Has it really been 20 years since Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List came out? I remember the profound impact of the film. Its popularity and authenticity of the Holocaust, Schindler’s List became the definitive film. Since 1993, Schindler’s List has become not only one of the most important films ever released, it’s Spielberg’s masterpiece, thus far.
I revisited the film this week after an initial viewing 20 years ago, and I was struck by the story and the power of the cinematography. It’s so artistically well done, I wish more films employed Spielberg’s techniques. Also, it reaffirms my belief that the 1990s was one of the finest decades in filmmaking. Here’s three reasons why Spielberg’s film is magnificient.
Oskar Shindler, the man. A chorus of Jews. Amon Goeth, the Concentration Camp Kommodant. 3 plots connected by similar camera angles. What do I mean? There’s a ceremony of a Jewish marriage taken place within Schindler’s factory. Kommodant Amon Goeth covets his Jewish maid, Helen, while a love song is played on the radio. At a nightclub, Oskar Schindler listens to the singer sing him a love song. The music overlaps these three incidents combining them together and the camera displays the same movements. The incidents are similar with the songs, the kisses, and the noise of clapping and cheering. Goeth, however, is slapping Helen and her cries of pain mimic the cries of joy of the husband and wife and the crowd in the night club cheering the singer kissing Schindler. The hand movements, the noise, the cries are the same. It’s masterfully done.
Music plays a large role in the film, and John Williams wins another Best Score award. Those violins pull at the heartstrings as it mirrors the sadness of the Jewish plight. It contrasts the horror with nursery rhymes sung by children like in scenes such as the evacuation of the Jewish ghetto, it audibly corresponds to the action. Tirelessly the Nazi’s hound and shoot and drive out the Jewish population. By nightfall, hidden away under boards and within compartments, like mice, those that hid come out only to find machine guns blaring away. The camera pulls back and shows the ghetto in the dark, lit up each time the gun goes off. This is done at the same time a German soldier sits down at a piano and plays Mozart. The contrast here, the best and worst of German culture. The sound of the keys and the lights from the gun are the same so that the audible and visual merge into one.
Spielberg the director
The decisions he makes with the film are perfect. This horrifying tale, of a German Nazi opportunist who makes millions off of slave labor, saved his Jewish workers, and Spielberg’s decision to film their stories realistically made it authentic. That decision meant the film was acutely violent. To balance the events and allow the emotions evoked to absorb into the audience, he takes care to include scenes of love, joy, and friendship. He weaves back and forth between horror and love and death and friendship in a way that sustains suspense, sorrow and joy.
Itzhak Stern played by Ben Kingsley was the accountant who arranged and organized the transfer of Jews from the camp to the factory such as a rabbi and an orphan thus diverting death. Schindler’s factory became a haven where those who worked for him did not die.
The relationships between Schindler and Amon Goeth and Itzhak Stern are what make the film endurable. The psychologies of these characters and how they change and contemplate their challenges showcase their talents as actors. The film won seven, top Academy awards, but surprisingly, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes did not take home the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.
Why did Spielberg create the girl in the red coat? Symbolism for the loss of innocence? The motivating incident that swings Oskar Schindler from opportunist to a man with a conscience?
If you haven’t seen it, you ought. It’s worth a revisit if you are like me and haven’t seen it in a decade. Hard to believe this film’s release in 1993 makes it twenty years old. In our recent history, it’s hard to believe these events took place only 60 years ago.
And yet, thank you, Steven Spielberg, for ending the film on a high note. The wall of stones made by the survivors and their children are proof that Nazism failed and the goodness in man triumphed.