Raiders of the Lost Ark is the Citizen Kane of modern action films, a revolutionary piece of cinematic storytelling that is still the template for just about every action-adventure that rolls into theaters. Director Steven Soderbergh is a major fan, and his admiration appropriately goes to delightfully film-geek lengths. In a recent blog post, Soderbergh marvels at Steven Spielberg’s staging of Raiders; by staging he refers to the alchemic art of putting a shot together and then connecting several shots together to tell a story in the most fluid, unobtrusive, and dynamic manner.
To isolate that subtle aspect of Raiders, Soderbergh included a black-and-white version of the film that replaced John Williams’ galloping score with an intentionally dissonant electric track. “This is what I do when I try to learn about staging,” Soderbergh writes, “and [Spielberg] 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 s–t).”
Raiders actually looks great in black and white, perhaps no surprise since Spielberg and George Lucas were inspired by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and old black-and-white 1950s serials. But I think it’s the distracting music that forces your eyes and mind to look closer at the craft and skill that Soderbergh wants to celebrate. Spielberg, too, has discussed his own appreciating for the art of staging: he often recharges his own batteries by revisiting David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia—occasionally with the sound completely off.
You can watch Soderbergh’s film-school version of Spielberg’s classic here.