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Schindler's List

Schindler's List is a biographical film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Steven Zaillian. It is a dramatized account of the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than one thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.

The film, based on the novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally, stars Liam Neeson as Schindler, Ralph Fiennes as Schutzstaffel (SS) officer Amon Göth, and Ben Kingsley as Schindler's accountant Itzhak Stern. The film was both a box office success and recipient of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Score. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked the film #9 on its list of the 100 best American films of all time.

Plot

The film begins with the relocation of Polish Jews from surrounding areas to Krakow in late 1939, shortly after the beginning of World War II. Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a successful businessman, arrives from Czechoslovakia in hopes of using the abundant cheap labour force of Jews to manufacture goods for the German military. Schindler, an opportunistic member of the Nazi party, lavishes bribes upon the army and SS officials in charge of procurement. Sponsored by the military, Schindler acquires a factory for the production of army mess kits. Not knowing much about how to properly run such an enterprise, he gains a contact in Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), a functionary in the local Judenrat (Jewish Council) who has contacts with the now underground Jewish business community in the Ghetto. They loan him the money for the factory in return for a small share of products produced (for trade on the black market). Opening the factory, Schindler pleases the Nazis and enjoys his new-found wealth and status as "Herr Direktor," while Stern handles all administration. Stern suggests Schindler hire Jews instead of Poles because they cost less (the Jews themselves get nothing; the wages are paid to the Reich). Workers in Schindler's factory are allowed outside the ghetto though, and Stern falsifies documents to ensure that as many people as possible are deemed "essential" by the Nazi bureaucracy, which saves them from being transported to concentration camps, or even being killed.

Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes) arrives in Krakow to initiate construction of a labor camp nearby, Płaszów. The SS soon clears the Krakow ghetto, sending in hundreds of troops to empty the cramped rooms and shoot anyone who protests, is uncooperative, elderly or infirmed, or for no reason at all. Schindler watches the massacre from the hills overlooking the area, and is profoundly affected. He nevertheless is careful to befriend Göth and, through Stern's attention to bribery, he continues to enjoy the SS's support and protection. The camp is built outside the city at Płaszów. During this time, Schindler bribes Göth into allowing him to build a sub-camp for his workers, with the motive of keeping them safe from the depredations of the guards. Eventually, an order arrives from Berlin commanding Göth to exhume and destroy all bodies of those killed in the Krakow Ghetto, dismantle Płaszów, and to ship the remaining Jews to Auschwitz. Schindler prevails upon Göth to let him keep "his" workers, so that he can move them to a factory in his old home of Zwittau-Brinnlitz, in Moravia, away from the "final solution", now fully underway in occupied Poland. Göth acquiesces, charging a certain amount for each worker. Schindler and Stern assemble a list of workers that should keep them off the trains to Auschwitz.

"Schindler's List" comprises these "skilled" inmates, and for many of those in Płaszów camp, being included means the difference between life and death. Almost all of the people on Schindler's list arrive safely at the new site, with exception of the train carrying the women and the children, which is accidentally redirected to Auschwitz. There, the women are directed to what they believe is a gas chamber; but they see only water falling from the showers. The day after, the women are shown waiting in line for work. In the meantime, Schindler had rushed immediately to Auschwitz to solve the problem and to get the women off from Auschwitz; to this aim he bribes the camp commander, Rudolf Höß with a cache of diamonds so that he is able to spare all the women and the children. However, a last problem arises just when all the women are boarding the train because several SS officers attempt to hold some children back and prevent them from leaving. So Schindler, who is there to personally oversee the boarding, steps in and is successful in obtaining from the officers the release of the children. Once the Schindler women arrive in Zwittau-Brinnlitz, Schindler institutes firm controls on the Nazi guards assigned to the factory, permits the Jews to observe the Sabbath, and spends much of his fortune bribing Nazi officials. In his home town, he surprises his wife while she's in church during mass, and tells her that she is the only woman in his life (despite having been shown previously to be a womanizer). She goes with him to the factory to assist him. He runs out of money just as the German army surrenders, ending the war in Europe.

As a German Nazi and self-described "profiteer of slave labor", Schindler must flee the oncoming Soviet Red Army. After dismissing the Nazi guards to return to their families, he packs a car in the night, and bids farewell to his workers. They give him a letter explaining he is not a criminal to them, together with a ring engraved with the Talmudic quotation, "He who saves the life of one man, saves the world entire." Schindler is touched but deeply distraught, feeling he could've done more to save many more lives. He leaves with his wife during the night. The Schindler Jews, having slept outside the factory gates through the night, are awakened by sunlight the next morning. A Soviet dragoon arrives and announces to the Jews that they have been liberated by the Red Army. The Jews walk to a nearby town in search of food. As they walk abreast, the frame changes to another of the Schindler Jews in the present day at the grave of Oskar Schindler in Israel. The film ends by showing a procession of now-aged Jews who worked in Schindler's factory, each of whom reverently sets a stone on his grave. The actors portraying the major characters walk hand-in-hand with the people they portrayed, also placing stones on Schindler's grave as they pass. The audience learns that the survivors and descendants of the approximately 1,100 Jews sheltered by Schindler now number over 6,000. The Jewish population of Poland, once numbering in the millions, was at the time of the film's release approximately 4,000. In the final scene, a man (Neeson himself, though his face is not visible) places a pair of roses on the grave, and stands contemplatively over it.

Cast

Production

Development

Poldek Pfefferberg was one of the Schindlerjuden, and made it his life's mission to tell the story of his savior. Pfefferberg attempted to produce a biopic of Oskar Schindler with MGM in , with Howard Koch writing, but the deal fell through. In 1982, Thomas Keneally published Schindler's Ark, which he wrote after he met Pfefferberg. MCA president Sid Sheinberg sent director Steven Spielberg a New York Times review of the book. Spielberg was astounded by the story of Oskar Schindler, jokingly asking if it was true. Spielberg "was drawn to the paradoxical nature of [Schindler]... It was about a Nazi saving Jews... What would drive a man like this to suddenly take everything he had earned and put it in all the service of saving these lives?" Spielberg expressed enough interest for Universal Studios to buy the rights to the novel, and in early 1983 Spielberg met with Pfefferberg. Pfefferberg asked Spielberg, "Please, when are you starting?" Spielberg replied, "Ten years from now."

Spielberg was unsure of his own maturity in making a film about the Holocaust, and the project remained "on [his] guilty conscience". Spielberg attempted to pass off the project to director Roman Polanski, but Polanski turned down the project, finding the subject matter too sensitive because his mother was gassed at Auschwitz, and from his own personal experiences in (and his eventual survival of) the Kraków Ghetto. Polanski would go on to direct his own Holocaust film, The Pianist in 2002. Spielberg also offered the film to Sydney Pollack. Martin Scorsese was attached to direct Schindler's List in 1988. However, Spielberg was unsure of letting Scorsese direct Schindler's List, as "I'd given away a chance to do something for my children and family about the Holocaust." Spielberg offered him the chance to direct the Cape Fear remake instead. Billy Wilder also expressed interest in directing the film, "as a memorial to most of [his] family, who went to Auschwitz." Spielberg finally decided to direct the film, after hearing of the Bosnian genocide and various Holocaust deniers. Spielberg stated that with the rise of neo-nazism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people were once again tolerating intolerance, as they did in the 1930s. In addition, Spielberg, who suffered Antisemitism as a child, was accepting his Jewish heritage while raising his children. Sid Sheinberg greenlit the film on one condition: that Spielberg make Jurassic Park first. Spielberg later said, "He knew that once I had directed Schindler I wouldn't be able to do Jurassic Park".

Thomas Keneally was initially hired to adapt his book in 1983, and he turned in a 220-page script. Keneally focused on Schindler's numerous relationships, and admitted he did not compress the story enough. Spielberg hired Kurt Luedtke, who wrote Out of Africa, to write the next draft. Luedtke gave up almost four years later, as he found Schindler's change of heart too unbelievable. During his time as director, Scorsese hired Steve Zaillian to write the script. When he was handed back the project, Spielberg found Zaillian's 115-page draft too short, and asked him to extend it to 195 pages. Spielberg wanted to focus on the Jews in the story, and extended the ghetto liquidation sequence, as Spielberg "felt very strongly that the sequence had to be almost unwatchable." Spielberg also felt Schindler's transition had to be ambiguous, and not "some kind of explosive catharsis that would turn this into The Great Escape."

Casting

Liam Neeson auditioned as Oskar Schindler very early on in the casting process, and was cast in December 1992, after Spielberg saw him perform in Anna Christie on Broadway. Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson also expressed interest in portraying Schindler. Neeson felt "[Schindler] enjoyed fookin' with the Nazis. In Keneally's book it says he was regarded as a kind of a buffoon by them... if the Nazis were New Yorkers, he was from Arkansas. They don't quite take him seriously, and he used that to full effect. To prepare for the role, Neeson was sent tapes of Time Warner CEO Steve Ross, who had a charisma Spielberg compared to Schindler.

Ralph Fiennes was cast as Amon Göth after Spielberg viewed his performances in A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Spielberg said of Fiennes' audition that "I saw sexual evil. It is all about subtlety: there were moments of kindness that would move across his eyes and then instantly run cold." Fiennes put on 28lbs to play the role and looked at newsreels and talked to Holocaust survivors who knew Göth. In portraying him, Fiennes said "I got close to his pain. Inside him is a fractured, miserable human being. I feel split about him, sorry for him. He's like some dirty, battered doll I was given and that I came to feel peculiarly attached to." Fiennes looked so much like Göth in costume that when Mila Pfefferberg, a survivor of the events, met Fiennes she trembled with fear.

Overall, there are 126 speaking parts in the film, and thirty thousand extras were hired during filming. Spielberg cast children of the Schindlerjuden for key Jewish speaking roles, and also hired Catholic Poles for the survivors. Halfway during the shoot, Spielberg conceived the epilogue where 128 Schindlerjuden pay their respects to Schindler's grave in Jerusalem. The producers scrambled to find the real life people portrayed in the film.

Filming

Shooting for Schindler's List began on March 1 1993 in Kraków (Cracow), Poland, and continued for seventy-one days. The crew shot at the real life locations, though the Plaszow camp had to be reconstructed in a pit adjacent to the original site, due to post-war changes to the original camp. The crew were also forbidden to enter Auschwitz, so they shot at a replica outside the camp. The Polish locals welcomed the filmmakers. There were some antisemitic incidents; anti-Semitic symbols scrawled on local billboards near shooting locations. An elderly woman mistook Fiennes for a Nazi and told him "the Germans were charming people. They didn't kill anybody who didn't deserve it", while Kingsley nearly entered a brawl with an elderly German-speaking businessman who insulted Israeli actor Michael Schneider. Nonetheless, Spielberg stated that at Passover, "all the German actors showed up. They put on yarmulkes and opened up Haggadas, and the Israeli actors moved right next to them and began explaining it to them. And this family of actors sat around and race and culture were just left behind."

Shooting Schindler's List was a deeply emotional time for Spielberg, as the subject matter forced him to confront elements of his childhood, such as the anti-semitism he faced. He was furious with himself when he didn't "cry buckets" while visiting Auschwitz, and was one of many crew members who did not look on during shooting of the scene where aging Jews are forced to run naked being selected by Nazi doctors to go to Auschwitz. Kate Capshaw and Spielberg's five children accompanied Spielberg on set, and he later thanked his wife "for rescuing me ninety-two days in a row... when things just got too unbearable." Spielberg's parents and his rabbi also visited him on set. Robin Williams called Spielberg every two weeks to cheer him up with various jokes. Spielberg forwent a salary, calling it "blood money", and believed the film would flop.

Cinematography

Spielberg decided not to plan the film with storyboards, and to shoot the film like a documentary, looking to the documentaries The Twisted Cross (1956) and Shoah (1985) for inspiration. Forty percent of the film was shot with handheld cameras, and the modest budget meant the film was shot quickly over seventy-two days. Spielberg felt that this gave the film "a spontaneity, an edge, and it also serves the subject." Spielberg said that he "got rid of the crane, got rid of the Steadicam, got rid of the zoom lenses, [and] got rid of everything that for me might be considered a safety net." Such a style made Spielberg feel like an artist, as he limited his tools for a film he felt didn't have to be commercially successful. This matured Spielberg, who felt that in the past he had always been paying tribute to directors such as Cecil B. DeMille or David Lean. On this film, his shooting style was purely his own. He proudly noted that in this film, there were no crane shots.

The decision to shoot the film in black and white lent to the documentarian style of cinematography, which cinematographer Janusz Kaminski compared to German Expressionism and Italian neorealism. Kaminski said that he wanted to give a timeless sense to the film, so the audience would "not have a sense of when it was made." Spielberg was following suit with "[v]irtually everything I've seen on the Holocaust... which have largely been stark, black and white images." Universal chairman Tom Pollock asked Spielberg to shoot the film in a color negative, to allow color VHS copies of the film to be sold, but Spielberg did not want "to beautify events." Black and white did present challenges to the color-familiar crew. Allan Starski, the production designer, had to make the sets darker or lighter than the people in the scenes, so they would not blend. The costumes also had to be distinguished from skin tones or colors being used for the sets.

Music

John Williams composed the score for Schindler's List. The composer was amazed by the film, and felt it would be too challenging. He said to Spielberg, "You need a better composer than I am for this film." Spielberg replied, "I know. But they're all dead!" Williams played the main theme on piano, and following Spielberg's suggestion, he hired Itzhak Perlman to perform it on the violin. In the scene where children are transported away on trucks, while their screaming mothers give chase, the folk song "Oyf'n Pripetshok (אויפֿן פּריפּעטשיק)" is sung by a children's choir. The song was often sung by Spielberg's grandmother, Becky, to her grandchildren.

Symbols

The girl in the red coat

Though the film is primarily shot in black-and-white, red is used to distinguish a little girl in a coat. Later in the film, she is seen dead. This character is based on Roma Ligocka, who was well known in the Warsaw Ghetto for her red coat. Ligocka in fact survived the Holocaust and, after the film was released, published a novel in entitled The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir.

According to Andy Patrizio of IGN, the girl in the red coat is used to indicate that Schindler has changed: "Spielberg put a twist on her [Ligocka's] story, turning her into one more pile on the cart of corpses to be incinerated. The look on Schindler's face is unmistakable. Minutes earlier, he saw the ash and soot of burning corpses piling up on his car as just an annoyance." Andre Caron wondered whether it was done "to symbolize innocence, hope or the red blood of the Jewish people being sacrificed in the horror of the Holocaust?" Spielberg himself has explained that he only followed the novel, and his interpretation was that

"America and Russia and England all knew about the Holocaust when it was happening, and yet we did nothing about it. We didn’t assign any of our forces to stopping the march toward death, the inexorable march toward death. It was a large bloodstain, primary red color on everyone’s radar, but no one did anything about it. And that’s why I wanted to bring the color red in.

Smoke

The beginning features a family observing the Shabbat. Spielberg said, "to start the film with the candles being lit... would be a rich bookend, to start the film with a normal Shabbes service before the juggernaut against the Jews begins." When the color fades out in the film's opening moments, smoke symbolizes the horror of bodies being burnt at Auschwitz. Only at the end do the images of candle fire regain their warmth when Schindler holds a Shabbat service for his workers. For Spielberg, they represent "just a glint of color, and a glimmer of hope."

Reception

The film opened in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto on December 15, 1993. The film grossed $96.1 million dollars in the United States and over $321.2 million worldwide. In Germany, over 5.8 million admission tickets were sold.

Schindler's List won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively, but did not win. At the British Academy awards the film won Best Film, the David Lean Award for Direction, Best Supporting Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Cinematography, Editing and Score. Schindler's List also won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture (Drama), Best Director and Best Screenplay, with John Williams awarded the Grammy for the film's musical score.

The film has had its detractors, for example, Robert Philip Kolker, in his A Cinema of Loneliness, attacked the portrayal of Goeth as "too unrelievedly brutal. He is a psychopath, and psychopathology is too easy a way to dismiss Nazism and its adherents. [...] Ideological elements are so distorted by dreams of power, authority, and manufactured hatred and convictions of necessity, that the majority of a culture gets caught up in the act of killing the demonized other. There were psychotic Germans, to be sure; but Nazism cannot be reduced simply to psychosis. There are scenes in Schindler's List of German officers in a hysterical frenzy of killing that are, perhaps, more accurate than Goeth's unrelenting murderousnes, but also bring with them the old Hollywood representations of Nazis as sophisticated gangsters.

In 2004, the Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

In addition, Schindler's List also featured on a number of other "best of" lists, including the Time magazine's Top Hundred as selected by critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel, Time Out magazine's 100 Greatest Films Centenary Poll conducted in 1995, Roger Ebert's "Great Movies"' series, and Leonard Maltin's "100 Must See Movies of the Century". In addition, The Vatican named Schindler's List among the top 45 films ever made.

The readers of the German film magazine Cinema voted Schindler's List #1 to the best movie of all time in 2000. In 2002, a Channel 4 poll named Schindler's List the ninth greatest film of all time, and it came fourth in the 2005 war films poll.

Following the success of the film, Spielberg founded and continues to finance the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, a non-profit organization with the goal of providing an archive for the filmed testimony of as many survivors of the Holocaust as possible, so that their stories will not be lost. Spielberg also used the money from the film to finance several related documentaries including The Lost Children of Berlin (1996), Anne Frank Remembered (1995) and The Last Days (1998).

American Film Institute recognition

Controversies

According to Czech filmmaker Juraj Herz, the scene in which a group of women confuse an actual shower with a gas chamber is taken directly, shot by shot, from his Zastihla mě noc (1986). Herz says he wanted to sue, but was unable to come up with the money to fund the effort.

As to the 1997 television showing of the film itself, per Spielberg's insistence, it aired unedited and nearly uncensored, although the sex scene was mildly edited by removing nearly all of the "thrusting." The telecast was the first ever to receive a TV-M (now TV-MA) rating under the TV Parental Guidelines that had been established at the beginning of that year. Many fundamentalist and evangelical Christian groups, which had previously been squeamish about the movie, stridently objected to the film being shown on network television at all, due to scenes of nudity, violence, and the use of vulgar language which were not edited out of the TV production. Senator Tom Coburn, then an Oklahoma congressman, stated that NBC, by airing the film, had brought television "to an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity," adding that airing the film was an insult to "decent-minded individuals everywhere. Under fire from fellow Republicans as well as from Democrats, Coburn apologized for his outrage, saying: "My intentions were good, but I've obviously made an error in judgment in how I've gone about saying what I wanted to say." He said he hadn't reversed his opinion on airing the film, but qualified it ought to have been aired later at night, when there aren't, as he said, "large numbers of children watching without parental supervision.

Notes

External links

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