I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull last night. To my great surprise, I was entertained throughout! I expected it to suck badly, and now, in the cold light of day and outside the excitement of actually watching the film, I agree with the many substantive screenwriting complaints that Mystery Man is collecting on his website. (Warning: spoilers galore on that site.) I think what happened is that The Phantom Menace (et al.) set the bar so low for George Lucas movies, and Firewall (et al.) set it so low for Harrison Ford movies, that with Steven Spielberg’s countervailing, still-pretty-good filmmaking sense, the new movie vaulted those bars easily.
Of course I already knew from the trailer that the film alludes to the 1947 Roswell UFO incident, just as my own speculative Indy IV story did more than a year ago — but I had a tiny moment of amazement when Indiana Jones actually uttered the word “Etruscan,” which also figures in my story. What are the odds? And where’s my royalty check?
Update 26 May: Mystery Man has a new post up that comprehensively itemizes the serious flaws in the Indy IV script. I agree with almost all of it, and like commenter Kevin Lehane I like the movie less the more I think about it.
The rousing musical score that John Williams wrote for Raiders of the Lost Ark included several melodic themes: two for Indiana Jones and one for Marion, a motif for the German army, and of course a theme for the lost ark itself, suitably spooky. As an avid fan of the film and of John Williams I’ve listened to the score countless times over the past 27 years. But as a musical layman, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I noticed something clever that John Williams seemed to be doing with the Ark Theme.
We hear the Ark Theme for the first time when Indiana Jones shows an illustration of the ark to the Army intelligence men who come to meet him.
As you can perhaps hear in that clip, the melody doesn’t quite resolve; it segues into a few notes’ worth of Indy’s theme (a.k.a. “The Raiders March”). But the Ark’s theme is heard again just a few moments later when Marcus expresses his misgivings about this assignment to Indy.
In this clip, Indy starts out thinking about his old flame — “Suppose she’ll still be with him?” — and Marion’s theme plays for a few bars, but then Marcus tells him, “For nearly three thousand years, man has been searching for the lost ark,” at which point the Ark Theme comes in. But once again it does not resolve, segueing this time into the flying-boat travel montage.
The next time the Ark Theme appears, Indy is in the Map Room. This scene is divided into four sequences, each of which includes a rendition of the Ark Theme, each separated from the others by a cut to Indy’s friend Sallah, who’s waiting for him outside.
In the first Map Room sequence, Indy lowers himself by rope into the room and looks at the miniature city on the floor. The Ark Theme plays almost to completion, but leaves off the final note when cutting to Sallah being harassed by some German soldiers.
Next Indy deciphers some hieroglyphics and checks the position of the sun. The Ark Theme plays barely halfway through this time.
Now Indy affixes the medallion to the Staff of Ra, places the staff in the proper hole, and fervidly awaits the proper alignment of the sun. At last the angle is right and a brilliant beam of light reveals the location of the Well of the Souls! The music reaches a crescendo and a satisfying resolution — but while Indy was waiting for the sunlight to creep across the Map Room floor, the melody modulated into another key. We still have not heard the Ark Theme play from beginning to end!
In the coda to the Map Room scene, Indy snaps the Staff of Ra in two and looks for his rope to climb out, but it’s missing. Sallah drops an improvised replacement into the hole. The Ark Theme peters out on a visual gag: Indy discovering a Nazi flag knotted into his makeshift rope.
In the very next scene, Indy, disguised (poorly) as an Arab, ducks hastily out of sight when some soldiers approach too closely. He enters a tent and discovers, tied to a tent pole, Marion — who he thought had been killed! He’s about to free her when he realizes he can’t without raising an alarm. Marion wonders why he’s not cutting her bonds. He tells her, “I know where the ark is, Marion,” and we hear the Ark Theme again. As he explains and she becomes frantic, the music segues into Marion’s theme.
Next, Indy uses a surveying instrument to convert his Map Room calculations into an actual location for digging. A variation on the Ark Theme plays, still unresolved.
A short time later, Indy arrives at his calculated location with a team of diggers. He clambers up a rise alone, scopes it out, and calls his team over. The first half of the Ark Theme plays three times in slightly different forms, and there’s a crescendo as Indy removes the first shovelful of sand, but it’s still not a resolution of the complete Ark Theme.
We get a few notes of the Ark Theme again (listen closely) as Indy and Sallah heave the stone cover off the chest protecting the ark…
…and then a few more as they lift the ark out of its container…
…and another few when Belloq spots the illicit dig early in the morning (“Colonel, wake your men!”)…
…and then once more as German soldiers converge on Indy’s dig site. Once again the final resolving note is left off.
The next appearance of the Ark Theme comes much later. The main characters are now all on a secret Nazi island submarine base. The Ark Theme accompanies the procession of Belloq, Marion, a lot of Germans, and the ark itself (and secretly Indy too) across the island to the ceremonial altar. It’s interrupted when Indy steps out of hiding and levels a bazooka at the group.
Indy’s bluff is called, and he’s captured and brought to the altar to witness the opening of the ark. Belloq mutters some sacred words in Aramaic, the ark is opened — and the stone tablets are not inside, just a bunch of sand. (Psych!) Disappointment turns to bewilderment, though, as the electrical equipment shorts out and an eerie fog spills out of the ark. Here’s the Ark Theme again. This time, just before it resolves it gives way to a danse-macabre version of itself.
That version also doesn’t resolve. Instead it becomes a staccato nightmare as the power of the ark is unleashed.
Finally, the one and only time in the whole film that the Ark Theme is heard from beginning to end, complete with a melodic resolution in the same key, comes as the ark purifies the island by fire, then seals itself back up.
The long-awaited resolution of the Ark Theme creates a sensation of finality. The music subconsciously reinforces the action on the screen: hearing the melody conclude at last, there can be no question that that’s all we’ll see or hear from the ark. Not even the film’s final scene, in which the ark is packed away in a crate inside a gigantic warehouse, repeats the resolution.
Now let’s see if the new sequel betrays that satisfying sense of finality by “going back to the well,” as it were (the Well of Souls!) and unearthing the ark again.
As I’ve written before, there were a lot of things that bothered me about The Empire Strikes Back. But I was only thirteen when I saw it, and a diehard Star Wars fan. It took years even to admit I didn’t like it much, and decades to be able to articulate my complaints. But there was one problem with it that I was able to identify immediately in the summer of 1980: the soft, pinkish light in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. It hadn’t looked that way in the original, where the cockpit was shades of grey and fluorescent lighting and harsh shadows.
Had Han Solo had an interior decorator revamp his ship between the two films?
I wondered why the new lighting scheme bothered me so much. It could have been simply that change is painful — after all, the Millennium Falcon was already the coolest spaceship in sci-fi history, and you don’t mess with success. But I felt there must be a more substantive reason, and as I searched for it, I slowly awoke to the importance of production design, and specifically the cleverness of the color palette in the original Star Wars.
In that film, space is black, sprinkled with white stars. Spaceships are off-white and gunmetal grey. Stormtroopers, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia wear white. Darth Vader wears black. The surface and buildings of Tatooine are shades of beige, bleached by the sun. Inside the Death Star: grey walls and floors, grey-uniformed officers, black prison cells.
Everything is stark. There is almost no color in Star Wars — except when lasers are firing, lightsabers are clashing, and spaceships are exploding. Then what might have been only a modestly exciting action sequence is amplified, by contrast with the rest of the film’s chromatic drabness, into literally a dazzling thrill.
In 1939, when The Wizard of Oz shifted abruptly from dreary greys into Technicolor, audiences were exhilarated. Ingeniously, the art directors of Star Wars took that one tremendous sensation, chopped it up into small doses, and meted it out to their audience in electrifying little jolts throughout the entire movie — a strategy that the designers of Empire, with its more liberal and therefore less effective use of color, unwisely chose to forgo.
[This post is participating in Cerebral Mastication’s Indiana Jones blog-a-thon.]
As high school wound down for me in the spring of 1984, my class load was pretty light and I put in more time at my afterschool programming job in the Flatiron district. My occasional wanderings in that neighborhood — running errands, finding lunch, etc. — took me past several wholesale import shops, some with large storefronts displaying selected items from their stock in the window. One day as the premiere of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom grew near, I passed one such store and saw something that gave me an idea.
Two years earlier, my friends and I had attended a sneak-preview screening of E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial. When the house lights came up at the end, we noted with amusement two manly men seated a couple of rows away, complete with Caterpillar trucking caps, too overcome with emotion to get up and leave the theater right away. “This is going to be huge,” we predicted. And we had an idea.
A few months before that, New York magazine published an article about our school called “The Joyful Elite” (original article). It inspired equal measures of pride and outrage: pride because it said we were some of New York City’s smartest kids, and outrage because it said we acted like we knew it. The school was in an uproar for several days because of it; and so my friends and I capitalized on that. In those pre-Zazzle days we found a novelty printing shop in the Yellow Pages (called “Abat,” which I’ll never forget because of the memorably gruff way the owner answered the phone: “’Lo, Abat”) and ordered a large batch of “Joyful Elite” buttons. When we got them a couple of days later, we carried our supply through the hallways between classes, selling them to students and faculty for two dollars apiece. They sold like hotcakes and we made hundreds of dollars! (A big deal, in high school in the 80’s.)
So when the lights came up after E.T. and we knew it was going to be a hit, we saw a profit-making opportunity. We had Abat print up a batch of “I ♥ E T” buttons and congregated outside a big midtown theater on the film’s opening day. Aware that we were crossing some sort of a line with respect to merchandise licensing, we prepared a story to tell any law-enforcement official who asked that the buttons meant, “I love Edison Tech,” our (made-up) alma mater. Fortunately no law-enforcement official ever required us to test the quality of that lie — perhaps because we sold a grand total of two buttons to exiting moviegoers. Our immediate post-mortem explanation for our failure was that everyone who sees E.T. leaves the theater too verklempt to engage in crass commercialism. On further thought, a button was not much of a way to commemorate the E.T.-viewing experience; but at that time the only tool we had was a hammer (the hammer of printing novelty buttons) and every problem looked like a nail. The excess inventory, a cartonful of “I ♥ E T” buttons, sat in my mom’s apartment for decades. If only we’d had some sort of item to sell that was more subject-matter-appropriate.
Anyway, when I passed that importer’s storefront two years later — with the opening of the first Indiana Jones sequel just a few days away — and my eyes alighted on bagsful of six-foot-long imitation-leather bullwhips for a dollar apiece, I snatched up several dozen.
I brought them with me to the premiere showing of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I arrived early enough to be near the head of a line that eventually wound from the box office of the Loews Orpheum (then on 86th Street — where I also lined up early for the premieres of Return of the Jedi the previous year and The Empire Strikes Back three years before that), down the block, and around two corners. I set a big bag of bullwhips on the ground by my feet. When my friends arrived later to hold my place in line, I made periodic forays along the ever-lengthening queue of people to sell my bullwhips for five bucks apiece, and I cleaned up. Many eager purchasers wanted to know why I wasn’t selling fedoras, too. (Answer: I’d thought of that, but they were too expensive.) A cop came and tried to shut me down but I talked him into accepting a free bullwhip instead and he left me alone.
When we put this painting (by local artist and acquaintance Judy Morris) on the wall a few years ago, I commented to Andrea that it made me think of me and my dad, when I was a kid.
A short time later, we asked Jonah what it made him think of. He said, “Me and Daddy” — which made me wonder why I identified with the child in the picture and not the adult. I really did think it looked like a long-ago version of my dad and me — but no one else thought so. I really didn’t think it looked anything like me and Jonah — but Jonah does.
So, is it in fact a magic “me and my dad” painting, altering the perceptions of all who view it?
One of the big memes cruising the Information Superhighway last week was Esquire magazine’s list of “The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master.” I’ve reproduced their list here (but not the commentary accompanying each list item; I hope this constitutes “fair use“) in order to explore how well I’m doing on each of the things in the list. Without further ado:
Give a woman an orgasm so that he doesn’t have to ask after it. Gentlemen don’t tell.
Be loyal. To a fault? Check.
Know his poison, without standing there, pondering like a dope. Is it too unmanly if my “poison” is a Cosmopolitan?
Drive an eightpenny nail into a treated two-by-four without thinking about it. I admit: I stink at this. I bend more nails into useless shapes than I manage to drive in properly.
Cast a fishing rod without shrieking or sighing or otherwise admitting defeat. The one and only time I did this was 1976. I did OK.
Play gin with an old guy. Just wait, soon I’ll be the old guy.
Play go fish with a kid. Haven’t done it, and it’s high time I did.
Understand quantum physics well enough that he can accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass straight through the table when dropped. In fact I understand it well enough to know why some people might think this is possible but also why it will in fact never happen.
Feign interest. Check.
Make a bed. Check.
Describe a glass of wine in one sentence without using the terms nutty, fruity, oaky, finish, or kick. That’s a cinch. At home, where we have many bottles of wine that predate having children, I can often be heard to say, “I think this wine has turned to vinegar — but I’m not really sure.”
Hit a jump shot in pool. Gonna have to work on that one.
Dress a wound. Hey. I have two young boys. We have a whole shelf that’s just Band-Aids and Bactine.
Jump-start a car (without any drama). Change a flat tire (safely). Change the oil (once). I have attended, but not performed, oil changes. Same thing with jump starts; they scare me a bit. I have changed a flat tire a couple of times and did a fine job of it.
Make three different bets at a craps table. I’ll see your “make three different bets at a craps table” and I’ll raise you a “write craps-playing software.”
Shuffle a deck of cards. Check.
Tell a joke. My favorite:
A cop is parked at the side of the highway when he sees a convertible go by with the top down. A man is driving and in the back seat there are six penguins. The cop says to himself, “This oughta be good,” pulls onto the road, and in a minute has the convertible pulled to the side.
“What are you doing with these penguins, sir?” he asks the driver.
“Honestly I’m not really sure what to do with them, officer,” says the driver. “They just showed up in my car this morning. I’d be grateful for any suggestions.”
The cop rolls his eyes and says, “Why don’t you just take them to the zoo?”
“The zoo. OK, thanks!” says the driver, and the cop lets him go.
The next day, the same cop is in the same spot by the highway and sees the same convertible drive by with the same six penguins in the backseat! Again he pulls the car over.
“I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo!” says the cop to the driver.
“I did!” says the driver. “And we had so much fun, today we’re going to the movies!”
Know when to split his cards in blackjack. Yes, but you’ll seldom catch me playing blackjack, because I don’t like the nasty looks I get from other players at the table when they think I’ve made a wrong play and they don’t get the cards they were supposed to.
Speak to an eight-year-old so he will hear. Check.
Install: a disposal, an electronic thermostat, or a lighting fixture without asking for help. Does it have to be one of those three specific things? I’ve done several other, similar things.
Ask for help. Check.
Break another man’s grip on his wrist. Don’t you have to be a Vulcan or something?
Tell a woman’s dress size. I thought it was universal for a man to tell a shopgirl, “She’s about your size,” when buying clothes for his gal.
Recite one poem from memory. Check (including one or two that aren’t even by me).
Remove a stain. Check.
Say no. Yes.
Fry an egg sunny-side up. Here again, I must admit to many tries and many failures. What could be easier? And while I’m pretty handy in the kitchen, I’ve never once managed a sunny-side-up egg that wasn’t brown and rubbery.
Build a campfire. I’ve never been camping. (All together: “You’ve never been camping?!”) But I’ve built some decent fireplace fires in my time, even with no Duraflame logs around.
Step into a job no one wants to do. Done.
Sometimes, kick some ass. With rhetoric? Check.
Break up a fight. The opportunity hasn’t presented itself.
Know that Christopher Columbus was a son of a bitch.Check.
Throw a baseball over-hand with some snap. Check.
Throw a football with a tight spiral. My spiral could be tighter.
Shoot a 12-foot jump shot reliably. Not if my life depended on it.
Find his way out of the woods if lost. You keep your left hand on the wall — no, wait, you carve an X on each tree you pass — no, wait, you build a small fire and watch which way the smoke blows — no, wait you — oh screw it, I’ll just summon some friendly anthropomorphic woodland creatures by singing and they’ll help me.
Tie a knot. Right over left; left over right. Got it.
Tomorrow marks one year since my mom died, but I prefer to commemorate this, the anniversary of her last good day. It’s a comfort that she had a good day so close to the end, especially since things had not been good for her for a while.
I flew to New York on the preceding Saturday to give my sister Suzanne a week’s respite. She’d been shouldering the burden of caring for our mom and was burned out.
I spent much of Sunday with my mom in her room at the nursing home where she stayed in between trips to the hospital for radiation therapy. I knew that her health had been deteriorating but was still surprised by her fragmentary awareness and her hallucinations. It was hard to get her to eat or drink anything. By Monday morning it was clear she was getting a lot worse; among other things, she was severely dehydrated and increasingly confused. When the EMT’s came to bring her to the hospital for her radiation treatment, I made a snap decision and ordered a trip to the ER instead. (“Good call,” the driver told me.) I spent most of the rest of the day there, in the ER, waiting at her bedside to get through the interminable triage process. I prefer not to remember the discomfort she was in for most of that time.
But by Tuesday morning, one year ago today, things were looking up. She had been moved to a private suite in a brand-new, ultramodern wing of the hospital. She was medicated, rehydrated, and swathed in clean sheets. She was comfortable for the first time in days, and positively cheerful. She was still a bit confused (losing track of the conversation from time to time) and was still hallucinating (imagining that fluffy cotton strands were drifting down from the ceiling, once in a while trying to pick one off where it had “fallen” onto her arm), but unlike the previous few days, these things didn’t seem to bother her. If anything, she seemed delighted by the occasional strangeness, which was very like her.
We chatted about how nice the new hospital wing was; about her latest medical tests and the latest news from the doctors; about the unworthy trash on every TV channel; about Suzanne, productively back at work; and about my kids, of whom she could not hear enough news, of course. She smiled often and laughed a few times.
We spent an enjoyable morning together. Unfortunately, I made periodic forays out of her room to track down one or another of her doctors and pester them for the latest information, and the news was not good. Her kidneys had shut down. There were signs of sepsis.
By early afternoon they had decided to move her to the ICU and I was told (politely) to scram. They’d call me when it was OK to visit her again. I was assured it would be a few hours. So I headed from Queens into Manhattan to meet Suzanne. At that late hour we still believed there was a good chance our mom would squeak through this medical crisis, surprising everyone once again as she had done six years earlier; and so we spent a wonderfully unworried evening, eating, conversing, and strolling through lower Manhattan together, and making a memorable visit to the patio on the rooftop of her office building, taking in the sights and sounds of New York City on a warm spring night from a dozen stories above the street.
And then came the call from the hospital. One of the doctors told me, in very carefully chosen words, that our mom’s condition was extremely serious and that this was a good time to visit — conveying very clearly, without coming out and saying so, that this could be our last chance to visit. Suzanne grabbed some of her things from her apartment and we drove back to Queens, arranging for our dad to meet us at the hospital.
Our mom was intubated, breathing with the help of a respirator, and so couldn’t speak; but she was awake and aware. We spoke encouragingly to her for a bit. The doctor told us that her condition was deteriorating, and that furthermore they had discovered some previously undiagnosed new cancer. Our dad arrived and had a few private minutes with her. By this time it was quite late at night so we told her we were going back to Dad’s house and would return in the morning. Our mom mouthed the words, “I love you.” It’s the last time we saw her conscious. Considering what followed the next day, it was about the best possible ending to this day.
Dancing: jubilant, energetic expression of the human experience, or chilling bizarro psychodrama? You be the judge.
The South Seas Club is where the Hollywood elite of 1938 go to hobnob and to preen. Struggling actress wannabe Jenny and her ragamuffin boyfriend Cliff have often joked about coming here, and now here she is in the company of top leading man Neville Sinclair. When he leads her to the dance floor, even though the band isn’t playing (“I hear music,” he insists seductively, gazing into her eyes), it’s like a dream come true — or is it? Little does Jenny know that Neville Sinclair is a Nazi spy who’s using her to get to Cliff, who has the rocket pack prototype that the Germans want in order to create an army of flying commandos! But Cliff knows it and is speeding to Jenny’s rescue. We know it too, but that’s not all that makes the scene unnerving — it’s also Jenny’s palpable sense that this unfolding scene is too strangely perfect and too damn easy.
(From The Rocketeer.)
What does a psychotic supercriminal do when besieged by an also-somewhat-unbalanced superhero after climbing to the belfry of an improbably tall gothic cathedral? Why, waltz with his pretty (but weirdly limp) hostage while his ineffectual goons eliminate themselves trying to take on the costumed hero one at a time.
(From Batman .)
Nothing says “joy of motion” like starving a chubby coed in a dank pit in your cellar while videotaping yourself in drag, dancing naked with your penis hidden between your legs.
(From The Silence of the Lambs.)
[Extra special thanks to sister Suzanne for some excellent suggestions for this post.]
Having had two children in April (on purpose), the same month that tax returns are due and that Northern California weather starts permitting, nay, demanding trip-taking and visitor-hosting, means we’re doomed to have an inhumanly busy month each year, especially since we’re big believers in hosting giant birthday parties and also since I can’t resist a complicated, well-executed April Fools prank. Leaving Danger and concluding an epic job hunt (about which more in a later post) during the same month only meant that our utterances this year of our traditional April mantra were more frequent and prompted more easily than before:
“You need to shave.” “In May.”
“Aren’t you coming to sleep?” “In May.”
“Can you answer the phone?” “In May.”
Addendum: Now that it’s the first of May and it’s possible to contemplate some of the things I’ve been putting off, among the other things that start today is my latest push to reach my target weight of 150 pounds. At a pound a week I can (coincidentally) reach it exactly on my birthday.