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Schindler's List

Review Written by: Joe Earp
Film: D-
Video/Audio/Extras: B-/B-/F

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Zaillian
Based on the book by: Thomas Keneally
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Branko Lustig and Gerald R. Molen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Skip it

On most occasions, I write a review shortly after viewing a film. But on this very special day, the eve of the Australian Golden Globes telecast I have decided to write up a film I last saw over a week ago. This has been prompted by one brief flash of a face on a television screen. It's a face all film buffs would know. The haggard, bespectacled face of a child that hasn't yet quite grown up. It's the face of a filmmaker who seems to appear at every awards night, whether he's been nominated or not. It's the face of Steven Spielberg. Seeing the man's charming features blown up on my television screen for another year in a row I couldn't help but feel disgusted. And this is what ties into the body of my review.

Is nobody else tired of seeing Hollywood Gloss taking over the world? Spielberg to me epitomises the mainstream. Everything about his films reeks of easy to swallow melodrama. Really at heart the old hack just wants to soothe the inner child. He wants to tell each and everyone of his viewers that its okay; the world's a safe place really. From the life-affirming, back slapping nonsense of E.T. to the dreary optimism of The Terminal, Spielberg only wants to please. And most shockingly of all, this is true even of his Holocaust film.

Yes, Schindler's List has been called the greatest film of all time. Yes, it's won award after award after award. But for me the film is little more than an insult. It's as if Hollywood has raped the past. I am not suggesting that filmmakers should avoid touchy subjects such as the Holocaust. Instead I just wish all those egos and all that cash could be left behind. Every time I watch Schindler's List I feel as though the film is Steven Spielberg's successful attempt to win an Oscar. The movie is so glossy, so overtly sentimental it makes me sick to my stomach. There is nothing real about the film. Nothing. Instead it operates in its own 'Spielbergian' dream world of heightened optimistic surreality. Everything has been sugar coated, distanced from reality to help the green fingered director keep the cash rolling.

For example, time after time, the film takes the easy way out. Instead of detailing the life and times of an ordinary man, the film attempts to paint the portrait of a 'hero'; never an easy task. Spielberg's clumsy hand hardly helps. Characters spend so long telling Schindler he's a hero it's impossible to really see into the soul of the real man. Worst of all however, is the character played by Ralph Fiennes: the vicious Amon Goeth. The Nazi war criminal is almost a cartoon character, thanks to Spielberg's ham-handed clichés. The hack has to heighten everything to the point where it becomes unreal. Goeth is so despicably villainous, so clichéd, he drains any reality from the film. Doesn't Spielberg realise he could have made the character so much more shocking if Goeth had just been an ordinary man? That was what was so truly terrifying about the holocaust - the fact that Nazis were the man next door. The milkman. The woman who delivered the newspaper. But to tell such a tale requires subtlety - something Spielberg definitely does not have.

The direction too is so over the top it is almost insulting. The completely self-conscious camerawork, from the emotional dollies to the rapid crane work, borders on the exploitational. When telling a story about one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever known, history should come first: not cinematography or direction. Spielberg could learn a lot from Polanski, whose utterly understated handling ensured that his camera became almost invisible. In The Pianist, one never became aware of the crew and thus the film became more of a document than a movie. Even United 93, another film about a horrific, earth shattering tragedy, avoided a self-conscious camera through clever steadicam work.

Many people in the past have told me that the ending of Schindler's List has reduced them to tears. Well, it makes me cry too. It makes me cry, because I become ashamed to be a filmgoer. The final scene, using real-life holocaust survivors, makes me physically ill. What Spielberg was doing shocked me. He was exploiting real life heroes for his own personal gain. Because lets face it; what was Spielberg's aim? To attract attention to the Holocaust? Well, maybe. But the very fact that the film was a big budget Hollywood production makes me a little suspicious. Maybe I should correct a statement made earlier. Maybe filmmakers shouldn't attempt to tackle real life tragedy. At least not if they're a big budget production. At the very least Spielberg should have refused to accept his Oscar. That would have been a statement I could have respected. If Spielberg had not stepped up to that podium, maybe this review might have been a bit different. Because to me that would have meant something. That to me would have meant that the subject matter was more important than any shiny statuette. And that would have been enough.

I do respect the Shoah foundation and all of the wonderful work it has done. But couldn't have Spielberg dedicated the money used for Schindler's List to that instead? Instead of exploiting the past, couldn't he have used all that cash for something concrete? It is the optimism at the heart of Schindler's List that also gets me down. By ending his film on such an upbeat note, Spielberg seems to be saying to me: don't worry, everything's under control now. By tying up all the lose ends, by having Goeth hung, Spielberg is softly soothing his audience. Thus, he essentially allows his viewers to leave the cinema unconcerned. They do not dwell on the horrors of the Holocaust. They do not think about those who died, about the dreadful acts that were committed. Instead they reassure themselves that all is under control.

The Holocaust was one of the most shocking crimes in human memory. And that is why I despise Schindler's List. Because throughout the whole film, money always hovers over the proceedings. Throughout the whole film, Hollywood keeps sneaking in. And that is what makes me ashamed to adore film. The very idea that the medium I so worship could twist and exploit such a terrible tragedy makes me physically sick.

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