#128) Schindler’s List (1993)

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#128) Schindler’s List (1993)

OR “Spielberg Sits at the Adults Table”

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Steven Zaillian. Based on the book “Schindler’s Ark” by Thomas Keneally.

Class of 2004

The Plot: Based on true events, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) uses his status and connections within the Nazi Party to get a factory in Kraków. He uses Jewish labor to make a fortune on enamelware. As the Nazis, led by Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes), start to take over and the Holocaust begins, Schindler, assisted by accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), works to save his employees from being shipped to concentration camps. What starts out as a business strategy turns into the rescue and survival of 1200 Jewish people, later dubbed the “Schindlerjuden”.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a summary, but no specifics for its inclusion. An essay by late film critic Jay Carr is much more supportive, calling the film, among other things, “a stunning achievement”.

But Does It Really?: This is another one of the “untouchables” on this list. The degree of difficulty on this film was high, and “Schindler’s List” sticks the landing. It is an incredible film that excels in every department. There are minor historical qualms to be sure, but as a film it is flawless. Any attempt at recreating the Holocaust could veer dangerously into the manipulative, but Spielberg and his team treat every aspect of the events with respect and unapologetic realism. Special mention to Janusz Kamiński’s peerless cinematography, John Williams’ subtle yet powerful score, the masterful work of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, and of course, Spielberg solidifying his place as a director whose work will be remembered for years to come.

Everybody Gets One: Almost everyone, notably actors Neeson and Fiennes, and violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Wow, That’s Dated: Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński wanted a timelessness to the film, and that’s exactly what they got. The only giveaways are the early ‘90s Universal logo, and the end credits’ mention of the original soundtrack available on “CDs and Cassettes”.

Seriously, Oscars?: A critical and commercial success, “Schindler’s List” did what no other Spielberg film had done before; it swept the Oscars. “Schindler” led with 12 nominations and won seven, including Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Score, Cinematography and, at long last, Best Director for Steven Spielberg. Notable among its losses, Neeson and Fiennes’ subtle performances lost to the more Oscar-friendly work of Tom Hanks and Tommy Lee Jones, the film lost Sound Mixing to Spielberg’s other 1993 film, “Jurassic Park”, and the film lost Makeup to, of all films, “Mrs. Doubtfire”.

Other notes

  • We have Kate Capshaw to inadvertently thank for this film. Spielberg was already attached to produce the film since the early ‘80s, but kept turning down the opportunity to direct, feeling he wasn’t “mature” enough. His then-fiancée Kate Capshaw insisted on converting to Judaism prior to their wedding, despite Spielberg considering himself not very religious. He credits Capshaw’s conversion with reconnecting him to his Jewish roots and leading to him directing “Schindler’s List”. Thanks Willie!
  • I won’t go over the historical details that may have been fabricated or exaggerated. Suffice it to say that the film is adapted from a book that, while based on interviews with many Holocaust survivors and Schindlerjuden, contains elements of historical fiction. Also, Oskar Schindler wishes he were as handsome as Liam Neeson.
  • Speaking of, what I would not give to see Liam Neeson’s take on Lincoln.
  • This film is a master class in scene work. You can dissect any scene in this film and learn how to effectively stage, frame and edit a scene. Especially impressive considering this is a 3-hour plus film of essentially just people talking. Kudos to everyone involved.
  • Not only does Ben Kingsley provide a bit of humanity during all of the proceedings, but he also gets to deliver the line “Bring your sister”, the film’s only joke.
  • It took a little over an hour, but the ghetto liquidation scene is what finally brought me to tears. It just got worse from there.
  • Is it weird for me to appreciate the use of squibs in this film? It’s just so terrifyingly realistic.
  • So crazy to think that the man responsible for the cartoonish Nazis in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” made this film.
  • Oh dear, I can no longer take Liam Neeson asking for “certain skills” seriously.
  • With this film you get one of Spielberg’s favorite trademarks: a close-up of someone in conversation while the other person is reflected in the mirror behind the first person.
  • It goes without saying, but Ralph Fiennes is excellent in a role you don’t get in most films: a dimensional Nazi.
  • Brief shout-out to Embeth Davidtz as Göth’s maid Helen Hirsch. I remember her best as Miss Honey from Danny DeVito’s film version of “Matilda”.
  • For the last half of the film my notes simply read “Not a lot of notes, too engaged.”

Legacy

  • The “Seinfeld” episode “The Raincoats” involves a subplot featuring Jerry and his date making out during “Schindler’s List”. Spielberg mentioned that he would watch “Seinfeld” to cheer him up after filming “Schindler”.
  • Ben Kingsley would go on to play another Holocaust survivor; Otto Frank in “Anne Frank: The Whole Story”.
  • Although Spielberg dropped out of Cal State Long Beach in his youth, he returned to finish his degree in 2002. The faculty allowed Spielberg to submit “Schindler’s List” as his film project. After winning a boatload of Oscars and accolades, “Schindler’s List” earned Spielberg what he wanted the longest: class credit.

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