Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Drop-Everything List

I used the same phrase about what I'd be doing on the night the Coolidge played Raiders in a number of tweets, posts, and conversations, but it's kind of true - when this movie plays theaters, especially when it's in 35mm, I do tend to rearrange my schedule to make sure I see it. It happens often enough that I can joke about not really needing a Blu-ray copy of this movie; it plays the area roughly once a year, whether at the Coolidge or Brattle, and I wouldn't be shocked if it has had occasion to play the Harvard Film Archive, or if it winds up part of a program at ArtsEmerson. When the Somerville Theatre gets their 70mm set-up in place, I'm sure a blow-up print from 1981 will surface for the series Dave wants to have.

So, having seen this movie three times in the past calendar year (September at Boston Common, November at the Brattle, July at the Coolidge), it's pretty clear that I will, in fact, drop everything to see it. Which raises the question - what else is on the Drop-Everything List?

My first thought was Jaws, if only because, when David Cornelius asked about which movies his friends/family/online acquaintances watch on an annual basis, I mentioned it alongside Raiders as ones I don't necessarily make the effort to watch yearly, but which I seldom missed when they hit the local rep theaters, which was roughly yearly. That said - I missed it when it played the Brattle as part of the "DCP Debut" series and won't be in town for the Somerville's "Jaws Weekend". But, on the other hand, that's only two opportunities missed, and it's summer in New England - there will be more.

A definite entry on the list is the original Godzilla, which doesn't come around quite so often but is always, always, always worth it when it does. It brings to mind a class of movies that are on a similar list - when a Godzilla entry you haven't seen before plays locally, sure, make plans, but not every time for every movie.

The next entry on the list is not a specific film but a filmmaker - Alfred Hitchcock; seeing everything he's done on the big screen is a goal of mine. The thing is, it's seldom just one movie; consider the upcoming Complete Alfred Hitchcock series at the Harvard Film Archive, for instance - am I going to clear out three whole months of movie-watching? Probably not. Am I going to miss Rear Window, Vertigo, The 39 Steps, North by Northwest, or The Lady Vanishes? No.

Star Wars, and I'll include the whole of both trilogies in that (including, yes, being down for the 3D versions). Sadly, they don't show up nearly often enough.

I'm pretty much down for 2001: A Space Odyssey whenever it pops up, too, although I can be pretty indifferent to the rest of Kubrick's filmography. I believe I was in Montreal when it played the HFA last year, although that was just digital anyway (I will readily admit to being spoiled by the 70mm print the Coolidge screened about a decade ago).

Right now, they pop up just rarely enough that I can say any silent movie. That's one or two a month in Boston, and I do wonder just how much more frequent they would have to be for me to start picking and choosing.

I'm sure that there are more, which I'd recognize as soon as they showed up on a schedule. That's a good start, though, and I'm curious what fits on others' Drop-Everything List.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 July 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Big Screen Classics, 35mm)

One of the benefits of living in the Boston area, movie-wise, is that among the multiple theaters in the area that program older movies (either on occasion or regularly), at least one is likely to play Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen at some point during the year. When that happens, you plan your week around those screenings, because as cool as it is to have it on hand to watch in high definition, it is absolutely worth the time, money, and effort to watch it on 35mm with a few hundred of your closest friends.

What makes it worthy of such admiration, compared to the hundreds of other action/adventure movies made in the last century, many of them pretty good? I think it's a pair of traits that are shared not just by the best films by its main creators (Steven Spielberg and George Lucas), but by a great number of movies regarded as classics: The story being told, and the way the filmmakers tell it, is clear and simple, but there's attention to detail as well. The more familiar you become with Raiders, the more little things you notice, but unlike a lot of movies that reward repeated viewings, the price of entry is practically nothing.

Sure, the movie starts in media res with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) searching the South American jungle for an idol hidden in a booby-trapped temple, but once it briefly returns stateside, it starts to lay out every goal Indy must accomplish before sending him in search of the the Ark which holds the original Ten Commandments. He'll be aided by Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), the daughter of his mentor and a former lover, and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), an Egyptian digger; his competition is Belloq (Paul Freeman), a French archaeologist and rival, and his Nazi masters. Indy is clever and resourceful, but the Nazis are ruthless and have a head start.

Full review on EFC

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