Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11, Erin Brokovich, The Knick) may have stepped away from moviemaking, but that doesn’t mean one of Hollywood’s most talented auteurs doesn’t still love the medium.
With surprising regularity, he's been doling out little breadcrumbs of cinematic insight on his blog and e-commerce site Extension 765. Most recently, he posted an unusual experiment celebrating another Steven: Spielberg.
Raider of the Lost Arts
Steven Spielberg’s instinctual grasp of pure moviemaking technique is legendary, and Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of his finest efforts. Soderbergh pays homage to Spielberg by “remaking” the film, showcasing the real talents that matter behind the camera.
Sure, we love Harrison Ford’s swagger, and the film’s Saturday matinee serial thrills are as engaging as ever. But Soderbergh pays tribute to Spielberg’s classic by stripping it bare.
“I operate under the theory a movie should work with the sound off, and under that theory, staging becomes paramount,” Soderbergh writes. He’s not just talking about actors hitting their marks; he’s referring to how shots are blocked, how they’re lit, how they’re edited, and how—if you get all of that stuff right—dialogue, music, and sound effects are just icing on the cake.
“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?”
By removing everything but the shots themselves, Soderbergh distracts us from the Raiders we know and love, providing an opportunity to appreciate the sheer craft of storytelling told through its pitch-perfect photography, staging, and editing. Throwing in a pulsing Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross soundtrack of electronica only further alienates us from the familiar story, allowing us to see it with fresh eyes.
Don't believe it? Check out Soderbergh’s experiment for yourself.
The breathtaking 10-minute opening sequence does a good job of communicating the basic concept, but if you want to see some of the film’s more iconic moments, you can skip ahead:
- 29:02 – The bar fight where Indy and Marion try to keep the headpiece from falling into Nazi hands
- 58:57 – Indy finds the Ark in the Well of Souls and must face his fear of snakes.
- 1:16:04 – Indy’s fistfight with a Nazi plane mechanic
- 1:44:17 – The contents of the Ark are revealed.
In addition to selling t-shirts, production stills, and other swag, Soderbergh has used his website to discuss and analyze other cinematic classics.
Check out his mashup of Alfred Hitchcock’s original 1960 Psycho with Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot color remake from 1998. Some scenes cut back and forth between the two films, while others are layered (like the shower sequence at 39:40). It’s a strange odyssey that reminds us how specific Hitchcock’s dazzling vision truly was.
For the truly nerdy cinema geeks out there, Soderbergh also edited Michael Cimino’s legendary 219-minute western Heaven’s Gate (a notorious bomb that nearly bankrupted United Artists) down to a lean, mean, 108-minute marvel that he refers to as “The Butcher’s Cut”.