C.S. Lewis once said, “An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only.” Ah, but there are so many books! How does one decide which volumes to read a second time?

Lewis’s line might be revised to apply to moviegoers: Those who truly love cinema know that it is better to watch a good movie twice than a good movie and a bad movie, and that great cinema is defined by how it goes on rewarding viewers with each successive look.

But what makes a great film review? A review is successful if it demonstrates the reviewer has been looking closer, has been examining the film through a variety of lenses that reveal different aspects of its quality. A great review makes me see the film with fresh eyes. And when the reviewer’s gaze shows me new things to appreciate, I find myself eager to go back and watch it again. That’s why I sometimes revise my film reviews on this website. That’s why I continually update my “favorite films of the year” lists going back over my whole lifetime.

When I’m asked to name my favorite film, my typical answer is this: On Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, it’s Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it’s Three Colors: Blue. But on Saturday? It’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. These are the three films I have watched most often in my life, and they’re the films I suspect I’ll continue to revisit the most for years to come, noticing more every time.

Raiders_01I remember reading Roderick Heath’s review of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 2012 and thinking “I need to read every review this guy writes.”

Here’s a sample paragraph:

Raiders’ historical setting didn’t just allow the filmmaker to play with retro tropes, but also offered a chance to escape the killjoy angst of the ’70s, though there’s still a definable edge of the mistrust of officialdom in the portrayal of the feds who commission Indy’s quest. The film’s final joke riffs on a main theme of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), where a source of inestimable wonder and dread is last seen being stashed away in a colossal warehouse under bureaucratic auspices so the world might forget such destabilising influences exist. This scene itself is almost a meta-commentary on the film’s own driving principle. Trucking in the Nazis as baddies and making Indy a premature antifascist, however, signals a less cynical sensibility. The results of Indy’s gallivanting through the streets of Cairo combating Egyptian goons initially skirts the endemic racism of much of the old pulp pantheon, but other aspects, like Indy’s dogged good friendship with Salah and the way the Egyptians who fill the background slowly shift from being Nazi tools to active supporters of Indy, give the film some links to the egalitarian spirit of WWII-era movies like Sahara (1943). Salah likes reclaiming the heroism stolen by imperialists for themselves back, singing Gilbert and Sullivan’s anthems of official heroism but freeing them from nationalist specificity: he is the “monarch of the sea”; “A British man is a soaring soul” describes himself, Indy, and Marion. Moreover, as in subsequent episodes, the sense of underlying truths in the world’s mythical pantheons demands a slow adjustment to a deeper empathy and understanding of what those pantheons imply about the human condition and its origins.

This is a voice of authority, one I quickly come to trust because I don’t hear sweeping generalizations or axe-grinding or mere fanboy gushing.

Alas, I haven’t fulfilled that vow. (Mental note, Overstreet: Next time you’re on a long flight, catch up on your Heath.)

[Read more about Jeffrey Overstreet’s personal history
with Raiders of the Lost Ark in Through a Screen Darkly,
a memoir of dangerous moviegoing.]

But when I discovered some colleagues admiring this review last week I realized that I should feature it here as one of the Looking Closer Exemplars: it’s a standard-setting work of film criticism.

If you want to read more by Roderick Heath, follow Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod.

Have you read a more observant and thought-provoking review of Raiders of the Lost Ark? If so, please post a link in the Comments!

P.S. Here’s a little something handmade by my friend Damian Arlyn:


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