Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Schindler's List

The list is an absolute good. The list is life.

Steven Spielberg did not want to direct this film. The filmmaker doubted his maturity level and saw the film as too important for him to leave his mark on. He tried to pass the project onto a number of other filmmakers including Roman Polanski who's mother was killed at Auschwitz, as well as Sydney Pollack and Martin Scorsese. Scorsese was actually attached to direct the film for some time before Spielberg's conscience got the better of him. Spielberg believed he'd "given away a chance to do something for my children and family about the Holocaust" and using Cape Fear as a bargaining chip, was able to re-establish his place at the film's helm. His final push to direct came from the rise of neo-Nazism after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the growing numbe of Holocaust deniers. Already having gotten more in touch with his faith while raising his children, Schindler's List may have actually come at the perfect time for Spielberg. He pushed Jurassic Park to the top of his priority list knowing he wouldn't be able to move to a new project for a long time once Schindler was completed.

Moving into production Spielberg left no stone unturned to make sure audiences felt the personal and political weight the story carried for him. He sought out a number ancestors of the Schindler Jews to play roles in the film. The script itself boasts 126 speaking roles and over the course of shooting over 30,000 extras were hired, many of which were Holocaust survivors themselves. The film's producers were tasked with finding as many of the people portrayed in the film as possible after Spielberg conceived the idea of the film's epilogue.

I realize that's a lot of trivia but I think it's incredibly important to know how personal this film was to Spielberg. Looking back on his career prior to Schindler's List it's hard to believe that he'd even be capable of a film that took on this type of subject matter. Even his most personal films up to this point had been lighthearted if not adventurous. Schindler's List is not only one of the most important American films ever made but also a clear turning point in Spielberg's career. A point where, save for a few films, many of his projects became much darker and more serious in nature. What's amazing though is despite the film's heavy nature it's still incredibly watchable. Spielberg has this incredible ability to make cinematic masterpieces from even the darkest material and never pulling punches. Schindler's List never lacks in its ability to wrench the heart and it does so often.

My favorite thing about this film is the way that Spielberg decided to shoot it. He partnered with Janusz Kaminski (the cinematographer Spielberg now works with exclusively) and told the film's story the way that history does: in black and white images. Like photos from books or a museum, Schindler's List presents a story told in timeless fashion. Using handheld, almost gonzo techniques, the film looks more like a documentary than a prestige picture and because of this doesn't have any kind of time stamp on it. Watching this film with no knowledge of the few famous faces within gives no sign of what year it was created and it makes the material presented all the more powerful. You can't pull out bad CGI from the 90's. You can't pull out that famous single that was all the rage when the producers were trying to figure out how to market the film. Schindler packs so much more of a wallop because of all these choices. I truly feel its one of his most "Spielbergian" films. By that I mean there's nothing diluting his creative process. There are no crane hots. There are no silly action scenes. This film is pure Spielberg and paired with the fact that it's undoubtedly his most personal film, Schindler's List is one of the most important films out there.

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