Steven Soderbergh is incredibly talented at many things—directing, editing, writing, importing Bolivian liquor—but it appears one thing that the multi-threat is terrible at is retirement. To be fair, Soderbergh has maintained that he was retiring from directing cinema only and has since gone on to many cinema-adjacent projects, like directing and producing the well-received Cinemax series The Knick. However, while he may be done with making films for theaters, Soderbergh never stops thinking about the intricate elements that make up good cinema and, luckily for everyone, he also doesn’t stop writing about those mental exercises. His latest effort to get people thinking deliberately on how to construct a good film is by examining how staging works in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Over on his excellent website, Extension 765, Soderbergh has uploaded a black-and-white version of the 1981 blockbuster in an effort to prompt cinephiliacs to think about how an impressive talent like Spielberg was able to convey so much of the story merely through length and composition of shots. He also removed all sound from the video, instead replacing it with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network, so that viewers can solely focus on the staging of the film. As the worst retiree since Brett Favre says,
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? Sounds like fun, right? It actually is. To me.
This isn’t the first time Soderbergh has used a film classic to illustrate some element of film (or merely as an intellectual challenge to himself). He created a montage that effortlessly switches between Hitchcock’s and Van Sant’s versions of Psycho, even having the two versions converse with each other across decades. In his editor pseudonym of Mary Ann Bernard he recut Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, resulting in a tighter film that Soderbergh dubbed “The Butcher’s Cut.” With this treatment of Raiders (only available on his site), Soderbergh has once again put his own spin on a well known film, all in the hopes of further inspiring better filmmaking and better discussions about filmmaking.