Welcome 90s movie fans! As this is Remembrance week Paul Childs looks at the only war film on our list – and at 3 hours 21 minutes, it’s also our second longest – to remember one of WWII’s more unusual heroes. From 1993, it’s Schindler’s List.
I’m not going to say a lot about this film, and I’ll come to my own thoughts on watching it for the first time at the end, but let’s start with a few interesting behind-the-scenes facts
Originally Steven Spielberg was set to produce the film based on Thomas Keneally’s novel, Schindler’s Ark, and he wanted his friend Roman Polanski to direct. Polanski was a Holocaust survivor himself and felt the subject matter was too raw for him to work on so he turned it down. He would eventually tackle the issue nine years later with The Pianist. Martin Scorcese was approached but he felt that it was such a personal tale that only a Jewish director was suitable. Other directors who were approached before Spielberg finally took the project on included Sydney Pollack, Sidney Lumet, and Billy Wilder. Spielberg refused to take any money for the job, instead donating his fee to Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
The casting of the title character was also subject to quite the search. Names linked to the role before Liam Neeson finally came on board include Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Daniel Day-Lewis, Stellan Skarsgård, and Bruno Ganz. Harrison Ford turned the role down because he felt that his fame would detract from the film’s believability. This is what inspired the casting of the then relatively unknown Neeson.
Although the film does feature a very serious subject matter, I was surprised to find it sprinkled with little touches of humour, and found myself laughing at sporadic intervals throughout. Spielberg himself found it tough and did editing work on Jurassic Park every night to take his mind off things. He also had VHS tapes of the latest episodes of Seinfeld delivered to the set in Krakow, so he could cheer himself up at the end of each day. Conscious that the rest of his cast and crew would also be facing similar struggles, he invited Robin Williams to the shoot and he entertained them with the material he was testing out for his upcoming role in Disney’s Aladdin.
So much has been said about Schindler’s List by people far more qualified to critique it than me. I just wanted to include it this particular weekend as we remember those who fell in the two world wars and many conflicts since. We generally tend to remember – quite rightly so – those who fought and fell, on the Sunday closest to 11th November but watching this for the first time last night reminded me that not all heroes are those fighting on the battlefield…
Oskar Schindler – a member of the Nazi party no less – through his compassion, proved that in war there are good and bad people on all sides with his quite remarkable actions. In the grand scheme of things, the almost 1200 Jews he saved from execution at the Auschwitz and Płaszów concentration camps, were a drop in the ocean when you realise that over 6 million Jews were killed.
But the message that I took from Schindler’s List was that the small acts of kindness and heroism are just as important as the large ones. If he hadn’t employed those people in his factory, it is estimated that 8500 people – descendants of the Schindlerjuden – would not be alive today. IN fact, that figure was suggested in 2012. The film’s closing message tells us that in 1993 it was around 6000, so today it’s probably closer to, if not far in excess of 10,000.
Quite a legacy, especially considering the scene towards the end of the film – one of the most emotional – in which Schindler breaks down and weeps when he realises that he could have saved maybe ten more people from death had he acted sooner. We say “Lest We Forget” on Remembrance Sunday to remember those who fought to protect us but taking Oskar Schindler’s example into account, let’s also remember that our own acts of kindness today, no matter how inconsequential they seem to us, can have a larger impact on others than we could possibly imagine…
Come back next week to see what the longest film on our 90s Movie Challenge list is. Francis Fisher takes us back to 1991 for a true murder mystery the likes of which you have never seen the likes of which – so much so that it has still never been solved 58 years later (That’s what they want you to think, Ed). It’s JFK!