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Month
February
Year
1994
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1993. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes. Univarsal Pictures 195 mins.] $r & enocide s not the stuff of comedy and cinematic sufferingcan only be redeemed in aheroically dramatic manner. Steven Spielberg does not therefore bludgeon us with excessive angst or excessive humor in "Schindler's List." Rather, he keeps a fine emotional balance in this harrowing tale of an average man's experience during the premeditated near-destruction of an entire people and their culture. In this remarkable story of an Austrian's slow transition f rom war prof iteer to war-time humanitarian, Spielberg has called upon his considerable talents to show us how brief snatches of generosity can be salvaged out of rampant ideological hatred and mass insanity. For Liam Neeson's Oskar Schindler is no ordinaryhero. Indeed, he's a verypoorvesselfor heroism. Schindler's no more than a simplemindedethnic Germán businessman whowinds up in post-blitzkrieg 1 939 Poland with a plan and a taste for the better things n life. It's to be his particular fate to be a witness to sorne of the worst atrocities committed by governmental edict this century and it's his equally peculiar fate to have his values shift subtly as he begins to finally comprehend the depth of evil surrounding him. The two spiritual antipodes contesting for Schindler's conscience through this time are portrayed by Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes- the accountant, Itzak Stern, who runs his slave labor business and the S .S. Commandant, Amon Goeth, who supplies him with a ready supply of volunteers for his factory. We can almost read the struggle in Schindler's thoughts as he initially attempts to balance his morality against his bankbook and profit. It's a deliciously sober race through most of the film. It is, in fact, this unsettling pragmatism that makes the narrative of "Schindler's List" as compelling as t is. For even given Spielberg's typical penchant to paint in light and dark ethical tones, the script is cagey enough to keep Schindler's mental make-up a first-class mystery. Yet ultimately even the high drama of Schindler's recruitment into heroism is secondary to Spielberg's purposes. Forthis most American of film directors has a much more serious issue in mind - mass murderon a scarcely believable scale. Perhaps it's the curse of being a kind-hearted people that makes such atrocities so difficult for many Americans to believe. We're virtually sociologically programmed to mitígate evil and we're educated to explain away this human deficiency as though t can be redeemed through science. Onewould have thought that given Spielberg's p r e v i o u s record of cuddly space aliens and whip-cracking adventurers hewouldhave softened this unsavory aspect of his story, but to his credit he does not. Random murder s no simple matter and random mass murder requires a callousnessthat torces usto accept the fact that evil can exist simply for its own sake. Spielberg's vivid depictions of the Krakow Ghetto, Plaszow forced labor camp, and Auschwitz concentration camp Ilústrate this point simply. The brutally sanctioned "final solution" of Nazi Germany is recorded in a horrific casual fashion which underscores the banality of this insanity . But perhaps the most horrific aspect of the film is the audience's ability to condition itself over the course of slightly more than three hours to viscerally experience this visual onslaught. For we do, indeed, become slightly conditioned to this depiction of senselessness as the film progresses. Spielberg's lesson is therefore two-sided. First, there can be no question but that these atrocities occurred and that they should not be allowed to occur again. And second, they are occurring again and again - at the very moment that you're reading this review, at the very moment you watch the film. Bravery, like cowardice, appears in a multitude of guises in life. The heroism of "Schindler's List" occurs so sporadically that when we're faced with the inevitability of its triumph, it comes as a relief to one's emotions. In the hands of a masterfilmmaker, redemption comes just in time. Yet make no mistake about the situation. There isonlyaprecioushandfuloffilmsthatareobligatory to watch and these are documentarles or features whose subject-matter appeals to the universal passions of audiences woridwide. Add "Schindler's List" to that group. Spielberg's masterpiece should be mandatory viewing for certification into the human race. A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME [1992. Directed by Errol Morris. Triton FilmsParamount Video 1 1 4 mins.] Don't let the robotic, synthetic American accent throw you. Stephen Hawking's voice is a gift from a California computer expert who was moved by the fact that world-famous British scientist lost his ability to talk during a tracheotomy in 1985. Hawking had managed to mangle his neck after his wheelchair was accidentally rammed by a car, spilling him head-first onto the pavement. Mishaps of this sort seem to regularly happen to Hawking. And needless to say , there's an extraordinary story taking place in this documentan once you get past the superficial oddness of the film's premise. Not quite all biography, not quite exactly science fiction, and supremely all scientific fact, "A Brief History of Time" is easily one of the most peculiar documents to be recorded in this last decade. The story of one of our century's greatest theoretical physicists, "A Brief History of Time" is as astounding a life story as could seem fictionally possible. For while Hawking is on an intellectual par with Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Feynmann; it's all the more amazing that he's even alive. Crippled with amyotrophic lateral sclerosisfLouGehrig'sdisease"), Hawking has managed, despite his virtual death sentence, to do more with his mind than the rest of us will do with the whole of our physically fit selves. His insights nto the nature of the creation of the universe have not only expanded our understanding of the origins of reality; they've led to radical reevaluations of "baby universes,""black tioles," cosmic "big bangs," and other outer space happenings which are stranger than science can currently understand. Hawking's greatness, if measured by more than sneer intellectual bravery, comes f rom the fact that all these insights have been completely thought out in nis imagination. It takes a couple of seconds for the fact to sink in that Hawking hasn't the use of his limbs with which to write his mathematical computations. By necessity, he memorizes every theory he and his colleagues come up with. Director Errol Morris' previous track record- "Gates of Heaven" and The Thin Blue Line" - has prepared us for some rather quirky history , but listening to Hawking's eerily calm voice describe his pain-racked life is almost beyond the pale. Between his lucidity, Morris' seamless narrative, and Philip Glass' hypnotic soundtrack, the whole fantastic story fits together snugly. Granted, Hawking's not exactly the sort of personality who softens on acquaintance, although, according to the other talking heads in this fïlm, as far as first-rate geniuses go, he's a nice guy. His illness has merely made him one of the most eccentric first-rate geniuses who ever lived. Even when the theories fly around at their most wöolly in this documentan - and there's indeed a rewarding wealth of challenging astrophysics presented in the film - nothing takes away from the human drama unfolding before us. Hawking's a survivorand his remarkable life gives us a heady sense of what it is to live, think, and dream at the farthest outpost of human ntellectuai comprehension. RATING KEY -& Acting 0 Cinematography Direction &E Editing Lo Narrative Sound Special Effects When a symbol appears following a títle, t mplies that the corresponding category s a strength of the movie.

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