The First Time We Saw: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Hooray! The Blu-ray release of Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures hits next week on the 18th, and a special IMAX run kicks off this Friday, (Sept. 7) of the movie that started it all, Raiders Of the Lost Ark. That news means it's a damned good time to be a fan of the throwback-style franchise featuring the fedora wearing archeologist, who wields a mighty nasty whip, and kicks Nazi ass.
That man of course is the titular Indiana Jones for the three people out there who may not know, through some tragic miracle. And yes, here at Twitch, we're pretty much all one big gaggle of Indy loving kids at heart. There are so many of us in fact, that we thought it would be great to do our first collective in the on-going "The First Time I/We Saw" column, with many of us throwing in our memories of our first encounter with the serial-like mega=classic.
We don't intend to hog the spotlight here either. This is Twitch in straight-up fan mode. If you have a cool story about seeing Raiders for the first time? Please post it! We'd love to hear about it!
Anyway, ok, it's time to get this party swinging!
SEAN "THE BUTCHER" SMITHSON
The first time I saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark, is a weird story to start out with because, while I had a great time at the theater, it's also connected to a day that I'll remember in a strange way the rest of my life. Anyway, let me start at the beginning.
In 1981, the Year Of Our Raiders, my mom and I were living in what is now called "an urban environment (I call it the 'hood) near the Fruitvale area in East Oakland. Let's just say back then there weren't a lot of long haired heavy-metal loving white kids running around. The block I lived on, most of my friends were Hispanic, many of them straight up Vatos. My number one buddy was a neighbor kid, Alberto Cazares, and the Cazares family were the first to accept me as a component of our little neighborhood. East Oakland was rough, and I'm sure still is, and those friends I made through Alberto made life a whole lot easier for little Me.
Trust me I am going somewhere with this.
In 1980, mom and I became the first on the block to have a VCR. It was an old Betamax with arms for keys which almost took two hands to push down, and a "remote control" that was a pause button only, and you had to plug it in. We saved and saved for that Betamax, and Alberto was the one who went with me on a sojourn to Berkeley to spend 700 dollars (a fortune to me and mom) for that hulking dream machine. We took that beast on the bus, in a huge cardboard box, all the way back to East Oakland, with a Beta tape of John Carpenter's Halloween that had been budgeted in, clutched tightly in hand. That thing ran 57 bucks for your information.
So it goes without saying, Alberto also became my movie buddy in a big. big way. See I told you I was going somewhere with this...
So now we go back to 1981. June 13'th to be exact, a Saturday, and the second day of raiders' release. Alberto and I jump on the bus, and make our three-coach journey to Berkeley once again. This time with only ten bucks each, but we weren't buying a dream machine this time, we were hitting a dream palace. back to the California Theater in B-Town, CA, to see Radiers Of The Lost Ark. Oh hell yeah. It's right off a wooded area of the UC Berkeley campus, and Alberto and I snuck off into the trees by the little creek that runs through, and...mmmm...let's just say we made like Cheech and Chong, ok? I'll leave it there. The California Theater is also the same place I first saw Alien, two years before almost to the day, which I wrote about in an earlier installment of the "First Time I Saw" (which can be read HERE).
OK now we are getting somewhere. Right? Ok!.
So we go into the theater, or float in rather, and take our seats in an auditorium that is surprisingly empty. It was the early matinee though, and a sunny day, so I guess that had something to do with it. Now, we were both huge Star Wars fans (that's faded) but the glory of that blockbuster was dwarfed that Saturday afternoon. Deathstars and light sabers got trumped by twin prop airplanes and bullwhips. The wonder and perfection of those opening 12 minutes, when Indy and his little group of men make their way into the Chachapoyan temple to retrieve the Golden Idol (a symbol of fertility ironically, alluding to the playboy that Jones was in the original draft) was staggering. The pacing and tension, and oh my god that set ! When that giant boulder is released and Indy is like an ant caught in a pinball machine from Hell...I don;t usually call "perfection" but ding ding ding! I'm calling PERFECTION!
For the next 115 minutes I was lost in the world of occultist Nazi's, subterranean temples, exotic locales, and high adventure. That world was of course an updated and more realized version of the serials I was lucky enough to have seen on our local station KTVU, when host Creature Features Bob Wilkins would run them. I got It, and It was good!
Already a dyed in the wool horror fanatic, when that finale came, with Indy and his lover Marion Ravenwood tied up as the evil Nazi's lift the lid on the films mcguffin, the Ark of the Covenent, only to release a ghostly, almost demonic horde, that ripped through the pigs, their angelic fire literally melting them where they stood, was more like Rick Baker or Tom Savini's work than then hot FX guru John Dykstra, which is what we all kind of expected from a Lucas/Spielberg film, not gore. But FX designer Dennis Muren shocked us all with a
heavy dose of true splatter. Well played Mr. Walas, well played! It was gore, and rated R gore at that. I always wondered how that passed censors. Watching arch villain Major Arnold Toht's
face come off, to reveal a screaming skull, as his pestilent life is wiped from God's Earth...well it didn't make me a believer, but it sure as hell fucked up my head. When Indy screamed "Don't look Marion! Don't open your eyes!" how could we, the audience not? My eyes were a big as Toht's before they fell out of his skinless face!
Epic is not a strong enough word. Spielberg and Lucas delivered a film, talked about and agreed upon while building a sandcastle in Hawaii over a hand-shake, that stands immortal, and in turn helps immortalize the serials that inspired it, Flash Gordon and Don Winslow of the Navy namely, as well as Spy Smashers, Commander Cody, and Talespin (look 'em up!). Raiders Of The Lost Ark also helped immortalize that day in my life, freshly turned 14. it's permanently embedded in my noggin'.
So needless to say, Alberto and I walked out of there more than a little stunned, and pumped on adrenaline from such a killer flick. We went back to our hidden spot to reflect for a bit...and do another impression of Cheech and Chong, then made our way home to East Oakland.
Now, to finish up, and explain why I say it was one of the strangest days in my life. As we were transferring to our last homeward bound bus in downtown Oakland, at the foot of the Oakland Tribune building, an old terror reared its head.
A couple years before, when I was 12, a freak tried to pull me into his car. This chicken hawk literally ran up onto the sidewalk in his Mercedes to try to grab me. In broad daylight in that same neighborhood no less! I made my way, running and evading him as he jumped back in his ride and chased me, to the comic shop/arcade I hung out at as a kid (RIP Comicollectors, we'll always have Space Invaders!) and hid under the owners chair until the creep disappeared. Then someone walked me home.
So here we are, Alberto and I, standing at the bus stop, and here comes that Mercedes. The same guy. he actually pulls up to the bus stop and tries to talk me into crossing the street, then going fro a ride with him. sadly, the adults standing around didn't do a thing. As the guy persisted, I turn to Alberto, who doesn't look like he should be with me (a white boy rocker and Vato) and say "This is the guy I told you about who tried to kidnap me!". My pal immediately whips out the cats paw he carried as a weapon, and went to work on the dudes Mercedes with extreme prejudice, cracking his windshield and raking trench-like marks in his pristine pine green hood.
Guess who sped off and never ever bothered me again? We ended up laughing, and feeling more than a little like the danger defying hero we'd just cheered on the screen.
Yep, The First Time I Saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark? That was a day chock full'o bad guys losing to the heroes and getting their comeuppance!
Chock. Frickin'. Full! Thanks to Indana Jones...and Alberto cazares!
Steven Spielberg had bombed with 1941. His reputation was damaged, badly: another self-indulgent movie brat. And now he was trying to come back with a movie based on 1930s cliffhanging serials? With Han Solo in the lead? What possible relevance was that to me in 1981? None of my friends wanted to see it, so I ventured alone to the cavernous, mostly empty Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on a Saturday morning, the day after its release, IIRC, paid my money, sat down, the theatre darkened, and I waited to be won over. And then one thing after another started going wrong, and it felt so right. The rolling boulder was the topper, but it was the snake in the plane that really put a smile in my heart. And we were off to the races ...
First time I saw Raiders was my 6th birthday... My parents rented a VCR for my party (Beta!) and I got to pick two movies. I "programmed" RAIDERS and ALICE IN WONDERLAND, which I think is still pretty much me in a nutshell 20-something odd years later.
I would add something else personal, and perhaps pathological, about my RAIDERS experience... NAZIS. The connection between the Nazis being the "bad guys" and why they were "bad" bled nicely into the TIME LIFE WW2 book series my older brother owned, the ones I would sneak into his room to look at and wonder about. The black and white images were disturbing and interesting to me, setting off a cavalcade of questions that I've since never tired of asking. I'd say that my interest in WW2 and holocaust studies (I majored in Film and Modern European Studies at UBC) was due, in no small part, to my seeing the black and white "bad guys" from TIME LIFE come to life in RAIDERS. Oh, and the melty face thing was awesome, too.
(A pathological attraction to my history professors could also be linked to RAIDERS, though I don't recall ever professing my devotion to them on my eyelids.)
I was a Star Wars nut and went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark because Han Solo was in it. Well, that and the few, FEW clips shown on television looked awesome. Remember, this was 1981 and I was twelve.
My parents didn't take me often to the movies, it was basically an event which happened once every two years or so. Raiders was probably the 4th or 5th movie I had ever seen in a cinema, after "Asterix Conquers Rome", "Bambi", "The Blues Brothers" and "The Empire Strikes Back" (I didn't see "Star Wars" until a year later, on video, at a friends place who owned one of the ten video-players in the entire region).
I had never imagined successfully nagging my parents to take me to "Raiders" as it had been less than half a year since "Empire". But my father had started to enjoy the art of the car chase (hence that "Blues Brothers"screening...) and the clip on television had showed a kick-ass one, so he took me anyway.
Needless to say our minds were blown although my father did on occasion mutter "that doesn't work if you try it in real life...". It was the first film that exceeded my threshold for horror. I loved it but was too scared to watch it again until years later.
Looking at it now I see the artifice, the effects. But also the astonishing craftsmanship in it. There's homage, but it kicks all other movies' butts as well.
But when I was twelve? A Catholic boy who knew the entire Moses story by heart, enough so to consider "The Ten Commandments" to be a straight prequel? Spielberg took me for a ride and it was non-stop exhilarating, awesome and scary. Without a doubt one of my best viewing experiences ever.
I never saw movies again like I did when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
It was a friend's birthday party and two adults took about a dozen 6-7 year-olds boys, already stuffed with pizza and cola, to a movie that was full of violence and religion and Nazis. I don't know how much I actually understood of what was going on in that cinema as we were collectively whooping it up and covering our eyes together in the dark. (It wasn't the ghost and melting baddies at the end, it was simply Arnold Toht (vintage character actor Ronald Lacey) and his lizard-smile - any time he was onscreen.) But we knew Awesome when we saw it. It was my delight that my father, who really wanted to see the movie, took me (and my brother) back to the film the next week, making Raiders of The Lost Ark the first film that I got to see TWICE in the cinema; something that despite being regular movie-goers, going again was unheard of. It is also thrilling to know what is coming up and anticipate the hell out of it with a "I love this part!" whisper. The film was the trail-blazer in our film-going routine such that by the summer of 1984 revisiting summer adventure movies (Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters, Gremlins) multiple times became a beloved tradition.
It was March 1992, just a few months after my first experiences with the films of George Lucas (Star Wars on VHS) and Steven Spielberg (Hook on the big screen), when the Adventures of Young Indiana Jones premiered on ABC. It was the first television show that felt like a real event for me (not just an afternoon of Fox cartoons or a Friday night of TGIF sitcoms). Piggy backing on the show's premiere CBS held the broadcast premiere of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. So I saw Young Indy and Crusade first, but this all snowballed within a week or two of each other. My parents scratched their heads as to why I had yet to see Raiders, so without a second thought we rented Raiders and I've been citing it as "the most perfect entertainment" ever since.
I must admit that the exact timing of first seeing [b]Raiders of the Lost Ark[/b] is a bit iffy, but it was certainly sometime during the summer of '81, and it remains etched in my mind as one of my earliest exceptional filmgoing experiences.
I was five when I saw Star Wars, and thus 8 for Empire Strikes Back and nine for Raiders.
In other words, these movies were made for me.
I have vivid memories of where I saw Star Wars (Town and Country cinemas in the North of Toronto) and where I sat (half way back, on far screen right) years before. Empire I saw at some crappy venue in a mall in New Brunswick, a venue that's probably still as miserable.
For Raiders, I had the treat of heading into town to a genuine movie palace. The Eglinton Grand is one of those perfect places to see a film like this one, its Art Deco decor speaking of a time gone by, when plush seats, ornamental decorations and big screens and great sound were the norm.
My interest had been piqued, of course, at seeing Han Solo in another film with Lucas' name attached to the script. The poster said it all - "From the makers of [b]Star Wars[/b] and Jaws" - what more would I need?! I think I was even savvy enough to know that Kasdan had written both this film and Empire, but Spielberg was still an unknown quantity at that time for me. As I wrote in my piece on Jaws, I had all this built up anxiety about the fishy film, and if my timing is right, I believe it was after Raiders that I finally had the guts to tackle that other masterpiece.
From the opening shots of Sapito and Indy walking through the South American jungle, I was completely hooked. Heck, I think even that dissolve from the Paramount logo to the mysterious mountain gave me chills.
As an impressionable young Semitic kid, this was my filmic introduction to the Nazis being overtly bad guys. Beloq was an unknown thing to me, this kind of subtle ans suave bad guy, but the Nazis were the real thing, especially when Dietrich spits out his concern about the overtly "Jewish Ritual" that he, Toht and Beloq are to perform.
I'd like to say I completely remember the first time I saw the faces melt, but I became kind of obsessed with that sequence in later years, and it remains one of the most fantastical I'd ever seen. I laughed with glee when Indy shoots the guy with the sword, I squirmed with the snakes ("Asps... very dangerous"), and I was at the edge of my seat when I saw our hero jump from a horse to a truck, soon later using his whip to ride underneath a truck.
It was years before I knew about Yakima Canutt, or Treasure of the Siera Madre, or even the original serials that Lucas, Kasdan and Spielberg drew from. It was at a gas station that I accidentally stumbled on something in a magazine rack that I'd treasure to this day, a store close to that theater in New Brunswick where the summer before I'd had my [b]Empire[/b] screening. It was a magazine-like publication about the making of the film. It included names like Frank Marshall talking of shooting in France, or Dennis Muren talking about making the faces melt with heat guns and Jello. This was my opening into the technical side of film-making, my first real and thorough glimpse behind the Wizard's curtain.
These were not just images dancing on a screen, a film was the product of real people engineering something that appeared truly magical yet was the result of hard work and ingenuity. I'd subsequently dive into all notions of what ILM could achieve (suddenly the ships in Star Wars were made simultaneously more and less real!), and became pretty much obsessed for much of the 80s and early 90s with this golden age of practical effects. By the time [b]Jurassic Park[/b] hit, I knew more about Phil Tippet than I did about Sam Neil or Laura Dern.
I've since seen Raiders at least a dozen times on the big screen (including twice seeing the newest Blu-ray master projected at TIFF's Lightbox earlier this year). It remains one of the only true, pure and perfect films I can point to, a masterpiece (if accidental) that's nearly unparalleled. It remains as iconic as when I first say it some 30-plus years ago. Not a day goes by I don't wish I too spoke Hovitos, where I'll respond to a request with "no time to argue", where I'll giggle at pontoon planes with OB1-CP0 on the side, or two droids etched into a column as Hieroglyphs.
The last film I saw at the Eglinton was days before it closed, they went out with a bang by showing The Fellowship of the Ring. I sat in a similar spot to where I'd been decades earlier, falling for another epic film with an appreciative crowd. Soon after the venue was changed into an event hall. I was there a few years back for a wedding, and I stood in the area where the seats once laid, looked at the space where the screen was once pulled taught, and remembered, vividly, that day I sat foot in my first real movie theater and watched the man with the hat and whip do his inimitable thing.
Looking back on my first time, I'll most remember that I saw a film as it should be seen, in a beautiful room with an appreciative crowd, with impeccable sound and picture. My best moments at the cinema remain ones where I can, if for the briefest of the moments, love a film as much as I did when I was that nine year old kid sitting in that magical place.
Don't remember the year but I was full aware of who Spielberg and Lucas were and what they meant for film at the time. I wasn't allowed to see it theatrically because of the face melting once the Ark was opened. I was only eight. It would be a couple (?) years later - for the life of me I cannot find which year Raiders was on VHS first. The Pearsons lived behind us and they rented a VCR and Raiders and asked if we wanted to join them. Hell. If a pansey like Mark and his little sister Lynn could see it then so could we. Their dad Lloyd rewound the face melting scene over and over again for us. I'm sure we squealed with delight.
The first time I saw Raiders, it was actually an old Raiders making of they used to run on TV. I must have seen that thing a dozen times before I realized it wasn't the actual movie. So I begged my parents to let me see the real deal, and when they finally did, I was horrified by the face melting. But that didn't stop me from going back for more.
So there you have it readers, the Twitch Hive Mind has spoken! Now it's your turn! Bring it!
Also, be sure to pick-up up Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures, it's sure to be one of the box releases of the year. For more great Indiana Jones related stuff, you'll be a happy adventurer if you can pick yourself up a copy of The Complete Making Of Indiana Jones by J.W. Rinzler, which extensively covers all four films and their production, or grab one of these little guys to save your gold in...it's a Golden Idol piggy bank while you can still find one.
Check out the IMAX clips for Raiders Of the Lost Ark below, and we'll see you Friday!