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Indiana Jones and the Palace of Nostalgia

After viewing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the second time recently, I was reminded of the how the majority of art needs context and how our memories can often alter that context.  I originally saw the film on opening night with a group of friends and quickly dismissed it as a ridiculously bad attempt to cash in on the Indiana Jones franchise, which had ridden into the sunset nineteen years earlier.

I must admit that at the time, even the faint thought of Dr. Jones encountering aliens seemed like such a goofy notion, destined for cheese and giggles instead of action and suspense.  After this midnight screening of the film, which was worth the price of admission if only to hear John Williams’ wonderful score at 85 db, I quickly criticized the movie for all of its flaws but admitted that no movie could have lived up to the expectation set forth in my own mind.

In the weeks following the release of the film, I rummaged through reviews by so-called film “critics” as well as casual viewers in an effort to find the greatness in Spielberg’s crystal clutter.  I had yet to find any glimmer of hope when the topic came up in conversation with a friend.  He described the flood of memories that were produced the first time he saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, and how each successive film was able to transport him back to that original moment.  He feels that the Indian Jones films inhabit a special world, one where Indy’s luck never runs out, his pistol creates a powerful signature sound (see here and here), and his hat is never lost.  His hope for the latest chapter in the series was to feel, for a moment, the excitement and sense of adventure that stirred within him upon first seeing the movie.  That is what Indiana Jones is about for him.

Last night, this friend and I, along with our wives, went to a performance of the musical Cats at the Fox Theater, the exact locale of his first encounter with Dr. Jones twenty-nine years ago.

Both of us had previously seen Cats and we were particularly excited to be share the experience with our wives.  While the performance was excellent, with particularly inspiring costumes and production, the dialogue was often incomprehensible and a great deal of the vocals lacked oral clarity.  My wife, who is a cat person through and through, seemed especially caught off-guard and surprised by the absence of an intricate plot so common to other large-scale Broadway musicals.  Even I was startled at how quickly the intermission came upon us.

Perhaps my own thoughts about the show were prejudiced.  My father and I attended a performance of Cats at this same venue when I was a boy, probably around the age of eleven or twelve.  I was just beginning to understand that my imagination was not reality and could sense the real world quickly encroaching on my life.  To enter a darkened theater, particularly the Fox Theater, and be swept up into another world proved to be quite an experience for me.  It was nowhere near as revelatory an event for me as Raiders of the Lost Ark was for my friend but it did allow my imagination one last hurrah before the hormonal bombardment of puberty.

I walked into the performance last night with that memory.  Perhaps I went with that unfair expectation but can we avoid such tendencies?  In the case of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, such notions from my friend allowed me to observe the film on its own terms, thus providing a richer viewing experience.  The conscious effort to let go of our own opinions can often allow art to reach us in a way that it could not have beforehand.

May our own predictions sometimes lead to our own dismay.

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