Schindler's List (1993)
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This time when I watched the film I really surprised myself. I sat and cried like I haven't in years- but that's a good thing. I've been so divorced from my feelings and so wrapped up in my own selfish hell that I forgot what life is capable of becoming.
Now, Spielberg himself has admitted that he tends to over-sentimentalize things. Take the scene when Stern has just been rescued from the train by Schindler and as the two men walk away the camera pans to a large room where the suitcases of countless other souls less fortunate are being trifled through; a pile of personal photographs of family lay strewn amidst wasted boots and eye glasses. That scene destroyed me with emotion yet it was something that actually happened.
I will admit that towards the end, when Schindler was going on about how he could have sold his car to save more lives or sold his pin- even on second inspection, that scene seems rather forced- even enough for Jerry Seinfeld to mock. I was kind of mad at Spielberg. I mean, doesn't he know when to back off. It seems with an absolute masterpiece like this film, he would have been more careful and edited out this truly "sentimental" passage with violins going haywire.
Regardless, I'm in awe of this picture and with his latest- Saving Private Ryan, I do think that Spielberg is truly one of, if not, the greatest directors of film ever.
He tells us a film, in which, although he changes the real story and retouches it to make it more human, since Oskar Schindler used the Jews, as he tells in a sequence, the price of each nationality, which causes us all kinds of feelings.
The design of production as always great, he can do it, of course, but there are some who can and do it very badly.
All the actors, supported by the magnificent costumes and makeup are great, they seem to be real. Liam's presentation is great, fast and simple.
What a way to use ellipses, which are sometimes even fun, like when a woman goes on the train.
No matter how much you see it, it will surprise you again.
The photography is great, even when we see the girl in red, it may seem simple but I think it is not.
The direction, is the own one of someone who dominates to the perfection, the visual narrative. He knows where to put the camera at every moment to tell a story. You do not have time to get bored. He knows when to make a slow plane. Know how to compose so that everything is where it should be and you can have everything in sight. Neither camera movement, nor the plane, nor the short between planes is free.
I know it will be noticed that it is my favorite director but I can not help but surrender to someone who, apart from being commercial, is very good, I compare it to a Mercedes or a BMW, they will be commercial but they are good.
Spoiler: It is impressive to see how the sequence in which the architect dies, with a slight movement of camera, characters and staging, is putting everything in place to make you look where you should look. That if it is not going to prohibit you from looking anywhere, everything to focus and everything telling you at once, bring the woman on camera so you can see who is going to be killed while a German drinks a coffee, total symbol of tranquility, for enhance the moment more. What a great genius, moments like that there are many in the movie.
Many Jews attribute the resilience of their culture to a capacity for laughter in the face of catastrophe. As Saul Bellow said, "Oppressed people tend to be witty." Pogroms didn't start with Hitler; by the time the Spanish Inquisition burned a hundred thousand Jews, the story of Jewish oppression already could fill many volumes. Many peoples once multitudinous have perished from the earth: there are no Carthaginians left. There are no more Thracians to speak of. The Celts live only in musical traditions and some old literature, having been subsumed by their conquerors. Their gods are dead, and their languages, or nearly so. But the Jews thrive on. Something kept hope alive under Stalin, under Isabella, under the Caesars. A sense of humor is a great virtue, not to be undervalued.
But in order to make sure I appreciate the horror of the events portrayed, this movie cheats me of a glimpse at real life. The situations don't live as they might, because all the time I'm being flogged with message. There is no even partially redeemable Nazi in this movie, and Schindler's own late-stage change of heart is presented with such suddenness that the movie veers into melodrama. And even melodrama need not be propaganda; Minnelli and Ray always left us with choices. But "Schindler" must be classified as propaganda because it lacks the truth of even gallows humor, which by many reports existed in great abundance in the ghettos and even in the death camps.
The films of Bunuel and Altman are often political but rarely propagandist. The films of Michael Bay and Marcus Nispel are always propagandist and not always political, though they are of course always bad. So propaganda need not be political, and politics need not be propaganda. This shouldn't need saying, but in the modern age of American politics, it's worth remembering. I wish Steven Spielberg remembered it.
One can define propaganda objectively as a sort of forced perspective, a narrow range of potential reactions for the viewer. Propaganda is the use of art to persuade. It turns art into an expository essay. Propaganda is therefore by definition a limited form, limited by its very agenda. The tools of propaganda become less necessary the more inherently obvious the subject matter; the mass extermination of a people would seem to me to fit this category. So I think the style of this movie is unfortunately maudlin, an overkill on the negative. I am not heartless; I hate hate as much as anybody, and I celebrate Jews and all humans as valuable and not for burning. But is there no other way to express a political point than to make me cry for three hours?
The fact is that film as a medium lends itself to propaganda. There is a decision made about every angle; literally, the perspective is chosen for the viewer. This is not the case with other arts, with musical performance, acting, writing, sculpture; but the more visual the medium, the greater its tendency to make statements and the less its potential for ambiguity. It takes a lot of skill to manage a visual art form into something with real depth, into a question rather than an answer.
You can make propaganda about love, like "Love Story" or "English Patient"; you can make propaganda out of character, like "Patton" or "Lawrence of Arabia." The easiest and most common sorts of propaganda are flag-waving and hate-mongering - what's found in state of the union addresses and election campaign ads. At its best, propaganda can remind us of our values, of our responsibilities, of our mythologies and potentials; and so it can be a great good. At its worst, propaganda may contain any of the faults of any medium - it may be bland, dull, predictable. When it is these things, it is not very persuasive, and so it fails at its main intent.
In this light, "Schindler's List" is maybe the second-best type of propaganda. It has real emotion, a compelling story, myriad technical virtues; it leaves me with no choice but to agree with it, but of course I agree with it already insofar as genocide is not a force for good. The movie moves me to an extent. But it lacks comedy, the propagandist's most effective tool; and so when it pretends to explore a range of humanity, it tells a half-truth.
Liam Neeson plays an excellent cad, and Ralph Fiennes' raptor beak was never used to more terrifying effect. (It is among the many faults of the "Harry Potter" movies that they cut off his nose.) But I prefer "The Pianist" as a portrait of Nazi-occupied Poland. Aside from possessing greater artistic powers than Spielberg, Roman Polanski has an immensely deeper capacity for human truth. He does not preach, and he is not strident, and he is not sentimental. And he allows Adrien Brody to make me laugh occasionally, not as often as he makes me cry but sometimes. Shakespeare's trick of contrasting tragedy with comedy is not simply effective storytelling; it is a view to a more realized universe. "Jaws" has it. "E.T." has it. But Spielberg apparently felt that to be funny about the Holocaust would be in bad taste.
As far as propagandist filmmakers go, I'll take Charlie Chaplin or Paul Verhoeven. They are at least funny; the pill of "Great Dictator" or "Starship Troopers" goes down more easily, more persuasively, therefore more effectively, than the pill of "Schindler" or "Private Ryan."
If I had more time, I could go on forever....
Before the war Schindler and his friend, Goeth were boozy, flirtatious German businessmen. Both would have likely been uninspired failures had there been no war. In a kinder world, Goeth's and Schindler's moral differences might have manifested themselves in the size of the tip that they would leave the barmaid. In war, the consequences of moral choices are greatly magnified, resulting in Schindler becoming a most unlikely heroic figure, and Goeth becoming a loathed prison commandant. In the film, Spielberg elevates Schindler to sainthood status and portrays Goeth as a sadistic psychopath. By sanitizing Schindler's many faults (boozing, gambling, womanizing...) and by demonizing Goeth, Spielberg severs our connection with them and, ironically, blunts the conflict between them. Adolf Eichmann was far more chilling than Charles Manson. Unlike Manson, whom we could dismiss as psychotic, Eichmann was the faceless functionary that we have all experienced, whose defense of "following orders" is one that we have all heard, a defense that was used by many during the war, and one that we might see ourselves using under similar circumstances had we not Schindler's courage. By making Schindler a saint, Spielberg diminishes both his accomplishment and his inspiration to us - saints have no problems making the right decision - the rest of us do. Rather than a gaping chasm, there is but a fine moral line between Schindler and Goeth - one that we tread every day, which fortunately for us, rarely does more than determines a barmaid's salary.
Spielberg does not develop this simple theme, preferring to impress us with a grandiose view of a great moral tale. Instead, he comes off as the underskilled sous-chef drowning a wonderful filet mignon in an overly rich sauce. The quality of the ingredients still shine through despite the clumsy handling but does not approach its great potential. In the end, the best thing about the film is that it reminds Americans of a monstrous event in history. It is unfortunate that this reminder is necessary and that it reduces such a timeless parable to a useful public service announcement.
And that soured me on the movie even more. The fact is, Holocaust movies have insurance against criticism: if you say the movie is a waste of time, someone might attribute your opinion to the Holocaust itself. I don't understand it, but that weird emotional blackmail made me really uncomfortable with Schindler's List.
I thought Liam Neeson was horrible. His acting is very stiff and unconvincing. The use of hand-held cameras and black-and-white cinematography *should* work, but ultimately they amounted to subtle special effects.
I thought the movie was emotionally flat, as well. I watched each character go through the motions, wondering when something unexpected would happen. The horror of the Holocaust is shown in an almost clinical way.
I don't know. I just felt that this movie would feel less like a bid for an Oscar and more like a personal film.
At the risk of being a complete jerk, I'll give Spielberg this advice: Do it again. Make another Holocaust movie. Why not? He finished Kubrick's "AI." Kubrick had another movie in the planning stages, a Holocaust film called "Aryan Papers" (aka "Wartime Lies"). I hope he'll finish *that* Kubrick movie, too, and create a better Holocaust film, something I can sink into and be surprised by, something that feels much more personal.
What possesses a man who has become rich and powerful in the film industry solely through the making of shallow, transparent films for children to think that he is talented and wise enough to present to the masses a subject which should only be touched by the most careful and socially responsible hands? A Mid-life crisis, and an over-inflated ego, most likely, not that it matters though.
Only someone with many years of study may be a doctor; only an experienced engineer may build a bridge, and even the guy who fixes your toilet must be a qualified plumber. Yet this fool, whose only previous qualifications have been cheap, shallow, movies made strictly for entertainment, thinks he is in a rightful position to educate our children. Because, unfortunately, many people have a frighteningly limited amount of knowledge about the second world war, and Schindler's List will be for many of them their main source of information. Showing it to them in as cheesy and hollow a fashion as almost only Spielberg can, is simply a crime.
This film is (unfortunately), not about a man's humanitarian well-meant efforts to do what he could to help to save a group of desperate and obviously(for most of them) doomed to their certain death, people.
The point that came across was visually witnessing the random acts of a certain person committing atrocities and exaggerating them to an extent that diminished what really happened to those people. In trying to add visual credibility via sensationalism made a mockery and a not so subtle message that a certain group of people have rights forever to commit atrocities to avenge what befell them over the centuries. If there is such a thing as a hate film, well this is it, generalizing 40 million people as monsters for the actions of a handful of lunatics sanctioned by the so-called Allies that were still full of boast and smugness and let's face it, blindness to what was going on. In short, the filmmaker's point was very subjective, to put it mildly.
And the evil Nazis in this film are all slightly comical. Where is the evil? Where is the horror? Where is all the death and torture and misery.
Scrape the surface of this film and you find a gratuitous "entertainment" movie. If you want to know about the holocaust watch Shoah.
The film is in black and white, a very conscious choice by the director that makes the subject matter, already disturbing, even more so bleak and harrowing. Oskar Schindler is known for saving thousands of Jews destined for a grim fate during World War 2. The movie depicts concentration camp life is fairly dismal, with constant brutal oppression by Nazi camp guards and the sadistic Amon Goth, with a terrifying portrayal by Ralph Fiennes.
Yes, this film will not make you cheery or happy. Yes it is about a miserable and dark period in human history, but it is an important film to watch for anyone interested in this historic subject matter and also a beautiful work of art for film lovers. Truly one of Spielberg's finest works. The fact that he is Jewish himself does add a personal touch to the tragic tale, but he never tries to overdo the sympathy or antipathy towards any group in the film. Everyone is human in it, the Jews and the Nazis; the tragedy is that humanity itself failed during this period of history, and we will never forget.
Ultimately, the film is a shallow failure.
A good drama film needs several qualities. Of these, the most important is the exposition of characters and their interactions. Schindler's List flops spectacularly in this respect. We start out following the tale of Oskar Schindler, an opportunistic, profiteering businessman. But midpoint in the film, this Schindler persona has disappeared, and we have a new character clothed in the same flesh -- a self-sacrificing philanthropist who spends his entire amassed fortune to save the Jew workers. How did we get from one to the other? How did Schindler transform from the evil Mr. Hyde to the benevolent Dr. Jekyll? Steven Spielberg certainly doesn't show us -- maybe it happens via magic, like the bicycle ride in ET?
And what about Amon Göth, the representative Nazi? A "grotesque caricature" if there ever was one. He's an evil, sadistic, Jew-hating Nazi bastard -- but do we get to know why he wakes up every morning, takes a swig of booze and snipes Jew prisoners for fun? No. Spielberg thinks the answer is obvious -- he's a Nazi, and Nazis don't have reasons for the things they do. They're just rabid dogs out for blood, utterly devoid of any moral dimension. But this sort of shallow political correctness can't possibly cut any slack with intelligent viewers. We want to know why Göth hates the Jews so much that he fires his pistol into a pile of decimated corpses, but we never get to know. Apparently, he does it because he's an Evil Nazi, and that's all there is to it.
The attempt to add depth to Göth's character by dwelling on his twisted love affair with a Jewish girl is easily seen for what it is -- a cheap exposure of Nazi hypocrisy. How about trying to dwell on real issues here, Spielberg? How about trying to pass these people off as genuine (albeit twisted) human beings?
This shortcoming is not restricted to Spielberg. When will Hollywood own up to the fact that the men who ran the Third Reich were not mindless monsters? Some of them were cultivated intellectuals and scientists, others compassionate family men and devoted friends. Germany was the best educated country in Europe when the Nazis rose to power. The true intrigue of the Holocaust does not lie in the brutality, but rather in Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil". How can a man (or millions of men) arbitrarily narrow the moral sphere to exclude people seemingly no different from neighbours, friends and family? How can a man fall under the sway of a dispassionate and cruel ideology while leading a normal life of compassion?
Needless to say, none of these issues are explored by Spielberg.
Another peeve of mine: Accents. There are English-speaking films and then there are German-speaking films. Schindler's List, on the other hand, does not belong to either of these categories. Instead, Spielberg opted to have the characters speak English with a German accent. What the hell? Listening to Liam Neeson strut about trying to sound like an Anglicised German is just pathetic. : Spielberg's trying to please Hollywood audiences by making the film accessible to them (and hence, no spoken German), but for the love of God! We get the point! They're in Nazi Germany. Yes, Hitler's in charge. Yes, it's a nasty, genocidal regime. Please, no cheesy accents.
One of the truly unforgivable aspects of the film is the ending. A mildly touching speech by Schindler about being a war criminal on the run, wanted by the victors of the war, set just the right mood. It would have been perfect. But no, Spielberg couldn't resist messing it up -- he had to have Schindler break down, bawl and cry, grief-stricken and lashed by pangs of conscience. Spare me the anguish, Spielberg. The grief should have been that of the Jews, not Schindler.
When Schindler took off his gold ring and blubbers out "I could have saved one more", I experienced a feeling of mild revulsion. Look, the guy did a great job, he saved a lot of lives. No point in getting all worked up about the fact that he didn't literally sell the skin of his back to save people he didn't know.
What does this film leave us after 195 minutes of running time? Let's see:
* The Nazis were *Really Evil* * There was a man called Schindler who didn't care about anything but money at first, and then for some reason he started to care about saving the Jews.
Brilliant, Spielberg. Positively brilliant.
All of the above-mentioned flaws are bad enough -- but the way the film manipulates the viewer really takes the cake. Shots of emaciated, shaved potential Holocaust victims starving and screaming, with tragic violin music to boot. It has been done in many films before, and will be done again. It doesn't take skill for a film-maker to coerce the viewer into sorrow -- It takes skill to produce the same feelings without resorting to cheap, melodramatic trickery. The Pianist is a superb counter-example. A journey of the mind is so much more satisfying than a journey of the senses...
Like most of Spielberg's films, Schindler's List is technically outstanding. It captures the mood of wartime Germany perfectly. The sets, costumes and cinematography are all top-notch, and the acting is not too bad either. However, none of these things can overcome the fact that Spielberg is a director of extremely limited vision. His moral and intellectual depth is that of a child.
Stick to making films for children, Spielberg. Stick to making children's films. You're out of your depth.