reverie of action to another with the bare minimum of exposition. It’s fun! Still, not so much tucked within this rip-roaring framework as standing quite openly right on top of it is something more brutal, evoked not merely in the immortal Marion Ravenwood’s introduction, tossing back whiskeys, but in her and Indy’s backstory, which the screenplay treads both lightly and loudly, involving a romantic affair that, from all available evidence, seemingly occurred while Marion was something close to, if not lawfully, underage. Yikes.

What’s more, Spielberg’s remarkable use of light and shadows suggest a film less like a cheap serial and more like a dark-hearted noir, such as the sequence in Marion’s Nepal bar, a photographic tour de force, as good as the medium gets, never more so than the indelible moment when Indy and the big Sherpa are engaged in a tussle and Ronald Lacey’s gestapo madman orders the dude in all black with the submachine gun to “shoot them both.” The dude in all black steps forward to do just that, except Indy and the big Sherpa work together by lifting Indy’s handgun to blast the dude in all black, a death unforgettably depicted in silhouette. The actor who portrayed the dude in black, Matthew Scurfield, is billed per IMDb as “2nd Nazi.” That’s important. He could have been billed as anything. He doesn’t even get a line! He could have been “The Dude In Black”, or he could have been “Man With Submachine Gun”, or he could have been “Gerhard”. But no, he is explicitly “2nd Nazi.”


“In ‘Raiders,’” wrote the esteemed Roger Ebert for his Great Movies entry on the film, “(Spielberg) wants to do two things: make a great entertainment, and stick it to the Nazis.” Spielberg, after all, is Jewish, and, as has been recounted in many places, spent his early life often being ashamed of and bullied for that heritage. An idea has emerged that he did not truly begin grappling with that heritage until his later, more “adult” films, to cite a cliché, like the remarkable “Schindler’s List.” Ebert played into this idea somewhat, writing that “Raiders” was “the work of Spielberg’s recaptured adolescence, I think; it contains the kind of stuff teenage boys like, and it also perhaps contains the daydreams of a young Jewish kid who imagines blowing up Nazis real good.”

In a 2008 review for Deep Focus, however, Brian Eggert went further, writing that “Spielberg’s passion in the project is felt so potently because the story, even on its pure escapist level, weighs on the filmmaker’s Jewish heritage. After all, the Nazis’ ultimate “solution” of wiping the Jews from the planet was Hitler’s sadistic design. He continues: “At stake then is not only the fate of an archeological landmark, but the entire Jewish people.” The American Jewish magazine Tablet, meanwhile, wondered three years ago if “Raiders” was actually more audacious than Quentin Tarantino’s Jewish avengers fable “Inglorious Basterds.” “And here, it’s not the Jews who foil the Nazis’ plans,” notes Gabriel Sherman, “it’s the spirit of God Himself.”


Indeed, Indy and Marion are tied to the stake when God gets, as God will, the last word, and the most ferocious shot in “Raiders” is the one above, the Ark stashed in a crate bearing the Nazis’ co-opted version of the swastika, and that swastika getting incinerated by You Know Who. Generally when we think of God speaking to us – if you think God speaks to us – it is through Scripture, or it is through someone who interprets Scripture for us, or it is through His/Her/Whoever's creation or miracles, though those creations and miracles are generally up to our own respective interpretations. Spielberg, however, by placing no one else in the scene, just us and the Ark, deliberately removes any possibility of interpretation. There is no mistaking what this is and Who is doing it. This is the wrath of God buttressing His/Her/Whoever’s unconditional love by expressing in no uncertain terms that this evil will not stand.

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