John Baumgartner

Shot4Shot Raiders of the Lost Ark

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK pt 2 (1981, Spielberg)

Happy Friday everyone.  I want to thank everybody for your visits; the blog is now 1 month old and this week was an all-time high for readership.  So if you’re enjoying, please keep reposting and telling people about Shot4Shot!  I’m having a blast.

Here is the second of two shots celebrating the 30th birthmonth of this iconic film.  This shot is in a less flashy scene of the movie, one that might even make you impatient, because it’s a narrative interruption of Indy’s uncovering and entering the Wells of Souls to, at long last, reveal The Ark of the Covenant.  I mean come on, it’s asking a lot – it’s like being told to wait a day to open presents on Christmas morning.  (Or Hanukah or Kwanzaa morning.  Those work like that, right?)

It was with this very feeling as a lad that I once reached for the remote to fast-forward to the ‘more exciting’ part of the film. Thankfully, I stopped myself, saying, “Self, let’s investigate more closely what’s going on in this scene.”  And when I did, it quickly became one of my favorites and a case study in dynamic, economical staging.  Isn’t that Film Appreciation all over – stopping to take a look, never knowing what you’re going to find or learn from.

So this whole scene is only 4 really precise set ups.  Which is pretty awesome when you consider all the dramatic beats.  The first shot, and the focus of today’s post, is the meat of the scene – the long oner, with just the simplest dolly movement.  In and out and maybe a little side to side.  I love how Spielberg can do so much with so little.

Add to this the beautiful depth created by the open flap of the tent, the draped fabric everywhere, the search light and shadows on the tent wall, and the classically Spielbergian to-and-from-camera blocking of the actors.

Spielberg’s Extra Touches

One of my favorite moments of the scene (not in the oner) and a great example of always striving to create visual stimulation, is the well-timed hit of the search light behind Marion when she comes out from behind the divider to reveal the dress.

Another technique I love is tying 2 visual beats together through a simple TILT or PAN, which is always a good idea (I’m posting one of my shots next week on this point).  Why have separate shots when you can link them?  In this case, when Belloq grabs the booze, and then again when Marion sets her clothes atop the knife. It’s such a simple thing, but I’ve seen countless directors miss opportunities to use this simple, visually-interesting move.  In this scene, Spielberg uses them as brilliant little asides, both tilt downs revealing the true subtextual and conflicting motivation of each character. (His booze & sex/her’s knife and freedom.)

So there’s a lot going on here.  But most excitingly, the elegant and engaging blocking on such a simple dolly track to create a scene so visually robust and interesting, mostly in one shot.

Not sure if I’ve been clear or not, but I love this movie.

Oh, one last thing, there’s a little continuity error that always pops out at me.  I wonder if you know what it is?  Grand prize: bragging rights.


  • June 10, 2011
    Jeremy Cole

    I remember being a wee lad and getting that there was some kind of subtext to this scene (the sexual stuff) but not quite understanding what it was. Funny.

    Good call on this post. Not flashy but a great scene in its subtlety. The actor’s objectives are strong, clear, and in direct opposition. As a bonus, they work toward those objectives in this quid pro quo negotiation masquerading as romance. Those CU’s of sneaking a peek in the mirror and hiding the knife give us an immediate understanding of the characters’ true intentions while they’re hidden from the characters themselves. Great way to built tension.

    Like you said, the camera work is elegant in its simplicity. Using small shifts on that one piece of track to frame and reframe, while the blocking moves in time to give us depth in the frame and turn the actors naturally toward camera. Love it.

    Another tidbit I noticed for the first time is how the camera sort of gets “nudged” by and nudges the actors along — I guess you’d call it fine tuned motivations. During Belloq’s entrance the camera tilts up and down ever so slightly in time with him ducking under the tent flap. Same goes when Marion tries to escape but gets stopped by the guard — a little push to follow and an abrupt little “bump” as the guard bars her path. Same when Belloq sits in the chair. It’s like the action rocks the camera a little. Then the camera pushes uncomfortably close to Beloch and he stands, like we’re nudging him out of his seat. On paper I would’ve thought these things would call too much attention to themselves or seem frivolous but it actually works really well. Another trick to steal from Spielberg!

    Oh, and for bonus points… the grip on the bottle!

    Great blog, John. Keep ‘er rollin’.

    • June 10, 2011
      Jeremy Cole

      Thanks, John. What can I say. This stuff gets me in a film geek lather! I believe AMPAS is having a screening on Friday. You going?

  • June 10, 2011

    Firstly, interesting to see how sexual orientation can influence viewing. I can guarantee you that no 13 or 14-year-old hetero boy was fast-forwarding a scene where a woman takes her top off. The pause button was much more likely.

    Secondly, another vivid demonstration of how expertly Kasdan, Spielberg and their incredible ensemble accomplish character and narrative simultaneously while also being wildly entertaining. Marion’s prolific alcohol capacity, which served as character in Tibet, is now plot. Paul Freeman ‘s halting tone as he’s distracted by Marion’s beauty (another thing Indiana Jones has possessed which he desires, but the only one he is unsuccessful in stealing away) presages the same delivery when he realizes Jones has found the Well of Souls: “You would use.. a bull.dozer .. to… find… a….. china..cup.”

    Thirdly, I love how the scene (if you let it run past the shot here) accomplishes a thematic goal – all of Belloq’s machinations and all of Marion’s cleverness and resourcefulness come to naught the moment Toht enters the tent. We are following the quest of heroes, but we are reminded once again that this quest is, as stated in the previous post, “Like nothing you’ve ever gone after before.” Indy and Marion (and anti-hero Belloq), usually the main actors in their quests – note the difference in the quest for the golden idol in the prologue, in wwhich success or failure was solely determined by Indy’s daring and Belloq’s craftiness – are in this case up against forces too powerful to overcome – the Nazis, the American government, the Ark itself. The absolute genius of the movie is that it is not defined by the success of its heroes or villains, but by their failure. This scene echoes that theme brilliantly.

    I know the continuity gaffe (one of several in the scene, including the varying levels in the bottle and glass of Chateau d’ Belloq), but giving me bragging rights is like letting the Nazis get the Ark. There is talk of my bragging rights leveling mountains and laying waste to whole regions. An army that carries my bragging rights before them would be invincible.

    • June 10, 2011
      Jeremy Cole

      Well said. I’d never thought to frame Raiders in quite that way but it makes great sense that our perception of that hierarchy of ARK – NAZIS – BELLOQ – INDY really builds the supernatural power overarching the story. I suppose that’s what that great shot of the swastika burning is all about.

      I also like the observation that our hero never really achieves any of his goals. Nests nicely with the hierarchy, and what a great lesson in using high stakes and tough obstacles to drive a narrative. The funny thing is, Indy’s all the more heroic in our eyes for his failures! (tip of the hat to Carson Reeves’ Script Shadow)

      Love, love, love this movie. Always more to wring out of it.

  • June 10, 2011

    I don’t know that Nikki would be the best judge, but I’m still willing to let a poll decide. Further though, I like the fact that this scene is stalling. A lot of delicious character and thematic elements are unpacked in this scene, but nothing of narrative importance. Belloq doesn’t seduce Marion, Marion doesn’t escape, and even though Toht presumably interrogates Marion, Belloq and Co. don’t learn the location of the Well of the Souls until they see Indy so dramatically (and foolishly) silouhetted against the rising sun. So what’s the point?

    Stalling. It’s precisely BECAUSE one wants to fast-forward this scene (prurient side-boob sighting aside) that it’s there in the first place. An audience in a theater (presumably the only way Spielberg et al ever intended if not expected an audience to watch the movie) has no choice but to sit through this scene, which makes them, as it made you, anxious. But that anxiety is suspense, and further it puts you in the same headspace as the characters – the anxiety of Marion, believing herself to be stranded in the desert; the anxiety of Belloq, so far unable to find the Ark with the Führer breathing down his Egyptian cotton collar; and Indy’s anxiety, about to, as you put it, unwrap the biggest Hanukah present in history.

  • June 10, 2011

    Not sure why my iPhone made me anonymous.

    In the absence of a “Hell Yes! I like Marion so much that her absence ruined every subsequent movie and I’ve spent my whole life looking for a girl just like her.” I chose the first one.

  • October 17, 2011

    There’s an interesting film on 16mm that I think has found it’s way to You Tube and other odd formats regarding the continuous truck shot and the stunt work involved to pull it off.

    Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark.


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