The Story of the Amulet in The Bar Fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Steven Spielberg always offers are what he calls “Anchor Points.” He establishes a geography of items, props, and set design relative to each other. In this way he keeps the audience to how all the pieces of a scene fit together. The distances are not always literally accurate between the anchor points. This isn’t the point. The point is to make sure the audience can track, cut to cut, the how the elements in a scene fit together and connect to each other. This way, when we are watching a scene some part of a our brain isn’t trying to figure out what is going on but rather enjoying how all the actors, props, and set pieces are interacting as the scene progresses. (Compare to some fight sequences today at the other end of the spectrum where we really have no idea where anyone stands in relation to each other or the room and an action fight is nothing more than a series of tight shots of fights flashing across the screen or hitting each other.)

The first shot in the clip from Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example, shows the medallion and the table it is on in the foreground, and the bar in the background. Later we’ll see the fire pit in the foreground and the bar in the background.)

Spielberg never lets himself be limited by the geography (that is, he’s not pacing out every foot in the fight). But because he’s established the anchors anyone watching the sequence can think, “Oh, okay, that guy is by the bar… Okay, that guy is behind the table with the medallion…” and we don’t get tossed cutting from one person to the next because there’s a sense of “The characters are standing by places and objects we’ve seen in relation to each other.” it feels concrete and each shot connected… even when the shots are disconnected or even when Spielberg cheats.

Also with Spielberg: Clarity of cause and effect. Each moment is given a beginning, middle, and end, and time to breathe.

Significantly, the fate of the medallion is given it’s own little story in the scene.

We see set on table, table knocked over and drenched in liquor, liquor set on fire, medallion too hot to pick up, medallion finally recovered by Miriam. The medallion is what the fight is about, so Spielberg tracks the fate of the medallion through out the fight and allows it its own little journey within the film.

This is not as much of a no-brainer as it might seem.

Another storyteller/director might have a big fight full of chaos and action, with bullets flying and a fire starting somewhere in the background, and then toward the end of the fight might have cut to a shot of the medallion lying in the flames when the villain sees it and runs for it. We would have missed the journey the medallion had taken–and all the intervening actions of the characters making such a journey possible. But Spielberg and Kasdan gives us one clear step after another of the medallion’s fate, and each step is a series specific cause and effect elements created in concrete ways by the characters.

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