Raiding the 20th Century

Close encounters with the Third Reich, a 1978 essay arguing that the ‘theme, structure, and symbolism [of Close Encounters of the Third Kind] strongly echo those of the films of pre-fascist and Nazi Germany’. A fascinating artefact from the dawn of the modern blockbuster era, linking contemporary cinematic spectacle with the work of Leni Riefenstahl and finding a central message in the film that ties in with the nascent neoconservatism of the era: ‘Don’t expect much from government — and don’t worry about it because others will arrange things for you’. Of course, the visual spectacle of fascism – Nazism in particular – runs through Spielberg’s oeuvre, as the director himself has acknowledged, although it is clearly not an uncritical borrowing purely for the sake of aesthetics.

‘The final encounter also condemns linear communications, rational thought, and independent science, as fascists usually do. The aliens and scientists communicate musically, by instinct. They don’t talk; they don’t exchange ideas using any system of signs; they don’t give each other books or other collections of information. Apparently, the scientists are so overwhelmed by the cosmic glow, they don’t think of communicating intelligibly with the aliens. Indeed some actually kneel as the ship lands’

And from this discussion with film historian [and Spielberg biographer] Joseph McBride, you have this statement about Raiders, ‘There he was blindly, ignorantly following Reaganism.’ From McBride’s book:

Indy’s two sides never add up to a coherent whole. A scholar who loves adventure and physical danger, he behaves in a casually amoral and brutal way whenever it suits his purposes. He loots Third World cultures and slaughters the natives with the abandon of a mercenary from colonial days. and yet the contemporary audience throughout the world was skillfully manipulated into identifying with this ruthless figure and finding him heroic. … Raiders of the Lost Ark was the perfect film to mark the beginning of the Reagan era.


Related trivia (it’s telling that all we can take away from the above is trivial): Philip Dodds’ sole movie credit is as the synthesiser technician in Close Encounters. In real life, that’s exactly what Dodds was – he was VP of engineering at ARP and was responsible for setting up the ARP 2500 used in the film. Steven Spielberg watched his expert playing of the equipment and immediately cast him for the role. More about Dodds. More about the ARP 2500 on the page of sound historian and performer Sarah Angliss, while Tim Stinchcombe has a fabulous scan of an original ARP brochure.


A similar situation occured on the set of The Spy Who Loved Me, when Lotus engineer Roger Becker, sent to deliver the Lotus Esprit S1 to the set in Sardinia, wound up with an unexpected credit after a short demonstration drive: ‘[Becker’s] brief performance in the car was so impressive that when he slid to a halt in front of the cameras, producer Cubby Broccoli allegedly instructed him to repeat the feat immediately, and he would ensure the cameras were rolling this time. Becker was subsequently hired to do virtually all of the stunt driving for the chase sequence.’


Other things. Free climbing in Shanghai. Not for the faint hearted / a ‘phantom island is a purported island that appeared on maps for a period of time (sometimes centuries) during recorded history, but was later removed after it was proven not to exist’ / Images of the NSA and its offices. None of them are as sci-fi as GCHQ (or in such poor taste) / see also How Edward Snowden went from loyal NSA contractor to whistleblower / Panneaux, a series by Xavier Dauny / Waterworld, a journey along the flooded Thames.


Punk, new wave and plagiarism / a selection of good blogs – nice to be included / Damnatio Memoriae, the act of removing all memory of a person – ‘the intent was to erase someone from history’. A contemporary note from the entry: ‘In January 2014, after the separation of French president François Hollande and his “First Lady” Valérie Trierweiler 130 pages with 600 pictures of the First Lady had been deleted on the official internet site of the Elysée at 26th of January 2014 at 11 o’clock’ / Photographer’s parting shots of Mount St. Helens live on; the final film of Reid Blackburn.

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