Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Class: Raiders of the Lost Ark

(Nepalese) Shrimp Curry
(Peruvian) Warm Wheat Berry, Quinoa, & Mango Salad
(North African) Lamb Stew w/ Cauliflower "Couscous"
(American) Strawberry Shortcake

First off, this is part one of my "of the" double bill. And by that I mean the next film is also titled "Something of the Something." So try to guess what that'll be.

Class went extremely well, though we were a bit rushed. I had a lot of food and movie to discuss before serving and eating. But everyone seemed quite pleased. Also, always glad to see how many return attendees I had. We even had one person who hadn't seen Raiders of the Lost Ark before. It's always a treat for me to see a movie with someone who's never seen it before.

You know when I began this adventure I was just sort of randomly picking movies I love and seeing what I could do food-wise with them. But I also avoided some movies I love mostly because I wanted to get this all figured out before I tackled them, and also because they tend to have an abundance of material written about them already (and that means hours and hours of research!) While some films don't have much written about them at all - either in print or online - others have enough material to fill a skyscraper with... like this one. But that doesn't mean Raiders of the Lost Ark is a "better" or more "important" movie than say The Lady Vanishes, for example. I just want to make that clear. The Lady Vanishes was made at a time when entertainment was not as dissected nor studied even in universities the way it is now.

As with the gal who hadn't seen the movie before, I was watching this video of an interview with Spielberg & Ford from last year at the 30th Anniversary screening in Los Angeles. Early on Spielberg noted that from the looks of the audience there were not many people, he guessed, old enough to have seen Raiders when it was first in the theaters. Boy, did I suddenly feel old. Yes, I was there. For the pre-opening night late show screening at the Regency theater (before they converted it into the Regency I & II) in San Francisco way back in 1981. I even remember I was sitting in the balcony. I was very excited to see it because I was, like Spielberg & Lucas, a huge fan of the old movie serials. They still ran Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon amongst other old serials on TV back when I was a young'un. (If you'd like to watch some of these old movie serials, they have a nice collection at the Internet Archive.)

One thing that makes Raiders so near-perfect is that you don't need the cultural references to enjoy the film. One of my best and dearest (going back to high school) friends' older brother, philosopher Noel Carroll, has written about Raiders, noting, "For one part of the audience, ostensibly the youngsters, these are rousing adventure sagas. But the more seasoned among us are asked to view them also as remembrances of things past, of comic books and serials, and of times of which it is said that good and evil were sharply cleaved." So, not knowing the cultural references doesn't deter nor make your experiencing of the film any less enjoyable than someone who is referencing, as can happen in other films which overly-allude to other films and your appreciation of them is dependent on your pop culture knowledge.

Now I should mention since we're venturing into George Lucas-land - and please don't be mad at me - but I was never a fan of the Star Wars films. I guess I was just too old to really appreciate the first one when it came out. The films I was digging that year (1977) included Annie Hall, The American Friend, Eraserhead, Bunuel's The Obscure Object of Desire and, of course, Spielberg's Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (not the special edition, please). I did see Star Wars, but it just didn't rock my world. Sorry. (But if you're interested, there is this adorable Star Wars Cookbook you can buy. I do have a copy, fyi.) So you won't be seeing me giving any Star Wars film the Chef du Cinema treatment. But I really love Raiders and it is a testament to the work all the participants put into it that it stands up so well 31 years later. (And I'll also mention that I dislike all the Raiders sequels. Again, sorry to those who worship them.)

Raiders of the Lost Ark is available for purchase @ Amazon.


"Jones, do you realize what the ark is? It's a transmitter. It's a radio for speaking to God!"

The story of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as mentioned above, has been told many times, but I'll just give you a quick version of it all with some interesting trivia I brought up during class. Also, a lot of the interviews and material I'm quoting from are featured in the amazing "filmumentary" by Jamie Benning which I highly recommend viewing. It took eight months to compile and he has done a truly incredible job. So thank you Jamie for making my job here a heck of a lot easier.

So let us begin....

"George and I had planned this vacation together in Hawaii" in 1977, Spielberg recalled. "He was going to get away from the Star Wars opening, which has become a tradition with both of us over the years."

So according to legend, they were building sandcastles on the beach when Lucas asked Spielberg what he had in mind for his next film. "You know what I've always wanted to do is direct a James Bond picture.," Spielberg said. And Lucas, according to Spielberg, responded: "I got that beat.... I have a better idea. It's called Raiders of the Lost Ark."

[W]ell, then it was actually called Indiana Smith," recalled Lucas. He told Spielberg: "'It's kind of a supernatural adventure. it takes place in the 30's, just like a Saturday matinée serial. It's just like James Bond, only better.”

Spielberg later said in reference to Bond, "I always envisioned the character of Indiana Jones as a real throwback movie hero: a lover and a cad and a two-fisted hellion.... [U]nlike James Bond, he doesn't win every fight he's in. He gets to the edge of the cliff, and sometimes he goes over the other side. He doesn't necessarily survive every cliffhanger unscathed. That was one of the things I was determined to do. I didn't want this man to get into this kind of action and come away with white teeth and washed hands. Instead he comes away cut and bruised and battered and wonderfully in pain."

Spielberg was immediately interested in getting involved, but Lucas had already started developing the idea with another writer/director, Philip Kaufman. It was Kaufman who contributed the "lost ark" business (see Background & Context section below) after a tale his childhood dentist had told him while getting a tooth filled. But then Kaufman bowed out and Spielberg was on board to direct it. Meanwhile, however, Spielberg was busy prepping his next project now, the utter disaster that would be 1941. (I actually tried to rewatch it a couple of weeks ago but started pulling my hair out about 15 minutes into it.)

Spielberg brought Larry Kasdan, a young writer he had just bought a script by (Continental Divide), to meet with Lucas. And over the course of three days, the trio worked out the various main characters and set pieces which would become Raiders of the Lost Ark. (You can read the transcript of those sessions here. It's a fascinating insight into the creative process of these three.) Spielberg recalled, "Larry added so much wit and humor and brought in such a 1930's Preston Sturges meets Michael Curtiz [sensibility] - Indiana Jones was a little more like Humphrey Bogart in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre - and Larry layered it and flavored it and brought it to life.” Kasdan so impressed George Lucas that he also wound up contributing to The Empire Strikes Back.

The problem then became, once Kasdan had a working draft of the screenplay done, that no studio in Hollywood wanted to get in bed with Spielberg after the 1941 mess. But you have to give props to Lucas because he stands by his friends. Every studio Lucas pitched the project to said the same thing, "'We'll do it, but you can't have Steve direct it, because this is an expensive movie. It could get out of hand very easily and, you know, we don't want this $50 million movie on our hands,'" Lucas recalled. "Nobody would do it because everyone looked at this really gargantuan movie, with lots of action, lots of stuff, and I was saying I think we can do it for $20 million and everyone was saying, 'We don't believe you. That's impossible.' But I talked to Steven about the fact that we really needed to do this like a TV show, that we really needed to do this like the actual serials were shot, really quick and dirty, using old-fashioned tricks, and not spend a lot of time on it.' And he said, 'Great. That's the way I want to make it.' And finally, we got Paramount to say they would do the film."

"They made us sign these sort of poison pill, death contracts – if you go 10 cents over budget, they take away your life, your car, your kids, everything you own,” Lucas added. In the end, Spielberg brought it in under budget, even with all the locations and special effects.

As 1980 began, Spielberg and Lucas hired comic book artist Jim Steranko to do some conceptual pieces based on the screenplay to help them both visualize the picture. It was Steranko who put Indy in the leather jacket (modeled after one Lucas often wore) and gave him that hat, as well as set a stylistic blueprint for the entire film.

While the visuals were being worked on, an arduous casting process also began. Up for the role of Indiana Jones were a score of actors including Tim Matheson, Peter Coyote, Tom Selleck, John Shea, and Jeff Bridges. It was narrowed down to Selleck and Bridges, but eventually Selleck won out. But Selleck was about to star in a new television series, Magnum PI, and CBS didn't like the idea of him committing to three Indiana Jones pictures at the same time, so no he was out.

Lucas recalled, "Steven said, 'Here's a suggestion, What about Harrison Ford?' And I said, 'Oh, Steven he's been in two of my movies. I don't want him to become my Bobby De Niro. I don't want to have every movie I make star Harrison.'" But with Selleck out and just a few weeks before filming was to begin, Lucas gave in and Harrison Ford got the part.

Meanwhile, for Marion Ravenwood, actresses including Sean Young, Amy Irving (later to become Mrs. Spielberg), Karen Allen, and Debra Winger were screen-tested. "Karen was the clear favorite because she had spunk, she was a sort of firebrand, and she reminded me of the 30's women," noted Spielberg. "She had that kind of Irene Dunne quality about her, and a little bit of the Carole Lombard. She just seemed perfect for the part."

For a look at what might have been, here's Tom Selleck & Sean Young in their screen test for the roles.

The role of the evil Nazi torturer Toht almost went to Klaus Kinski, but instead was played by British character actor Ron Lacy. The role of Sallah was written for Danny DeVito, who was anxious to do it, but wasn't able to work around his TV series gig on Taxi. "But then when I saw Shogun," Spielberg recalled, "I said, 'I don't know who this British actor is. He's like Falstaff - great basso profundo voice, tremendous sense of humor,' and I said 'That's Sallah. We gotta get him in the picture.'" And so John Rhys-Davies got the role.

Quick mention of two more actors, Pat Roach and Vic Tablian who both have two roles in the movie. Roach, a British stuntman, played both the giant sherpa at Marion's bar in Nepal and the bald-headed Nazi who gets beheaded later in the airplane fight in Egypt. Egyptian-born actor Tablian plays both the guide in the opening sequence who first tries to kill Jones and later is the owner of the monkey.

And speaking of the monkey, I have to say he is my favorite actor in the whole movie. "His voice" was dubbed by famed voice actor Frank Welker. Producer Frank Marshall recalled, "That was quite a day when Steven said, 'Get the monkey to salute.' I said to the animal handler, 'Show me the monkey saluting.' He went over, took a stick and tapped the monkey on the head. The monkey sort of protected himself with his arm and that was supposed to be saluting. So we devised a process: put a grape on a fishing pole, hold the grape just out of his reach and he would reach. After about 50 takes it finally looked like he was doing his Heil Hitler."

Little bits of trivia....

1. If you work out the dates, when Indy did "whatever it was" to Marion when, as she says she "was a child," she was only 14. Also, cut out from the film is that Jones is having an affair with one of his female students (that's why he's in a smoking jacket and drinking champagne when Marcus comes to his home). And as for Marion, when Indy first shows up at the Nepalese bar, in the script she explains that before she came to own the bar when the owner went crazy, "I worked here. And I wasn’t the bartender."

2. The MPAA originally deemed to give the film an R-rating not for any of those mature innuendos that were already cut from the film, but for the scene where Belloq's head explodes. Spielberg had to superimpose flames to make it less "in your face" and thus were able to receive the coveted PG-rating. To try to understand what goes on in the ratings folks heads defies logic and sanity. Apparently a head melting is fine for kids to see, a head exploding not.

3. Since these were the days before CGI (computer generated imagery), where you can literally paint things in and out of the picture, when they got to the location to be used for Sallah's home, Spielberg and his crew set up their shots and then had to go around the surrounding neighborhood and negotiate to remove about 200 television antennas from rooftops to give the appearance of the 1930's. Today, those antennas could be erased from the film in post-production with a computer. But back in those days, the crew would have to pay residents, take down the antennas and then put them back when filming was completed.

4. The production ordered about 2000 snakes for the Well of Souls sequence. Most of the snakes were harmless, but for some close up shots, they did bring in poisonous cobras. Lucas has said, "That's one of the reasons, Steven directed the movie and I didn't direct the movie. Because I didn't want to sit on a soundstage with 1000 snakes for a week." Well, it wasn't 1000 and Spielberg quickly realized that the 2000 they had barely looked pesky and certainly not menacing. Spielberg announced to his crew, "I gotta have more snakes. The set is too big for the amount of snakes we've got. We need to about an additional 7000 snakes to the ones we have here to make it work." They got about another 5000 more, and apparently some of them slid away and into the area about Elstree Studios. Even today, supposedly, there live descendants of those snakes in the neighbors' yards.

5. The famous coat hanging nunchucks were originally used for the same gag in 1941. In fact, it's the same prop. Spielberg said that when they previewed 1941 the nunchucks didn't get any reaction from the audience. "But I loved the gag and didn't want to let it go," Spielberg said. "Now, when we previewed Raiders, the audience screamed and applauded... which never happened once in 1941."

6. The submarine used for the film was built for the German TV miniseries (and later re-edited to be a movie) Das Boot. They hadn't started filming yet, so Spielberg was able to rent it. Also, the submarine base had been an actual Nazi submarine base.

7. There are several homages within Raiders of the Lost Ark to other movies. Of course, many of the classic movie serials are referenced (someone who had a lot of time to waste shows that in this video clip). But specific things referenced include the stunt when Indy goes under the truck which was inspired from the stunt done by famed stuntman Yakima Canutt in John Ford's Stagecoach. The final sequence of the film as the ark is being put in storage is borrowed from the ending of Citizen Kane. Another movie that was heavily influential is the 1964 French film That Man from Rio (here's the final reel of that film where you'll see what I mean). There are also some Star Wars references, including the name of the plane in the Peru sequence, and one of the hieroglyphs in the Well of Souls. Finally, there's an audio homage when the ark is finally opened. Those electrical sounds were lifted from the 1931 version of Frankenstein.

And so, the rest is history. The film was a huge hit. There were three sequels made, a television series, and a gazillion toys and games. Some kids even spent seven years making a shot-for-shot remake in their backyard!


What I'm about to discuss is not only one of the most touchiest subjects on Earth, but for many it is the foundation of their entire understanding of the world. But faith, by definition, is a "belief that is not based on proof," so in no way what I am going to write below should be interpreted as my judging anyone's faith.

What we know today is there is a lot of proof the pyramids were not built by slaves, and not really any proof the Israelites were ever slaves or even lived or left en masse in Egypt. Therefore, if they weren't there, there neither was their exodus from Egypt. And if that's the case, is there then an Ark of the Covenant?

"This legendary artifact is the ornate, gilded case built some 3,000 years ago by the Israelites to house the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. Biblical accounts describe the Ark as large, about the size of a 19th-century seaman's chest, made of gold-plated wood, and topped with two large, golden angels. It was carried using poles inserted through rings on its sides," write Richard A. Lovett and Scot Hoffman at National Geographic.

"The Ark," according to David Syovitz at the Jewish Virtual Library, "accompanied the Jews throughout their time in the desert, traveling with them and accompanying them to their wars with Emor and Midian. When the Jews crossed into the land of Canaan, the waters of the Jordan River miraculously split and the Ark led them through. Throughout their conquest of the land, the Jews were accompanied by the Ark. The most dramatic demonstration of its power comes when the Jews breached the walls of Jericho merely by circling them, blowing horns and carrying the Ark."

"The Ark remained in the Temple until its destruction at the hand of the Babylonian empire, led by Nebuchadnezzar," explains Syovitz. "What happened to it afterward is unknown, and has been debated and pondered for centuries."

One theory as to its whereabouts is pretty explosive, politically. It is that the Ark is buried under the "First" Temple which has built on its original site the holy Muslim site known as the Dome of the Rock. Of course, since it's a holy site, you can't dig there and so because of that we'll probably never know if it's buried under it or not.

But then there are some who say that this location generally considered correct for the "First" Temple is, in fact, incorrect. Then you have others who believe the Dome of the Rock is also not built on the correct spot.

With all the hubbub surrounding this location, it's almost welcoming that another site also lays claim to being the exiled home of the Ark. And that theory takes us to Ethiopia. Here's a little 5 minute video from the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) where they take a trek to the spot in Ethiopia where it is believed by some to be.

While it would seem simple to prove the Ethiopian claim, there is literally a "Guardian of the Ark," who is the only person allowed to see it. So no archaeologists, scientists, nor any other religious person can get a glimpse of it to prove or disprove their claim.

Then finally there are those, according to Wikipedia, who seem to believe the Ark might be in the Vatican, South Africa, Ireland, or even here in the old USofA.

"We are talking about things [at] the crossroads between myth and reality," says archaeologist Fred Hiebert. "I think it's great to have stories like the Ark of the Covenant. But I do not believe, as a field archaeologist, that we can use the scientific method to prove or disprove [them]."

So there we are. Believe it or not. Does it matter at the end of the day? I haven't a clue. But without its legend, myth, or reality, Spielberg, Kasden, and Lucas would have had to use a different MacGuffin and that would have made for a very different Indiana Jones movie. And that's all that's really important in this blog.


"[W]e decided to have all the casting sessions in the kitchen at Lucasfilm," said Spielberg. "It disarmed everyone: actors who were normally shy came out of themselves. All the actors who came in from nine to one helped cook; and all the actors who came in from two to seven helped eat. Everything was baked from scratch, from Charlotte au chocolat to homemade pumpkin bread. The word spread... so the actors were calling their agents saying, 'I only want to come after two.' Everybody wanted to eat; nobody wanted to work."

Elsewhere, he added, "Once you're making bread with your potential director and your casting director and about five other people... that was my technique of trying to get actors to relax in these meetings and it worked great."

Unfortunately, Mr. Spielberg doesn't share this bread recipe with us (though I do have his Uncle Morty's Matzoh Brei as well as his mother's Cheese Blintz recipes). But if you've ever spent any time in a kitchen with new or old friends, the act of cooking together is one of the great joys (or depending on the people - frustrations?) you can have with another human being.

Late last year I began thinking about what classes I wanted to do this year and Raiders of the Lost Ark was right on the top of my list. One of the reasons, certainly, was that it's a fun film, very popular with audiences (I like a sold-out class and so do the folks who pay me to do this), but also because of all the cool locations from which I could use to draw up a menu. And as you know, I also like to get celebrity recipes in here too. So I started to look for recipes from Spielberg, or Karen Allen, or maybe even Harrison Ford. And I discovered that Harrison's son, Ben Ford, is a chef and has his own restaurant in Los Angeles, Ford's Filling Station. From there, I discovered about a dozen recipes from him posted various places online. And suddenly a bolt of lightening struck as I realized there were exactly four Ford recipes which I could match with locations from the movie. Sure, I had to stretch the pairing a little (the recipe below is really a Moroccan stew, but we'll call it a North African stew since that sequence is supposed to be in Egypt in the movie though actually filmed in Tunisia). Also, instead of the raisins Ben Ford included in the stew recipe, I've substituted dates which play an important role in the film.

Food also played a very important role in changing probably the most famous of all scenes in any of the Indiana Jones films - the scene with the black-clad swordsman.

Spielberg related the story during a 30th Anniversary screening: "The truth is that the morning we were supposed to shoot this three page long sword versus whip fight between the swordsman and Indy, Harrison came to me in the morning and said – he always calls me 'pal' – he said, 'Listen pal, I went into Señor Barfee's and had something that didn't agree with me last night and you got about an hour with me and then I'm going back to the hotel because I'm really sick, so what do you want to do?' And I think I said, 'Well, we have three pages to shoot but if you pull out your gun and kill the swordsman, you can go back to the hotel.'"

But, as with all good stories, there are two sides. At that same screening, Harrison Ford then came on stage and told his version.

"No, no. That's rubbish. That's not what happened," Ford said. "What happened was I had chosen to eat native food, and unlike Steve who came to Tunisia with a steamer trunk full of Spaghetti-O's, and I had suffered mightily, and I was no longer capable of staying out of my trailer for more than it took to expose a roll of film, which was 10 minutes, and then I would have to flee back there for the sanitary facilities.... The sad thing is that the guy who was playing the black swordsman had won the part, probably the greatest contest for any part in the film was over this, because both Steven and George were convinced that you could throw a salami in the air and slice it into wafer-thin slices with a sword. But this guy had trained and trained and we had to tell him he [now] was going to die... So I said [to Steven], 'Hey pal, why don't we just shoot this sonofabitch.' And Steven said, 'I was just thinking of that.' And that's all there is to it."

And that's all there is here, as well. As always, cook, eat, watch & enjoy!

North African Lamb Stew w/Cauliflower "Couscous"
adapted from recipes by Ben Ford
Click for Printer-Friendly Version

Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 1/2 pounds lamb shoulder or boneless chuck roast, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup dry Sherry
2 cups beef stock
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 cups chopped dates

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper.

Add meat to pot; sauté until just slightly pink, about 5 minutes. Transfer meat to bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same pot. Add onions; sauté until brown, about 8 minutes.

Add garlic and spices and stir 1 minute.

Add wine and Sherry; boil until reduced to glaze, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.

Add broth, tomatoes with juice, and dates; stir to blend.

Add lamb and accumulated juices; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered until sauce is thick and lamb is tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Season stew with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead.)

For the Cauliflower Couscous:

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1 1/3 cups)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 whole cauliflower, shaved (Chef Ford suggests: "Save stalks, they make a good soup")
2 medium-sized red bell peppers, roasted, then peeled, seeded & diced
2 jalapeño pepper, roasted, then peeled, seeded & diced
1/2 chicken stock or water
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
2/3 tablespoon mint, finely sliced
2 teaspoons basil, finely sliced
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons butter, to finish
salt and black pepper, to taste

Carefully shave the cauliflower florets off the stalks with a knife. Discard or save stems for another use. Chop to get a consistent size that resembles couscous grains.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the seeds and gently heat until the mustard seeds pop. Add the onion and garlic and let them soften. Add the cauliflower, diced peppers and stock to the onion. Cover and allow to steam until tender — 5 minutes or so.

When done stir in butter, turmeric, mint, basil, parsley, salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Ben Ford notes that "regular cooked couscous can be substituted for the cauliflower."

Raiders of the Lost Ark Screenplay (PDF)
Raiders of the Lost Ark Story Conference Transcript
Raiders of the Lost Ark Fan Page (
Another Raiders of the Lost Ark Fan Page (
Indy at 30: Hollywood’s holy grail @ George's Journal
Video Interview w/Steven Spielberg & Harrison Ford - Indy at 30 @ LA Times
30 Things You Might Not Know About 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', By Sharon Knolle @ Moviefone
Raiders Of The Lost Ark: An Oral History @ Empire magazine
Ark of the Covenant: Many Legends, No Evidence, by Richard A. Lovett and Scot Hoffman @ National Geographic
Keepers of the Lost Ark? By Paul Raffaele @ The Smithsonian magazine
(Ben) Ford's Filling Station Restaurant

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Special Edition) DVD
Indiana Jones and the Raiders Of The Lost Ark OST CD/MP3
The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films, by J.W. Rinzler & Laurent Bouzereau
Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide, by James Luceno

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