Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam's on Schindler's List


Do you agree with Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam's criticisms of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.

Kubrick's lifelong fascination with the Holocaust coexisted with extreme doubt as to whether any film could do justice to the subject. In 1980, he told the author Michael Herr that what he wanted most was to make a film about the Holocaust, "but good luck in putting all that into a two-hour movie." Frederic Raphael, who co-authored the screenplay for "Eyes Wide Shut," recalls Kubrick questioning whether a film truly can represent the Holocaust in its entirety. After Raphael suggested "Schindler's List," Kubrick replied, "Think that's about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. 'Schindler's List' is about 600 who don't. Anything else?"

"Money won is twice as sweet as money earned."

I suppose I agree that it's not a comprehensive summation of the Holocaust, but I don't think I agree with the unstated assumption that it has to be, or is even particularly trying to be.

You can't win an argument just by being right!
pretty much what Yoda said for me. It's a film about his list, but it draws attention to the entire atrocity.

Schindler's List is a flawed film but I'm not really sure what Gilliam is getting at here. When Kubrick said " The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. 'Schindler's List' is about 600 who don't.", he isn't criticising either Spielberg or Schindler's List. He's saying that Schindler's List is not a film about the holocaust, it's a film about Oskar Schindler, which is true. I'm not sure what exactly the problem is there. If Gilliam is trying to argue that Spielberg decided to direct Schindler's List in the same spirit as all his other films even though the subject matter demanded separate treatment, then his argument is simply invalid because all directors attach auteur signatures to their films (for better or worse) which is what makes different films by different directors, well, different. So I'm not sure what specifically he's complaining about.

As for Steven Spielberg, he certainly has had an interesting career as a director. The first third of his career has largely involved films with missing fathers and children with daddy issues. This includes films such as E.T., Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun and one could argue even Jaws is about a father abandoning his family to go to war against a shark. The second third has been about men becoming fathers or taking up the position of fatherly figures. These include films such as Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, The Color Purple and Saving Private Ryan. And then the final third has been about learning what it means to be a father. These include films like War of the Worlds, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and so on.

Perhaps my biggest criticism of Schindler's List is that it's a somewhat dishonest epic, a fanciful and idealistic self-portrait that's much too interested in dramatising Schindler's story. In Keneally’s book, Schindler remains a genuine enigma, the sum of sometimes conflicting and often speculative accounts of the people who knew him. Schindler's List, whose sense of drama won’t tolerate such uncertainty, sees this strictly as a conversion story — a Nazi meanie who becomes a saint — even though the implied conversion takes place offscreen. It’s an easier story to tell, but ultimately less interesting and less believable than what actually happened.

I also don't appreciate the fact that Amon Goeth is presented as a quintessential hollywood villain & I do think Spielberg is largely at fault here because there are scenes in Schindler's List that disturbingly bring back memories of the “I think it would be fun to shoot an Arab" moments from Raiders of the lost Ark (which mind you I did enjoy but come on).

Moreover the film's final colour sequence, which might I remind you is not part of the book & was written by screenwriter Zaillian himself, absurdly reveals Oskar Schindler as some sort of reincarnation of Christ who left behind a group of followers. It was both inane & unnecessary. At his own request, Schindler was buried in Jerusalem; though the film neglects to say so, his final resting place is in a Catholic cemetery. Spielberg obviously went along with this sequence because his interest is generally in lone, charismatic father figures & the ending provides a moment of mutual acceptance of the past.

Yet despite those flaws, I still think that this is a good film and that ultimately comes down to Spielberg's power as a visual storyteller & the beauty and density of Janusz Kaminski’s black-and-white cinematography. Take a look at this photograph -

This is a very poetic moment that Spielberg captures. We're looking at Oskar Schindler's reflection on the window as he watches his despondent and deprived workers struggling to get through the day's work; there's a small flame which is superimposed over Schindler's chest. Not a tear has he shed but his heart burns a little.

How many directors are capable of shooting a scene such as this? The symbolism isn't forced, it's just there. And there are lots of other haunting moments of this sort not just in Schindler's List but in several of Spielberg's later post-2000 films. It would've been very easy for me dismiss this film as just some grotesque Oscar bait film by a director who was due one but that's not really true. There's a lot of passion and heart that has gone into this project. It's not clear to me what aspect of it bothered Terry Gilliam so much and we can argue all day about the thematic problems of Schindler's List (in fact if you actually want to watch a truly great film about the holocaust watch Shoah) but Schindler's List is the sort of film that's really worth quarrelling with. This was when Spielberg grew up.

schindlers list was a superb movie

Well, of course you can't make a single movie about the Holocaust - unless it was a documentary, and even then it would be severely limited by covering an event that took place over the course of at least a decade even if it was a multipart series.

Just as there is no single movie that covers all of WWII (some may cover the span of time the events took place but there's no way possible to cover the major fronts of the war, no less all the minor ones and the hundreds of millions of people it effected).

Why criticize a movie like Schindler's List on the grounds that it didn't cover the entire Holocaust when no single movie possibly could?