These are our four categories for this list:
These guys have had it too easy. Far too easy. Don’t believe the insane hype.
Good flicks that have gotten too damn big for their britches.
Asshole, you love this film for all the wrong reasons.
WHAT THE FUCK
Something went horribly wrong here and it’s carried over the the fans, who are blinded by shizer.
Why Schindler’s List is Overrated
Your guide: Andre Dellamorte
Its Legacy: Reignited Ben Kingsley’s career (hello, Dr. Boll). Launched Ralph Fiennes. Lobbed Embeth Davidtz. Won, at last count, forty seven bazillion awards. Helped found Survivors of the Shoah Foundation. Undoubtedly educated a new generation on the horrors of the Nazis in a way that was decidedly less “black-hatted” than had been portrayed in years. Marked Steven Spielberg’s real turn into adult material. Made watching the Ilsa movies that much dirtier.
Why It’s Here: Since a lot of the commenters don’t seem to read English, let me say this now: Schindler’s List is a really, really good film. It may even be a great film. But it’s also flawed. Hence, overrated, because it’s considered a masterpiece. But let me back up a little bit.
It’s interesting to think of the “what-if’s” if Spielberg had achieved greater success with The Sugarland Express. Something of an anomaly in his career, it’s an interesting, breezy portrait that shows one of Spielberg’s great strengths: he gets kooky Americans, be they Roy Neary, Frank Abagnale Jr. or Eliot. But the box office success of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial defined him as having an appreciation of childlike wonder. And, let me be clear, he has mastered that gift. But like many artists put into a box, he also seemed to want to pursue the serious, and so after completing his greatest ride picture (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), he made The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun. The reaction to both was mixed, and so he returned to Indiana Jones and remade a childhood favorite. But Spielberg was growing bored with whimsy (which, as I understand, is an alternate title for Hook), and in 1993 gave us the double servings of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. I would argue that the 90’s were a transition period for the filmmaker, who was gravitating more towards adult fare.
Schindler’s List was definitely a coming out for Spielberg, and not only in that it directly addressed his Judaism. The picture is strong, gripping, and with amazing performances by everyone involved. Ralph Fiennes delivers a great performance that is hard to shake, and I found the final moments with the pebbles touching. But there’s elements that go a little off throughout. Since release, the use of color for the girl in the red dress is one of the lightning rod discussion points of the film. Using color to distinguish the little girl sets her apart, but it also breaks the spell of the movie as it is incongruous to the black and white feature (seeing as how she is going to die, and the coat is the only sign), is this meant to provide the audience distance by forcing the viewer to step back from the narrative, or is it fabric-breaking for the sake of it? (Also note, the one color in black and white is not a new device and was popular as color was entering the fabric of cinema, though it had achieved some popularity in music videos a little prior to Spielberg’s use of it.) Then in a couple of moments, Spielberg’s genius for engineering, his brilliant machine comes into play when a German runs out of bullets. It’s a tense, tense sequence, but also plays a bit like a set piece. These mostly minor quibbles, the sense that Spielberg couldn’t shake the entertaining formalist, could be tossed off if Liam Neeson’s Oskar Schindler didn’t have to deliver a speech at the end of the film where he bemoans how he could have saved more.
As has been discussed before here, there’s a difference between adult meaning something featuring what HBO calls Adult Content, and things for grown ups, and the greatest failing of Schindler’s List is that it, in this moment, shows that Spielberg the artist was afraid to let go of the audience’s hand. Had this been a smaller, more poignant moment it would be adult, because it would then show the weight on Schindler, and the change he went through. But Spielberg, in that moment, broke the oldest rule in the book: Show, don’t tell. And those minor quibbles loom larger over the text because it’s as if Spielberg doesn’t trust the horrors of the holocaust to be horrific, to understand the loss that is felt palpably throughout. With American’s education system in the state it’s in and with the world (at the time) losing many of the people who survived that horror, arguably Spielberg has a point to play it up. But compared to other great films on the subject matter, including Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, it comes across as heavy-handed in a way that steps on the tale’s feet. And these problems are evident throughout the occasionally great Amistad, and the mostly brilliant Saving Private Ryan. Artistically Spielberg seemed to have a breakthrough with A.I., and has since shown himself engaged on a different level, with War of the Worlds and Munich two of his strongest works in years (I also have a fondness for Catch Me if You Can). Schindler’s List is a big movie, a sweeping movie, a transitional movie, and it undoubtedly deserves it’s place in the canon. But like Gone with the Wind, and to a certain extent, the lesser Titanic, it’s a warts-and-all acceptance, that at once shows the greatness and the limitations of the Hollywood machine.
A Moment of Light Urine: Schindler’s final speech.
These Ain’t Chopped Liver Alternatives: Night and Fog, The Pianist, Army of Shadows.
Devin Faraci Agrees: I sort of agree. I would whole heartedly agree if this was listed as ‘overblown’ – in fact, I think this might be the best modern example of such a film. To me it’s all boiled down in that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry gets in trouble for making out during Schindler’s List; the film ceased to be a movie and became some kind of object of astounding cultural import and weight. It was almost like we had never even heard of the Holocaust before this film (although of course we all had).
Interestingly, I disagree with Dre on the Moment of Light Urine – I love Schindler’s speech. It’s a little over the top, but this is a movie that’s been filled with heavy handed sentimentality from the beginning, and it’s a good speech. People don’t give a lot of good speeches in movies anymore. It’s that final shot, with the remaining Schindler Survivor Scouts, that gets on my nerves. It’s almost like Spielberg isn’t sure that we know the Holocaust really happened or something, like he’s saying ‘Hai u guyz get this its frealz.’ All of a sudden that heavy handed sentimentality was armed with a sledge hammer.
Schindler’s List is a very, very good film, as Dre says, but ultimately its place in history is going to be about what the movie means in Spielberg’s filmography and not what it says about the Holocaust or how it impacted cinema. It’s fascinating to see Spielberg backing into his own Jewishness here, making a movie about the Holocaust with a goy hero. It’s fascinating to see him grow up in a way that he failed at with The Color Purple. Ultimately it’s fascinating to see how Schindler’s List as an event overshadows Schindler’s List as a movie.
Jeremy Smith Disagrees: We’ve got to be cautious with how we throw around the term “overrated”. Though Schindler’s List is not in my top five Spielberg films (a handy reference for you, the reader: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire of the Sun, A.I. and E.T.), it’s a masterfully crafted, powerfully empathetic work that views the twentieth century’s most inexplicable act of organized cruelty through the eyes of a loathsome war profiteer. For a Jewish filmmaker who’d been lightly criticized for not adequately acknowledging his faith in his art (and a commercial juggernaut who’d been savaged, rightly or wrongly, for myriad mawkish indulgences), Schindler’s List arrived as a shock; Spielberg had successfully dabbled in adult themes before (albeit from a child’s point-of-view with Empire of the Sun), but the emotional starkness of the piece, particularly his treatment of Schindler’s tawdry Rick Blaine act, was a clear break with his sentimentalist past. With Janusz Kaminski’s lush black-and-white photography evoking the war cinema of the 1940s, and Zaillian’s script bluntly invoking all the awfulness those films could not dramatize outright, there was a sense, in the winter of 1993, that Spielberg was revolutionizing the medium, that he was wedding his unprecedented gifts as a popular storyteller (borrowed from Capra, Stevens, Hitchcock and so on) with the ascetic form of Bresson. Spielberg must’ve surprised himself, because he took an uncharacteristic four year break in between Schindler’s List and The Lost World, the latter of which found the master curiously disinterested. When the grownup reemerged with A.I. in 2001, his empathy for humans had almost completely vanished; Spielberg was a full-blown cynic. The films since then have been fascinating (and not always successful) negotiations with this newfound melancholy. Spielberg’s never been more vital (Indiana Jones and the Happy Now, George? notwithstanding), and he never would’ve matured had he not looked inward with Schindler’s List. There’s nothing “overrated” about that.