|Perhaps the most acclaimed and honoured film of its time, Schindlerís List (1993) finally arrives on DVD next month making it the last of Spielbergís great works to arrive in the digital format. |
The winner of seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director, the Golden Globe, the Directors Guild Award for best director and every single best film award offered in 1993, Schindlerís List (1993) is a modern masterpiece, easily the most important film of the nineties, and the finest.
Steven Spielbergís career is often discussed as ďpre-Schindlerís ListĒ and ďpost Schindlerís ListĒ, which is both unfair and unkind. He has always been a great filmmaker by virtue of his astonishing work on Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), and Empire of the Sun (1987), yet never really received the respect he deserved from the industry and the Motion Picture Academy. Though nominated for three best director awards previous to his win for Schindlerís List (1993), there is little doubt now, in hindsight that he should have won at least twice, and been nominated on two other occasions. Was it that his films made too much money to be taken seriously, or was there a professional jealousy within the directorsí branch? There is little doubt that Spielberg has made his share of enemies along the way, but enemies in the film business can hardly be news.
With Schindlerís List (1993) he was said to have matured as a filmmaker, which I do not believe. He was always brilliant, with Schindlerís List (1993) he chose to make the film a certain way, which would honour the story and stretch his enormous gifts as an artist. Every frame of the film is perfect because Spielberg poured his heart and soul into the film, trusting his crew to create the masterpiece with him, rather than worrying they would receive more acclaim than he. Always nagged by the fact the Academy had not honoured him, there is a belief in the business that he tackled The Color Purple (1985) just to get a nomination and crack at the Oscar, which frankly I do not believe. With Schindlerís List (1993) he was ready as an artist to flex his creative muscles and power as never before, perfectly complimenting the touchy subject matter with his own creative juices as a director.
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) was a member of the Nazi party, a womanizer and salesman who convinced a group of Jewish businessman to invest money in his factory at the beginning of the Second World War. Many of the Jews knew what Hitler had in store for him and saw the investment as a chance to stay alive while working for Schindler, who at the beginning of the war had no loyalties to anyone. At some point, he recognized what the Nazis were doing and made the decision that he would protect the Jews working for him at all costs. He and his financial advisor Stern (Ben Kingsley) created a list of eleven hundred names, all people who worked for Schindler and who he vowed to protect. He lied, he cajoled, and he made a deal with the devil in the form of Amon Goethe (Ralph Fiennes) commandant of a force work camp to keep his Jews alive at all costs. Racing through the night in absolute terror to Auschwitz, where they are accidentally sent, he lives in fear that they will be exterminated before he can get to them, that is the depth of his devotion to these people.
When the war ended he was broke, having bribed Nazi officials to keep silent about what he was doing and to keep his Jews alive. They presented him with a ring forged of the gold knocked out of their teeth as a token of their appreciation, and now the world is populated by thousands of descendants of the Schindler Jews.
Spielbergís film is shot in stark black and white because the director could not remember any footage of the Holocaust being in colour. He believed in order to capture the emotion of the Holocaust as well as the look and feel, it was best to shoot in black and white. Director of photography Janusz Kaminiski shot forty per cent of the film with a hand held camera to give the picture an immediacy and documentary look that would allow the picture to greater impact on audiences. There is no sentiment at work in this film, just brutal facts.
Liam Neeson gives a profoundly moving performance as Schindler, capturing the enigma of a man few people knew much about. At what point did he decide to work with his Jews and not against them. What changed him in his attitude towards the Nazi party? Spielbergís moment comes during the evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto when Schindler, watching from atop a hill on horseback sees a child running through the streets, terrified dressed in a red coat. Later in the film the Nazis are emptying a mass grave and burning the bodies and among the corpses is that same child with her red coat caked in blood and mud. It is at that point I believe he changed. The actor distances the audience a touch, never allowing us in to his thinking, but at the end of the film, crumples with emotion and regret that he could have done so much more.
Ben Kingsley gives a superb performance as Stern, the conscience of the film and the brains behind much the dollars spent on saving lives. Of all the actors in the film, Kingsleyís work went sadly unnoticed, which is a shame because it is he who anchors the film and grounds the reality.
Ralph Fiennes gives a chilling performance as Goethe, an evil man who embraces Nazism like a beloved religion. He quite enjoys the power it allows him over life and death; he loves to kill, and even when challenged by Schindler that allowing one to live is a greater show of power he simply cannot do it and resorts to his old ways. What Fiennes does here is put a face on Nazism; a smiling face of pure evil.
The star of the work, first and foremost is Steven Speilberg, who directed a film for the ages with Schindlerís List (1993). With this picture he seemed to cast aside all his tricks as a director and present a film that was utterly realistic and more powerful for being such.
Indeed in the years since Schindlerís List (1993) his work has been stronger, winning a second Academy Award for Saving Private Ryan (1998) and giving us the superb science fiction thriller Minority Report (2002). It is my firm belief that he has been a great director since Jaws (1975) and had he never directed another great film after the shark epic, he would still have the career he has now. Yet Spielberg is first and foremost an artist, and has always strived to become a greater director with each film, finding new and inventive ways to tell a story. With Schindlerís List (1993) the manner in which the story needed to be told was forthright and straightforward, which is precisely what he did. He knew instinctively that that was the only way to make the film, and in doing so, in committing to that style, created a genuine masterpiece that will stand for years to come.
The DVD contains a superb widescreen print of the film that gives us a pristine version of the black and white cinematography, which deservedly won Kaminski the first of two Oscars while working for Spielberg. Also featured is a documentary about the Shoah Foundation created by Spielberg to allow the Holocaust to be remembered and never forgotten.
A bold masterpiece that deserves to be seen by generations to come and recognized for the work of art it is.
One final note. Schindlerís List (1993) won Oscars for best direction, best cinematography, screenplay, music, art direction and editing in addition to best film. Obviously the best directed, best edited, best shot and best written film must win best picture right?
So why did Saving Private Ryan (1998) which was the best directed, best shot, best edited, and best sound edited film, according to the same Academy, lose to Shakespeare in Love (1998)??
Schindlerís List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) represent the two finest achievements in filmmaking in the nineties.