Sunday, March 11, 2007

Reviewnytoons #2 - Making the List

Despite being an avid viewer of quality movies, I have one habit that sometimes prevents me from seeing a movie when everyone else is.

I don't like blood.

Blood kept me from seeing most horror films, which doesn't bother me so much.

It kept me from seeing Pulp Fiction for six years, Reservoir Dogs for longer than that.

I still haven't seen Saving Private Ryan, and before today, I still hadn't seen today's film:

Schindler's List

In the afterglow of such a viewing experience I find it very difficult to give a review like I would a "normal" movie.

Schindler's List is not a normal movie. It goes without saying that it is a very important movie.

To take that thought a step further, there are two types of important movies. The first is a movie that is seminal in style and content, that defines a genre or phase in moviemaking; The Maltese Falcon for American Film Noir, Star Wars for the Epic Blockbuster, Nosferatu or perhaps Dracula for Horror, Metropolis or 2001: A Space Odyssey for Science Fiction, King Kong for Monster Movies, Singin' in the Rain for the Movie Musical, Birth of a Nation for silent films, The Godfather for Gangster dramas, and Citizen Kane for, well, for movies in general. These are important films for people to see who wish to understand film, entertainment, etc.

Schindler's List is the other sort of "important." It's not just important for people who appreciate film to see (although it is masterfully crafted, which I'll get into in a moment.) It is important for people who are human.

Everyone who isn't a psychotic shitbird knows that the Shoah (lit. calamity) or "Holocaust" was possibly the most horrific event in human history, matched only rarely by the likes of Stalin and Pol Pot. Yet many people can only discuss this topic in the most basic terms. Six Million Jews, Adolf Hitler, Final Solution, Auschwitz, etc. How can any of us put a personal face on such an unimaginable tragedy? How can we ever get into the heart of the suffering and pain?

Truth is we never can. But Director Steven Spielberg gets us as close as we can possibly hope to get.

Spielberg shot the movie in black and white, a masterful choice that accomplishes two things. First, it sets the movie into the period. When we see black and white, we automatically are in the 40's. This is the color of our World War II footage, even of most of the still pictures we see. It places us in the moment.

The second thing it does is make it watchable. If it had been in color, I wonder how many of us could have watched to the end. Spielberg doesn't go with the cutaways when innocent Jews are executed by a shot to the head at close range. He shows it to you. I have seen one video of a man shot in the head in my lifetime. I wish I'd never seen it, but there was no difference, other than the color, to this.

In any other movie, it would have been gratuitous. But this is what the Jews saw as they went about their daily life.

In one scene an old one-armed man who had been protected by Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), Oskar Schindler's (Liam Neeson) Jewish plant manager, is caught on the way to the factory when the group of workers is forced to shovel snow to clear the road for German vehicles. He is taken aside and executed summarily. Graphically.

Yet the true horror of the scene was the mother and child nearby. As the man is dragged aside, the mother urges her child, "Look at the snow, look at the snow, the snow!" The child looks down (though we don't.) There is a crack of a handgun and the man goes down, his blood soaking the snow, but the rest keep shoveling, hoping to just survive the moment. Looking at the snow.

Spielberg demonstrated in this movie not only that he can make a movie look good, but that he can make a movie of power and truth.

Ralph Fiennes plays the sadistic Amon Goeth, the German officer in command of the labor camp supplying Schindler's factory with labor. To say this man was murderous would be an understatement. Yet even here Spielberg manages to show the conflicted humanity of the man. His inner conflict concerning his Jewish Maid Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz) is subtle and heartbreaking, as you tug on him with your own mind to find his humanity.

Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern is, well, Kingsley. He is quite possibly the most skilled and adaptable actor in the world, despite not being the first name to come to mind when you think of great modern actors. Disclaimer: I'm a big fan. He plays Stern with stark honesty. Sten is very realistic, and dose not expect to live out the war. He is fatalistic and insecure, and Schindler spends as much time saving Stern from himself as from the Nazis.

But the star is the star, right? Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler is a masterwork, a lifetime achievement. His collaboration on this part with Spielberg (and writer Steven Zaillan) brings out Oskar Schindler as a tangible, three-dimensional person. Schindler is the stuff real heroes are made of. Movie heroes are idealistic, other-motivated, sacrificial from birth caricatures. Schindler is a selfish, womanizing, profiteering opportunist who finds he cares about these people he first employs as slaves. In the beginning this practice of protecting seemed to be instigated by Stern, with Schindler purposely turning a blind eye, but there was in him a sense of humanity that could not buy into the Nazi propaganda regarding the so-called inhumanity of Jews. Neeson portrays the gradual, stilted journey from self-service to self-sacrifice with marvelous aplomb.

This film is full of moments, moments that make you cry with horror and make you cry with quiet, joyful hope.

But nothing can prepare you for what happens at the end. In putting this little spoiler here, I'm assuming I'm the last person on earth (other than President Shithead listed above) who hadn't seen SL before today.

When the liberated Schindler Jews make their black and white exodus over the meadow to a nearby town, only to suddenly be replaced in living color by their real life counterparts, a line of them, traversing that same meadow, it brings everything you've seen, the horror and the happiness, home in a blazing, electric shock. One by one the several of the actors accompany their real-life counterparts to lay a stone upon the grave of the real-life Oskar Schindler, and your soul is overwhelmed by the gratitude of the survivors mixed with the sorrow of unspeakable tragedy.

It is almost moot to give this movie a rating. Five Quacks, Five Stars, Five anythings makes no sense. This is one of the most important films ever made, and should be required viewing for those who are committed to facing the evil in our world that still perpetrates killing, in Darfur, in Rwanda, wherever it may happen.

I only regret having waited so long and for so silly a reason.


It's about me, dummy!!!


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