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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List

The girl in the red coat, played by Oliwia Dabrowska (three years old at the time).
Almost a year ago now (06-17-12) I created my own list of the top ten movies ever made. They ran the gamut from the musical, West Side Story (number 10) to Spielberg's Schindler's List, which I deemed to be number one. I don't often quote other writers, but the late film critic, Roger Ebert put it best:
"What is most amazing about this film is how completely Spielberg serves his story. The movie is brilliantly acted, written, directed and seen. Individual scenes are masterpieces of art direction, cinematography, special effects, crowd control. Yet Spielberg, the stylist whose films often have gloried in shots we are intended to notice and remember, disappears into his work. Neeson, Kingsley and the other actors are devoid of acting flourishes. There is a single-mindedness to the enterprise that is awesome."--Roger Ebert, 1993
The cast, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley,
Spielberg, and Liam Neeson
It goes without saying that this is Spielberg's best film (even after Saving Private Ryan). It's more difficult to claim it as the best film ever made. A year ago, when I made up my own list (Lane's List?), I proposed nine other films, most of which could reasonably be argued as number one. Of that number, four others dealt with historic events, all of them more massive, having a more profound effect upon the world we know today than the 1,100 names on Oskar Schindler's list. In judging a movie, relevancy and historical impact are not major factors. In any work of art, content is important. Message is important. But of prime importance (especially in a film) is the way the artist pulls together all the creative "juices," his own and others, to create a package the viewer can assimilate. Spielberg is not the only great moviemaker in the world today who does this superbly, but this film, and others too numerous to mention, have placed him at the top.

Liam Neeson (Schindler)and Ben Kiingsley (Itzhak Stern), typing Shindler's List.
We can glorify Steven Spielberg endlessly, forgetting his only major flop (1941), to dig deep into his Jewish background, psyche, and emotional attachment to the Holocaust. But no discussion of the greatness of Shindler's List would be adequate without also delving into Oskar Schindler himself. No fully rounded film hero (male or female) is without flaws. Often the flaws are more interesting than the heroic traits. As numerous as his personal sins might have been, that's definitely not the case with Schindler, a Nazi womanizer, greedy entrepreneur, and selfish playboy who exploited Jewish laborers as shrewdly as he did the war and Hitler's minions. Spielberg doesn't try to explain how and why Schindler changed. Perhaps Schindler, himself, could not do that. Instead he explores the factors causing that change and how those changes effected the man and those around him.

Heavily laden with graphic violence, mass murder, and nudity,
Schindler's List is not for the squeamish.

Schindler's list.
Schindler's List is not entertainment. Filmed mostly in black and white, it's not pretty (arty perhaps with its dab of red, top) nor is it an easy film to watch. Most of it, even taken in context, is quite ugly. Spielberg doesn't preach, but tries to allow the viewer to experience the Holocaust personally. Of course, no artist could hope to succeed completely in any such effort. Picasso tried with his Guernica. David O Selznick did the same with GWTW. Gericault tried this tact with his Raft of the Medusa. All failed miserably. Spielberg does not fail. He may not have succeeded to the degree he, himself, would have liked (artists seldom do) but he came closer than any other artist in history in transporting those viewing his art into the artwork itself. In effect, we become that little girl in the red coat.
The final scene, with descendants of list survivors passing by Shindler's
grave in Israel, segregated from Spielberg's story by its color,
may be the most emotionally powerful film ending ever made.

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