To show the importance of staging in filmmaking, director Steven Soderbergh reworks Steven Spielberg’s classic adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark into a moodily, affective black and white silent film. The film is essentially stripped of many surface elements to highlight the deeper ones (at least for Soderbergh). No more color or witty banter from Harrison Ford, and we lose John Williams iconic score. Soderbergh replaces all of the soundtrack with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score from The Social Network, not to draw comparisons between the two films but rather to provide audible accents to the staging.
Soderbergh explains why he created this black-and-white, dialogue-free version of the film, allowing the viewer to really focus on the staging of the film. The full two-hour recut of Raiders of the Lost Ark is up on his website:
So I want you to watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are. See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order? Sounds like fun, right? It actually is. To me. Oh, and I’ve removed all sound and color from the film, apart from a score designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect. Wait, WHAT? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS? Well, I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this, I’m just saying this is what I do when I try to learn about staging, and this filmmaker forgot more about staging by the time he made his first feature than I know to this day (for example, no matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are—that’s high level visual math shit).
If you ever get a chance to visit Extension765 (Soderbergh’s personal website and blog), you’ll notice that this isn’t the first time he’s played with other people’s films to illustrate a certain lesson or trope of filmmaking. Soderbergh also re-cut Michael Cimino’s misunderstood epic Heaven’s Gate knowing full well that what he was doing was, “Both illegal and amoral.” He also spliced together Alfred Hitchcock’s perennial classic Psycho with its shot-for-shot remake by Gus Van Sant.
It’s interesting that one of the first things Soderbergh did was strip the film of its color, displaying the use of Douglas Slocombe’s high-contrast cinematography. It also associates the film more closely to the serials of the 1930s that Lucas and Spielberg were harkening back to so fondly. It works remarkably well and is indeed instructive.
Soderbergh also quotes another famed director, David Fincher, whose Gone Girl has hit continual critical praise (We here at Grizzly dug it too) since its wide release.
“Fincher said it: 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!”
There is no denying that Soderbergh truly loves Raiders of the Lost Ark on more than one level and this recent video (or is it a movie unto itself?) shows off just how much Spielberg, Slocombe, Williams, Lucas, Ford—hell, the whole cast and crew—got right.
Images: Paramount Pictures, LucasFilm LTD