Spielberg and Lucas on Ark of the Covenant traditions

It’s been up on YouTube for almost three years now, but last week, for some reason, a vintage TV special on the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) began making the rounds on the internet.

I don’t believe I had ever seen it before, though I do recall a friend at school telling me about it and describing one sequence in it, in which Steven Spielberg tries to give Harrison Ford a passionate summary of where the story is going, only to have Ford abandon him mid-story to put some mustard on his hot dog or whatever.

I mention the special here because it includes a clip of Spielberg on the set of the film’s climax, explaining to some of the extras what the supernatural concept behind that climax is — and I was intrigued to hear Spielberg suggest that the film might actually differ from the traditions surrounding the Ark as he understands them.

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Indiana Jones and the Deadly Blather / Notes on the devolution of a franchise.

“Didn’t any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?” So said Indiana Jones to a couple of bemused military intelligence agents in Raiders of the Lost Ark, easily the top-grossing film of 1981 and one of the greatest action movies ever made. And thus producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg seemed to make explicit what had only been implicit in the handful of films that they had made over the previous few years — films that had captured an entire generation’s spiritual imagination.

Lucas, of course, had helped to revive interest in the power of myth with his space-opera throwback, Star Wars (1977), and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980); the latter was particularly heavy on the spiritual development of its hero, Luke Skywalker. Some Christians, keen to capitalize on the franchise’s popularity, even went so far as to draw extensive analogies between the first movie and the biblical narrative; the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was betrayed by his disciple, and died, and continued beyond death as a counsellor to Luke was, of course, key to their interpretations.1 Spielberg, for his part, had directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, re-edited and re-released in 1980), a film about aliens that spoke very strongly to the longing for enlightenment from above; in both images and dialogue, the film even made indirect references to the story of Moses and his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.2

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Where sibs are a sin

For the haziest of reasons, there is a near taboo on the portrayal of adult brothers and sisters in film

In When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan famously argued over whether men and women could be friends without one of them wanting to have sex with the other. When I first saw the film 11 years ago, I found it funny, entertaining and a good conversation piece, but I couldn’t help thinking that Crystal and Ryan — neither of whom seemed to have any family beyond their fellow single New Yorkers — had overlooked something. I could certainly think of a few women in my own life for whom this was a non-issue, and one of them was sitting right next to me in the theatre. I refer, of course, to my sister.

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