Posted by: Ben | December 7, 2008

100 Movies: Schindler’s List

(Film. Spielberg. US, 1993)

There are, ooh, about 197 reasons why I hadn’t got to see Spielberg’s masterpiece earlier. Some of us do have lives, you know. Anyway, if it’s 1993 and Spielberg is making a three and a half hour black and white epic about the Holocaust, you don’t have to actually sit and watch it to know it’s going to be a classic. Luckily for me, I did sit down and watch it, and blow me if it wasn’t a classic. Not once did I cringe at the worthiness of it all, which was what I was mostly worried about. Not once did I decide to turn it off and go to bed.

“Are we the baddies?”

The main reason for this is that Spielberg is fundamentally an entertainer, and while I’m not sure that anybody has yet watched this for pleasure, it’s still enjoyable enough watching Neeson as he bullshits his way first to wealth and power, then to redemption. The film’s focus is on the gradual dehumanisation of the Jewish community in Krakow, from relocation to slavery to bureaucratised killing. Perhaps unexpectedly, the extermination camps remain almost entirely offscreen.

(Not sure anybody has watched it for pleasure, unless of course they were playing the keep-up-with-Schindler drinking game, which I hereby christen Schindler’s Pissed. The man can’t half knock it back. It must be the Irish blood.)

At the end of it all, this film is a story of hope in the face of immense evil. A nice story, but considering the facts any such hope is surely false. Every evil deed carried out by a human being demeans and diminishes us all. Conversely every great work exalts us all. Imagine if it were possible to atone for evil by doing good works. So that a particularly good Bach aria (to pick an example at random), or the first moon landing, could be worth a near-fatal knife attack. Schindler’s List might be the equal of three burglaries aggravated with assault. If the human race were to forswear genocide (which seems unlikely at the moment), how many millennia of blameless utopia under the benign tyranny of the philosopher-kings would be necessary to balance out the events of the twentieth century?

Still it’s neither original nor controversial to point out that this film renders obsolete the rest of twentieth century cinema, except for any other film that’s three and a half hours long and filled with meaningless, pointless death.

***** (out of a possible *****)

Next time: Beneath The Planet Of The Apes?

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