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To begin with, there was no Schindler's List.

Oh, dear. "The list is an absolute good." Except there is no list. Oh dear.

Oh, wait, no, there was a list -- or rather, nine lists. It's just they they weren't Schindler's. All right.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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He dismissed some scenes in the film and book that are part of Schindler's legend. For instance, in the film Schindler ... sees a little girl seeking shelter. ... Mr. Crowe called it "totally fictitious." He said that it would have been impossible to see that part of the ghetto from the hill, and that Schindler never saw the girl.

[sarcasm]Wow really? Who would ever have thought it?[/sarcasm]

Actually when I recently re-watched this I noticed how much the second incident when we see her body being disposed of, Schindler recognises the girl or looks directly into the camera or something which is obviously a cinematic device personaliuse the documentary feel at that point specifically. I'm annoyed I can't remember more about it becuase I remember thinking the way Spielberg did it was brilliant.

Matt

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yeah, I had that in mind (cos that's why we know its the same girl), but there's something about the way it was shot on top of that, which made it look like Schindler knew it was the same girl, when clearly he couldn't know, but there was something in the artificiality of that that was brilliant - for some reason.

Matt

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  • 8 years later...

Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his review, e.g.:

By contrast,
The Color Purple
and
Empire of the Sun
were both grotesque Oscar bids — strained subliterary attempts to make reparations for the genocidal glee of the Indiana Jones romps by expensively dry-cleaning the work of distinguished authors — and I had every expectation that
Schindler’s List
would complete Spielberg’s dubious trilogy of good intentions.

Up to a point, these expectations were fulfilled. But candor compels me to admit that
Schindler’s List
not only made me blubber helplessly both times I saw it, once before and once after reading Thomas Keneally’s fascinating nonfiction novel; it has also, though I have some misgivings, won my gratitude and respect. . . .

Spielberg’s film — which functions in part as a fanciful and idealistic self-portrait (more about this later) — is patriarchal to the core, even when this means tampering with some of the facts. While it’s true that Schindler resumed living with his long-estranged wife Emilie when he established his mock munitions plant in Moravia, the film shows him pledging sexual loyalty to her — during a church service, no less — just after he arrives there. In the book there is every indication that his sexual carousing continued as before, which makes for a more intriguing story that Spielberg chooses to ignore; two of the Schindlerjuden told Keneally about finding Schindler one day skinny-dipping with a voluptuous blond SS woman in a water tank inside the factory.

Emilie’s tireless efforts in helping the Schindlerjuden in Moravia — which Keneally attributes to her strong religious convictions as well as her loyalty to her relatively unreligious husband — also get short shrift in the movie. As Spielberg recounts the story, this is Schindler’s show all the way, with only poker-faced Stern posited as a worthy crony and accomplice. . . .

Another omission relates to the final compiling of the list of Jews Schindler is to take out of Poland with him. In the film, this is accomplished exclusively by Schindler and Stern; in reality, a personnel clerk named Marcel Goldberg — a character who’s present only in passing in the film–put the finishing touches on the list, accepting diamonds as bribes from some families in exchange for their inclusion and excluding others when they couldn’t cough up the necessary loot. Keneally plausibly absolves Schindler — who was busy at the time pulling strings elsewhere–from any direct blame in this matter, but it’s symptomatic of the movie’s tactics to omit such disturbing details in order to avoid the resulting moral complications. In the final analysis, Spielberg wants to show Schindler’s goodness as the ultimate defense of capitalism, just as Nazism and the Holocaust itself are viewed as the ultimate perversions of capitalism — horrors requiring only a Schindler to set things right again. Including Goldberg on Schindler’s side of the fence would only confuse this mythology. . . .

The character of Amon Goeth, the Nazi director of the forced labor camp and the main villain in book and movie alike, is likewise simplified — played by Fiennes as a classically foppish German decadent with Caligula-like flourishes. While Spielberg takes much of this character’s monstrous behavior — such as his shooting of Jews arbitrarily or for minor offenses — straight from the book, he chooses to minimize Goeth’s growing obesity. And while he takes the trouble of flashing forward to show him being hung in 1946, he omits entirely an unforgettable scene from the book in which Goeth, now lean and diabetic, having been imprisoned and then released by the Nazis for his aberrant behavior, visits Schindler’s factory in Moravia a defeated man.

Keeping Goeth slim and glamorous seems central to Spielberg’s overall narrative strategy. The point isn’t merely to make his villain more theatrical (as it is when, in one of the film’s corniest conceits, he has another Nazi officer playing Mozart on a piano in a ghetto flat while his colleagues are busy machine-gunning Jews). The main idea is to assist us in identifying with Nazis — not with their cruelty, which we’re supposed to recoil from, but with their privileged vantage point, their power and preeminence (Goeth is not unlike a studio head). Schindler himself, as Goeth’s friend and confidant, the saintly businessman who even manages to dream up a scheme for curbing Goeth’s murderous impulses, serves as the expedient emissary of this process (not unlike a film director). Thanks to him we have the vicarious thrill of attending Nazi parties and enjoying the lush revelry in Nazi nightclubs (both rendered in some of the film’s silkiest, most gorgeous high-contrast black-and-white images), looking down at the Jewish prisoners from the balcony of Goeth’s chateau (perched on a hill high above the camp), savoring the luxury of Schindler’s new Krakow flat (freshly evacuated by a once-wealthy Jewish family forced to move into a ghetto hovel), and so on. . . .

It’s virtually axiomatic that to make a big-budget commercial movie with a moral purpose behind it these days, something immoral in the viewer has to be not only assumed but addressed — and maybe even cultivated. The forthcoming
Philadelphia
, about a gay lawyer, is essentially addressed to homophobes. Likewise,
Schindler’s List
assumes a desire to identify with the class in power; it can only tell us what it has to say about Schindler by turning us into Schindler — which also means turning us into a Nazi.

For all Spielberg’s efforts to account for Schindler’s actions by describing his growth as a spiritual conversion, the mystery of the man and what he managed to do stubbornly remains. And when Schindler weeps for not having been able to do more — a scene that this movie has the brass to invent out of whole cloth — I’m ready to weep with him.
Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 month later...

Did any previous Hollywood Holocaust film deal with the historical scope of the Holocaust as thoroughly as Schindler's List?

Granted that it's the story of a conflicted German Nazi and a thousand-plus Jews he saved rather than the story of six million Jews (and millions of others) who died, still and all the film walks us through the whole historical process, from yellow badges and armbands and the various restrictions that went with them to the forming of ghettos and their subsequent purging, from deportations to forced labor camps and separation of families and early elimination of those deemed unfit to the death camps and mass exterminations (mostly offscreen, depicted in the rain of ashes from the ovens); and finally the fall of the Third Reich and the liberation of survivors.

Certainly earlier films dealt with various aspects of the Holocaust, and some films, especially documentaries like the short Night and Fog and (the very long) Shoah, offered eye-opening historical perspective on the realities of the Holocaust. But did any popular film before Schindler's List, especially any Hollywood film, ever put the realities of the Holocaust before mass audiences in as much depth as Schindler's List?

For that matter, has any subsequent popular film? I guess The Pianist is comparable. Anything else?

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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I feel like I've talked about the ways in which SCHINDLER'S LIST sets itself up as *the* Holocaust movie on this forum before. But no, there is no popular film that attempts the same, at least not to the same degree.

This is the root of the film's most significant weaknesses.

Edited by Ryan H.
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Possibly (though I haven't seen it) the 27-hour miniseries adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel War and Remembrance. The novel has a pretty sweeping historical perspective, and at that length I assume the miniseries follows it fairly closely.

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I feel like I've talked about the ways in which SCHINDLER'S LIST sets itself up as *the* Holocaust movie on this forum before.

I wonder where. This appears to be the only Schindler's List thread, and I don't see any such discussion in the Holocaust movies thread. We seem not to have a thread about The Pianist; perhaps it was lost in some board conversion, or perhaps discussion was just more sporadic back then. Mentions of Schindler are certainly numerous -- enough to discourage picking through search results.

But no, there is no popular film that attempts the same, at least not to the same degree.

This is the root of the film's most significant weaknesses.

This is the rap on the film, but I'm not sure I agree. Since I'm working on a new review, it's a discussion I'm interested in, though.

Possibly (though I haven't seen it) the 27-hour miniseries adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel War and Remembrance. The novel has a pretty sweeping historical perspective, and at that length I assume the miniseries follows it fairly closely.

Heh. That's certainly worth knowing about, though a 27-hour miniseries is pretty much by definition outside the scope of the popular Hollywood treatment I'm curious about here.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Heh. That's certainly worth knowing about, though a 27-hour miniseries is pretty much by definition outside the scope of the popular Hollywood treatment I'm curious about here.

Well, it certainly wasn't Hollywood, but it was a big-budget TV production broadcast by ABC, so it was "popular" in that sense.

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I feel like I've talked about the ways in which SCHINDLER'S LIST sets itself up as *the* Holocaust movie on this forum before.

I wonder where. This appears to be the only Schindler's List thread, and I don't see any such discussion in the Holocaust movies thread. We seem not to have a thread about The Pianist; perhaps it was lost in some board conversion, or perhaps discussion was just more sporadic back then. Mentions of Schindler are certainly numerous -- enough to discourage picking through search results.

I think it was in the "Movies Everyone Except You Loves" thread.

Edited by Ryan H.
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From Mike D'Angelo's review, which brought back some of my own frustrations with the film but sums them up nicely:

A film of many internal contradictions, which to some extent proves to be its undoing. If anything, Spielberg and Zaillian are overly conscientious, constantly abandoning the narrative in order to underline the horror of the Holocaust; the film is at its weakest when it struggles to give the Jews a voice, concocting palpably phony conversations that serve as exposition about conditions in the Ghetto or at Auschwitz. And Schindler is a magnificent character who ultimately gets sold out—not out of sentimentality, as I thought back then, but because somebody felt the respectful thing to do was have him repeatedly downplay his sacrifice, lest it overwhelm the suffering of the Nazis' actual victims. Consequently, the last hour gets a bit insufferable, what with the farewell speeches ("Don't thank me. Thank yourselves") and the regretful wailing and "the list is life." But knowing that he'd end up there gave Spielberg the confidence to be astonishingly ruthless for an amazingly long time. Neeson plays Schindler (until he can't anymore) as the consummate showman, generous only insofar as it serves his own appetites; Kaminski gutsily lights him like an old-style movie star, risking glamour's obscenity in this context. It works like mad.
Edited by Overstreet

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SDG wrote:

: We seem not to have a thread about The Pianist; perhaps it was lost in some board conversion . . .

The film came out in 2002, when we were still meeting at Novogate; we switched to this board in the summer of 2003. Here is the archived version of our thread on that film.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Very interesting essay by a Jewish film historian, very literate both in film theory and in the critical, moral and religious controversies around Schindler's List, who says she shares "some of the reservations" critics have leveled against the film, but adds, "I still would argue that Schindler's List is a more sophisticated, elliptical, and self-conscious film than its critics acknowledge."

In fact, she says that the broad critique of the film suffers from a "lack of attention to the film's material and textual specificity, a symptom of the impasse produced by the intellectual critique, an impasse that I find epitomized in the binary opposition of Schindler's List and Shoah."

Schindler's List is Not Shoah: The Second Commandment, Popular Modernism and Public Memory (PDF warning)

Miriam Bratu Hansen

It is no coincidence that none of the critics of Schindler's List have commented on the film's use of sound (except for complaints about the sentimental and melodramatic music)-not to mention how few have actually granted the film a closer look … Let me cite a few, brief examples that suggest that we might imagine this film differently, examples pertaining to both the film's complex use of sound and its structuring of narration and cinematic subjectivity.

To begin with the latter point, the complaint that the film is narrated from the point of view of the perpetrators ignores the crucial function of Stern in the enunciative structure of the film. Throughout the film, Stern is the focus of point-of-view edits and reaction shots, just as he repeatedly motivates camera movements and shot changes. Stern is the only character who gets to authorize a flashback, in the sequence in which he responds to Schindler's attempt to defend Goeth ("a wonderful crook") by evoking a scene of Goeth's close-range shooting of twenty-five men in a work detail in retribution for one man's escape; closer framing within the flashback in turn foregrounds, as mute witness, the prisoner to whom Stern attributes the account…

More often, temporal displacement is a function of the soundtrack, in particular an abundance of sound bridges and other forms of nonmatching (such as a character's speech or reading turning into documentary-style voice-over); and there are numerous moments when the formal disjunction of sound and image tracks subtends rhetorical relations of irony and even counterpoint…

More important, the attack on Schindler's List in the name of Shoah reinscribes the debate on filmic representation with the old debate of modernism versus mass culture, and thus with binary oppositions of "high" versus "low," "art" versus "kitsch," "esoteric" versus "popular." However, Adorno's insight that, to use Andreas Huyssen's paraphrase, ever since the mid-nineteenth century "modernism and mass culture have been engaged in a compulsive pas-de-deux" has become exponentially more pertinent in postmodern media culture. "High" and "low" are inextricably part of the same culture, part of the same public sphere, part of the ongoing negotiation of how forms of social difference are both represented and produced in late capitalism…

But perhaps this question is beside the point, as is treating the opposition of Shoah versus Schindler's List as if it were a practical alternative, a real option. For whether we like it or not, the predominant vehicles of public memory are the media of technical re/production and mass consumption. This is especially exacerbated for the remembrance of the Shoah considering the specific crisis posed by the Nazis' destruction of the very basis and structures of collective remembering. (Unlike most of the "ordinary massacres" committed in the course of the German genocidal war all over Europe, the Shoah left no communities of survivors, widows and children, not even burial sites that would have provided a link with a more "organic" tradition of oral and collective memory.)

Since I was already writing about the use of Jewish point of view in my review (though not specifically in connection with Stern's character), I found all this very interesting.

Much more in the full article, including how Hansen sees Schindler's List in relation to Citizen Kane.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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I think it was in the "Movies Everyone Except You Loves" thread.

I was right.

I'm not very happy with what I had to say about SCHINDLER'S LIST in that thread (in the two years since, my attitude toward Spielberg has become much more positive), but I still hold with some of the comments I made there. SCHINDLER'S LIST pulls its punches in ways that make me uncomfortable. Stanley Kubrick's critique of SCHINDLER'S has some real teeth: "Think that’s about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who don’t."

I'd also like to single out this comment Peter made in that thread:

I've only seen Schindler's List the one time, 17 years ago, but I can remember realizing at some point during the film that none of the characters who had been developed in any remotely meaningful way were going to die. (Well, except for the Nazi, maybe.) I realized that this movie was based on the memories of the survivors and, therefore, everyone whose perspective we were privy to was going to survive. That kind of sucked some of the suspense out of the movie, for me.
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Yes, I found these comments, but thanks for linking to them.

Looking over the comments I made in that thread, I'm not very happy with them, but I nevertheless find that Kubrick's critique of SCHINDLER'S LIST has some teeth, which I cited over there: "Think that’s about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who don’t."

Yes, I'm quoting Kubrick in my review, but I disagree with it. As I see it, the Schindlerjuden — and even more Schindler himself — are in the foreground and the Holocaust is in the background, but in this film the background is as important as the foreground.

Hansen illustrates this point with a careful formal analysis of the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto:

In the sequence that initiates the liquidation of the Kracow Ghetto, disjunctive sound/image relations combine with camera narration that foregrounds Stern's point of view. The sequence is defined by the duration of an acoustic event, Goeth's speech, that begins and ends with the phrase "today is history." The speech starts in the middle of a series of four shots alternating between Schindler and Goeth shaving, which briefly makes it an acoustic flashforward. Only in the fifth shot is the voice grounded in the speaking character, Goeth, now dressed in a uniform, addressing his men who stand around him in a wide circle. In the shots that follow, the speech appears to function as a kind of voice-over, speaking the history of the Ghetto's inhabitants and the imminent erasure of this history and its subjects. But the images of the living people we see—a rabbi praying, a family having breakfast, a man and a woman exchanging loving looks—also resist this predication. So does the voice of the rabbi that competes with Goeth's voice even before we see him pray, and it continues, as an undertone to Goeth's voice, into the subsequent shots of Ghetto inhabitants (so that in one shot, in which we hear the subdued synchronic voices of the family at breakfast, there are actually three different layers of sound); the praying voice fades out just before the last sentence of Goeth's speech. Not coincidentally, all the Jewish characters shown in this sequence will survive; that is, they will, as individuals, give the lie to Goeth's project. What is more, nested into this sequence is a pronounced point-of-view pattern that centers on Stern and makes him the first to witness the ominous preparations. The act of looking is emphasized by a close-up of him putting on his glasses and turning to the window, and by the answering extreme high-angle shot that frames window and curtain from his vantage point. This shot is repeated, after two objective, almost emblematic shots (closely framed and violating screen direction) of rows of chairs and tables being set up by uniformed arms and hands, and then bookended by a medium shot of Stern watching and turning away from the window. The whole sequence is symmetrically closed by reattaching Goeth's voice to his body, thus sealing the fate of the majority of the Ghetto population, the people not shown on the image track.

That's more formal rigor than I would ever bring to bear, at least in writing, but it certainly tracks with my own intuitive and formal reading of the film.

I'd also like to single out this comment Peter made in that thread:

I've only seen Schindler's List the one time, 17 years ago, but I can remember realizing at some point during the film that none of the characters who had been developed in any remotely meaningful way were going to die. (Well, except for the Nazi, maybe.) I realized that this movie was based on the memories of the survivors and, therefore, everyone whose perspective we were privy to was going to survive. That kind of sucked some of the suspense out of the movie, for me.

Good. Suspense is kind of beside the point, I think. We can feel the horrific uncertainty of the characters who don't know whether they'll live or die without ourselves needing the Hollywood thrill of suspense.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Thanks for this SDG. I can't wait to read this. The late Dr. Hansen is one of the film scholars whose work I've really come to value in the past couple of years.

Very interesting essay by a Jewish film historian, very literate both in film theory and in the critical, moral and religious controversies around Schindler's List, who says she shares "some of the reservations" critics have leveled against the film, but adds, "I still would argue that Schindler's List is a more sophisticated, elliptical, and self-conscious film than its critics acknowledge."

In fact, she says that the broad critique of the film suffers from a "lack of attention to the film's material and textual specificity, a symptom of the impasse produced by the intellectual critique, an impasse that I find epitomized in the binary opposition of Schindler's List and Shoah."

Schindler's List is Not Shoah: The Second Commandment, Popular Modernism and Public Memory (PDF warning)

Miriam Bratu Hansen

It is no coincidence that none of the critics of Schindler's List have commented on the film's use of sound (except for complaints about the sentimental and melodramatic music)-not to mention how few have actually granted the film a closer look … Let me cite a few, brief examples that suggest that we might imagine this film differently, examples pertaining to both the film's complex use of sound and its structuring of narration and cinematic subjectivity.

To begin with the latter point, the complaint that the film is narrated from the point of view of the perpetrators ignores the crucial function of Stern in the enunciative structure of the film. Throughout the film, Stern is the focus of point-of-view edits and reaction shots, just as he repeatedly motivates camera movements and shot changes. Stern is the only character who gets to authorize a flashback, in the sequence in which he responds to Schindler's attempt to defend Goeth ("a wonderful crook") by evoking a scene of Goeth's close-range shooting of twenty-five men in a work detail in retribution for one man's escape; closer framing within the flashback in turn foregrounds, as mute witness, the prisoner to whom Stern attributes the account…

More often, temporal displacement is a function of the soundtrack, in particular an abundance of sound bridges and other forms of nonmatching (such as a character's speech or reading turning into documentary-style voice-over); and there are numerous moments when the formal disjunction of sound and image tracks subtends rhetorical relations of irony and even counterpoint…

More important, the attack on Schindler's List in the name of Shoah reinscribes the debate on filmic representation with the old debate of modernism versus mass culture, and thus with binary oppositions of "high" versus "low," "art" versus "kitsch," "esoteric" versus "popular." However, Adorno's insight that, to use Andreas Huyssen's paraphrase, ever since the mid-nineteenth century "modernism and mass culture have been engaged in a compulsive pas-de-deux" has become exponentially more pertinent in postmodern media culture. "High" and "low" are inextricably part of the same culture, part of the same public sphere, part of the ongoing negotiation of how forms of social difference are both represented and produced in late capitalism…

But perhaps this question is beside the point, as is treating the opposition of Shoah versus Schindler's List as if it were a practical alternative, a real option. For whether we like it or not, the predominant vehicles of public memory are the media of technical re/production and mass consumption. This is especially exacerbated for the remembrance of the Shoah considering the specific crisis posed by the Nazis' destruction of the very basis and structures of collective remembering. (Unlike most of the "ordinary massacres" committed in the course of the German genocidal war all over Europe, the Shoah left no communities of survivors, widows and children, not even burial sites that would have provided a link with a more "organic" tradition of oral and collective memory.)

Since I was already writing about the use of Jewish point of view in my review (though not specifically in connection with Stern's character), I found all this very interesting.

Much more in the full article, including how Hansen sees Schindler's List in relation to Citizen Kane.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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As I see it, the Schindlerjuden — and even more Schindler himself — are in the foreground and the Holocaust is in the background, but in this film the background is as important as the foreground.

My sense of SCHINDLER'S LIST is that the foreground and background cannot be so easily differentiated. Spielberg often seems more interested in exploring the Holocaust than he is in exploring Oscar Schindler.

Hansen illustrates this point with a careful formal analysis of the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto:

In the sequence that initiates the liquidation of the Kracow Ghetto, disjunctive sound/image relations combine with camera narration that foregrounds Stern's point of view. The sequence is defined by the duration of an acoustic event, Goeth's speech, that begins and ends with the phrase "today is history." The speech starts in the middle of a series of four shots alternating between Schindler and Goeth shaving, which briefly makes it an acoustic flashforward. Only in the fifth shot is the voice grounded in the speaking character, Goeth, now dressed in a uniform, addressing his men who stand around him in a wide circle. In the shots that follow, the speech appears to function as a kind of voice-over, speaking the history of the Ghetto's inhabitants and the imminent erasure of this history and its subjects. But the images of the living people we see—a rabbi praying, a family having breakfast, a man and a woman exchanging loving looks—also resist this predication. So does the voice of the rabbi that competes with Goeth's voice even before we see him pray, and it continues, as an undertone to Goeth's voice, into the subsequent shots of Ghetto inhabitants (so that in one shot, in which we hear the subdued synchronic voices of the family at breakfast, there are actually three different layers of sound); the praying voice fades out just before the last sentence of Goeth's speech. Not coincidentally, all the Jewish characters shown in this sequence will survive; that is, they will, as individuals, give the lie to Goeth's project. What is more, nested into this sequence is a pronounced point-of-view pattern that centers on Stern and makes him the first to witness the ominous preparations. The act of looking is emphasized by a close-up of him putting on his glasses and turning to the window, and by the answering extreme high-angle shot that frames window and curtain from his vantage point. This shot is repeated, after two objective, almost emblematic shots (closely framed and violating screen direction) of rows of chairs and tables being set up by uniformed arms and hands, and then bookended by a medium shot of Stern watching and turning away from the window. The whole sequence is symmetrically closed by reattaching Goeth's voice to his body, thus sealing the fate of the majority of the Ghetto population, the people not shown on the image track.

That's more formal rigor than I would ever bring to bear, at least in writing, but it certainly tracks with my own intuitive and formal reading of the film.

FWIW, that is lovely analysis.

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As I see it, the Schindlerjuden — and even more Schindler himself — are in the foreground and the Holocaust is in the background, but in this film the background is as important as the foreground.

My sense of SCHINDLER'S LIST is that the foreground and background cannot be so easily differentiated. Spielberg often seems more interested in exploring the Holocaust than he is in exploring Oscar Schindler.

I agree; I would even go so far as to suggest we may be getting at essentially the same point in two different ways. But to the extent that it's true, doesn't it seem undermine Kubrick's remark? Kubrick says (I'm not sure he meant it as a criticism, though other people have taken or used it as such) that Schindler's List isn't about the Holocaust, but about "600" [sic] survivors. Yet the film does engage the larger reality of the Holocaust in a more substantial way than this would seem to suggest.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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But to the extent that it's true, doesn't it seem undermine Kubrick's remark?

No, but I get the sense that we understand Kubrick's remark in different ways.

Kubrick isn't claiming that SCHINDLER'S LIST doesn't deal with the broader narrative of the Holocaust, but that it nevertheless fails to capture the Holocaust. Kubrick is claiming that the narrative Spielberg uses as a vehicle to examine the Holocaust is inappropriate because the fundamental narrative of the Holocaust is failure.

Kubrick actually abandoned his own Holocaust film, THE ARYAN PAPERS, because he came to believe that no film could ever effectively speak to the overwhelming horror of the Holocaust.

Edited by Ryan H.
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Kubrick actually abandoned his own Holocaust film, THE ARYAN PAPERS, because he came to believe that no film could ever effectively speak to the overwhelming horror of the Holocaust.

According to some in Room 237, The Shining is his Holocaust picture.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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SDG wrote:

: We can feel the horrific uncertainty of the characters who don't know whether they'll live or die without ourselves needing the Hollywood thrill of suspense.

Um, what do "Hollywood thrills" have to do with my remark?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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SDG wrote:

: We can feel the horrific uncertainty of the characters who don't know whether they'll live or die without ourselves needing the Hollywood thrill of suspense.

Um, what do "Hollywood thrills" have to do with my remark?

I think what SDG is trying to say is that SCHINDLER'S LIST is not primarily trying to keep the audience in suspense about "who lives, and who dies", but in giving them the experience of "feeling the characters horrific uncertainty", even if we know (or can guess) what their outcome will be.

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Kubrick isn't claiming that SCHINDLER'S LIST doesn't deal with the broader narrative of the Holocaust, but that it nevertheless fails to capture the Holocaust. Kubrick is claiming that the narrative Spielberg uses as a vehicle to examine the Holocaust is inappropriate because the fundamental narrative of the Holocaust is failure.

Kubrick actually abandoned his own Holocaust film, THE ARYAN PAPERS, because he came to believe that no film could ever effectively speak to the overwhelming horror of the Holocaust.

Let's remember, first, that we only have Kubrick's remark (AFAIK) secondhand, from Frederic Raphael.

As Raphael apparently tells it, Kubrick questioned whether any film could truly "represent the Holocaust in its entirety"; and when Raphael suggested Schindler's List, Kubrick replied, "Think that’s about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who don’t. Anything else?"

As I read the remark in this anecdote, Kubrick's essential point was that Schindler's List didn't "represent the Holocaust in its entirety" because it told a different story. I don't see any basis here for concluding that Kubrick faulted the film for that choice, or felt that the narrative Spielberg chose was inappropriate — only that it left him still agnostic/skeptical on the possibility of a film "representing the Holocaust in its entirety." It's possible that Kubrick's comment was essentially critical, but unless there's more evidence than this secondhand story, it seems an open question to me.

: We can feel the horrific uncertainty of the characters who don't know whether they'll live or die without ourselves needing the Hollywood thrill of suspense.

Um, what do "Hollywood thrills" have to do with my remark?

I think what SDG is trying to say is that SCHINDLER'S LIST is not primarily trying to keep the audience in suspense about "who lives, and who dies", but in giving them the experience of "feeling the characters horrific uncertainty", even if we know (or can guess) what their outcome will be.

What Ben said, in part. FWIW, the scene is widely criticized as an exercise in Hollywood-style suspense, so I wasn't just addressing your comment in isolation, but that larger context.

Either way, I at least think of "suspense" in cinema as a function more of movies-as-entertainment than movies-as-art; the empathic dimension of the scene is about how the characters feel, whereas suspense is about how the viewer feels.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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