Schindler's List: Special Edition (1993)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Voices From The List
Featurette-The Shoah Foundation Story With Steven Spielberg
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Notes-About Oskar Schindler
|Year Of Production||1993|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Steven Spielberg|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Friedrich von Thun
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes, Incessant|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
"First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out;
Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out;
Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."
Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984
Schindler's List is an historical film, about historical events. That history is not only expansive and international, it's also intensely personal for a race of people, for director Steven Spielberg himself, and for all of us as we confront our notions of tolerance. We are challenged not only by the staggering acts of cruelty we see, but by the equally staggering acts of kindness. As we witness this enantiodromic push-pull of good and evil, we are forced to recognise those qualities within ourselves that are both light and dark. It is not a film that we can dispassionately observe. We are thrust into the horror and the panic, the degradation, the brutality. We are offended by the excesses of the Nazi ruling class and its sanctioning of hatred. We cringe to see children screaming abuse as the long, bedraggled line of Polish Jews walk defeatedly by. Our minds almost reject the abject randomness of life and death - the capricious acts of murder, and the systemic plan of genocide that fuels it.
Prior to Hitler's invasion of Poland, the Jewish population of Cracow was significant, around 50,000 - due to its historical policy of protection after a myriad of European pogroms. They were a prosperous, industrious and active community who, by outward appearance at least, were fully-fledged members of Cracovian society. According to the survivors of the Holocaust though, many reported that their parents never really felt safe or truly settled. However, even the most pessimistic members of the Jewish community could hardly have imagined the scale and depravity of what was to follow. For the paltry few who survived these bitter years of torment, the consequences were life-long. How can one be anything but irreparably damaged if you survived while others did not? The loss of family members and silent strangers to the whims of uniformed sadists - witnessing unspeakable acts of ultimate evil, the burden of survivor guilt and desperate loss would be almost unbearable.
One such survivor, Poldek Pfefferberg, fled postwar Poland with his wife and eventually came to own a luggage store in California. Although he now enjoyed all the fruits of a liberated life, he never forgot his wartime experiences, and felt a tremendous debt to edify the name of his saviour, one Oskar Schindler. For thirty years he sought every opportunity to share his story, and that of his remarkable protector. Finally fate played the winning card and a broken suitcase led Australian author Thomas Kenneally into his store. In 1980, while waiting 20 minutes for his credit card to be cleared, Pfefferberg regaled the writer with his story. Kenneally's book was published in 1982 and MCA/Universal Studio boss Sid Sheinberg bought the rights, hoping that Steven Spielberg would someday direct it. Initially, Spielberg offered the film to Roman Polanski, but his own experiences in Polish ghettos were too raw for him to accept the project. And so Spielberg, who was at the time entrenched in post production work for Jurassic Park decided to take on the project himself. He flew to Poland and began his masterwork for which he accepted no salary, saying that it would be akin to taking "blood money."
His choice of Liam Neeson to play Oskar Schindler was an utterly inspired decision. Neeson's imposing physical presence and his ability to perform in a centre of stillness provides much insight into the character of Oskar.
Schindler is an opportunistic capitalist who has appropriated a luxurious apartment and an enamel goods factory from the exiting Jews of Cracow. With his former military service and winning personality, he is a regular feature in all of Cracow's nightspots, which are now venues for burlesque entertainments for the SS. In stark contrast to the disastrous turn of fortunes for the Jewish population, Schindler is enjoying prosperity on a new scale. Astute and wily, he ingratiates himself with the Gestapo and Nazi powerbrokers, plying them with wine, women, song and delectable black market treats.
In his factory, he has installed a quiet, conscientious accountant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Convinced by Stern's assurances that Jewish workers are cheaper than Polish ones, Schindler agrees to take on a Jewish workforce, and goes further by soliciting Jewish funds for seed capital and supply chains. In return, Stern negotiates the financiers' employment, marking them as "essential workers" in order to protect them from the harsh realities of ghetto life. Schindler's workers, while still housed in the ghetto, enjoyed greater freedoms and some semblance of security by being deemed to be essential. This classification exempted them, at least initially, from transportation to Polish work camps.
For Schindler, life is good. His wife, Emilie (Caroline Goodall) is sufficiently far away for him to enjoy serial mistresses, his business, under Stern's guidance, is highly prosperous, and his relations with incumbent Nazi leaders, particularly camp commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) has provided him with much social clout. As he comments to Stern, "I'm good at panache." Indeed he is, and his war time exploits may have remained utterly hedonistic, but for a defining event that occurs whilst on a horse-ride in the parks around Cracow. He happens upon a ghetto raid where soldiers grab people from their homes and summarily murder them. Thousands of Jews are turned onto the streets amidst the constant rattattatting of machine gun fire and the incessant barking of ferocious dogs. Suitcases are scattered, people are kicked down stairs, families are ripped apart. In the midst of the terrible fracas, we see one doctor in the ghetto hospital desperately rush from patient to patient, administering poison to the mutely grateful recipients. When the Gestapo arrive to see ward after ward of corpses, they feel the compulsion to machine gun them all anyway. Watching this horror and chaos from on high, like some omniscient demi-god, Schindler's eye is caught by one little girl, moving with some strange inner calm and compulsion. Fascinated, he watches as she marches past abusive onlookers, insular and intent in her stride. As she disappears from view, a new resolve is birthed in Schindler. His factory, Emalia, is now no longer about money. It is about saving his workforce.
When his workers are transported to the Plaszow work camp, where the pathways are paved with Jewish tombstones, he draws upon his friendship with Goeth, convincing him to allow the set-up of a sub camp at the compound. He panders to Goeth's disgusting, indulgent appetites which particularly focus on his maid, Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz). Rather than expressing any outrage at Goeth's debased behaviour, his random shootings of inmates and his drunken lechery and buffoonery, he quietly goes about the process of redemption, playing the dangerous game of fraternisation from both ends.
Hitler's "Final Solution" is rapidly drawing nigh. The Nazi removal of the children from Plaszow provides some of the most harrowing scenes on film. As the children are being herded away from their desperate mothers, a few break free and look for places to hide. One little boy rushes from place to place, looking for a refuge that isn't already occupied. With his pursuers close behind, he finally takes refuge in the sewer pit under the latrine - one little child in the dark, cowering and covered with faeces. There are few images that match this horror and poignancy.
As part of the "Final Solution" campaign, Goeth is ordered to arrange the exhumation and cremation of thousands of bodies buried on a Plaszow hill. Schindler is with him as he oversees the detail, abiding all the while Goeth's whining, complaining and foppish ways. As he quietly views the interminable tumbling of bodies into a burning pit, he notices on a death wagon the coat - the red coat of the little ghetto girl - surrounding her debased and lifeless body. Schindler is broken. The camp inmates are to be transported to Auschwitz. Schindler is galvanised. His workers are to be transported with the rest. Schindler is about to make a list.
He makes a deal with Goeth to not transport the workers on his list to Auschwitz, but instead allow Schindler to take them to his hometown of Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia, to start up a munitions factory. For each worker on the list, Schindler is to pay Goeth a usurer's sum. The feverish scene of Oskar and Itzhak compiling the list has an urgent and trembling tempo that sweeps us into their dangerous act. Schindler paces and smokes incessantly, chanting "How many? More, more" as they desperately try to ensure that each name is typed on the list. When the work is complete, Stern cradles the pages with immense tenderness and looks to Schindler. "The list," he says, "is an absolute good. The list...is life. All around its margins lies the gulf."
The male workers are diverted from the Auschwitz train and make good their journey to Czechoslovakia to be welcomed by Schindler, good food, and an incredulous guard troop. The women and children were due to leave on a later train, but a clerical oversight finds them all on a train bound for the death camp. Herded like cattle, screamed at by prison guards, they are corralled into the anteroom of Auschwitz's notorious shower block. Stripped naked, hair shorn, desperate and terrified, they are massed into the wash-house. They cling together in a mass of huddled horror, not knowing if it will be gas or water that descends from the pipes. As water shoots from the shower roses, the women almost collapse in hysterical relief - as one of the women say, "A half life is still a life." And while still alive, there is hope that Schindler will rescue them.
Which, ultimately, he does. The women and children are reunited with the men, and Schindler's workers set about industriously not making artillery shells for the Fuehrer. Ever the conscientious accountant, Stern points out to his boss that their faulty product is costing the factory its orders, to which Schindler replies, "Stern, if this factory ever produces a shell that can actually be fired, I'll be very unhappy." The consequence of all this lost business, however, is that Schindler is not deriving any income to feed and shelter his workers. Facing bankruptcy, they all face an uncomfortable waiting game, hoping that the allies will finish Hitler before starvation finishes them.
With no time to spare, Churchill's victory is announced on the radio. The Schindlerjuden are free! Schindler himself, however, is now by definition, a Nazi criminal. The workers band together and, with the help of copious amounts of vodka, extract their gold fillings to melt down and fashion into a ring for Schindler, bearing the inscription "He who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the entire world." Armed with a letter in Hebrew and clad in Jewish prison clothes, Oskar and Emilie are whisked away to unite with the allied forces, while the workers await their own liberation.
Their freedom having been secured by a Russian soldier, the entire factory population make their way over a field to the neighbouring town to begin their new lives. Fade, dissolve and bring in colour, and now the advancing party are fewer, and walk much slower. These are the "real life" Schindlerjuden, or at least a hundred or so of them, gathered from all the world to pay tribute to their rescuer. Paired up with the actors who played their parts in the film, they form a line at the tombstone of Schindler, and, in a moving Jewish custom, they slowly walk past the grave, laying a remembrance stone upon its marbled surface, all but covering its edges. The look on the face of Emilie Schindler, aged, frail and delicate, as she's wheeled up to the tomb is a symphony of emotions played in unison. Their marriage was always difficult, and his abandonment of her in Argentina led her to comment, "The Jews he saved, me he abandoned." The moment is almost unbearably poignant, and filled with an authenticity that is both heartbreaking and yet, emotionally satisfying. Spielberg's portrayal of Schindler did not gloss over his irascibility, nor did he indulge in canonising him, which makes this fleeting moment with Emilie cinematic gold. Finally, the hand of Liam Neeson hovers over the marble slab and places two red rose buds at its centre. Three hours have passed, and Oskar's story has been told.
Schindler's List broke a Best Director Academy Award drought for Spielberg. Having been nominated and passed over for the prize on numerous occasions since his direction of Jaws in 1978, the dam burst with this film, gathering 12 nominations and 7 wins, including the coveted Best Director award. The first black and white film to win Best Picture since The Apartment in 1960, and certainly the most expensive ever made, Schindler's List had massive impact on audiences all around the world. A co-reviewer, Sean B, describes the impact it had on his partner and himself, when they saw it at the cinema for the first time:
"We purchased our tickets and waited for the session ahead of us to end. When it did, we watched a procession of stunned and traumatised people walk out of the theatre and my wife and I said to each other 'what the hell kind of film is this?'
And then we found out, didn't we? I've never seen so many people get shot in the head in one film in my entire life. and not just shoot-'em-up action crap, but impactful violence that made you just marvel in the horror that man can inflict this upon his fellow creature."
That was the universal reaction to this heartfelt, masterwork of love and tribute by Spielberg. In its creation, he assembled a perfect cast and an expert crew who all coalesced to bring a portrait of a time in history alive. The brusque physicality of Neeson contrasts supremely with Kingsley's deeply internal and subdued portrayal of Stern. The faltering beginnings of a professional relationship at the start of the film to the palpable love the two men shared by the end was handled in a masterly fashion. Equally, Ralph Fiennes' performance as Goeth was credible and understated which would have presented no small challenge. He must have faced the perpetual danger of "monsterising" the character, which could so easily have turned Goeth into a cartoon representation of dastardly evil. The true horror of Fiennes' performance is he plays Amon as a person who considers himself an urbane man of his times. He has his own sensibilities and delicacies, and apparently, in the true manner of a sociopath, derives no moral discomfort from his actions.
The rhythm and tempo of the piece is absolutely faultless. It allows time to pass slowly so we can assimilate the experience as a more "real" one. Having included us so utterly in this way, we are physically affected when the pace quickens and the terrors of Nazi persecution play out. We are a part of the horror, our own disbelief is engaged as we witness the horrific atrocities at close hand and in full cinematic view. As Sean so succinctly pointed out in his quote, we are constantly barraged with images of graphic violence, and yet there is no loss of sensibility. In fact, each new horror layers upon the last until we are almost overwhelmed by its relentlessness.
Spielberg's decision to use black and white film was the only appropriate choice. Not only did he employ techniques of both film noir and archival footage styles, but this lack of colour was an element that he used to his full advantage. It gave him the opportunity to apply selective colour at significant moments, and also provided a history "stamp" to the piece. We are all familiar with old war footage, and recreating that style for his film gave his audience an immediate pathway into the text. Another advantage of presenting the film in monochrome is that there is a somewhat greater tolerance by the viewer when exposed to such graphic violence. The real danger of sensory overload that could have been present had the movie been made in colour was obviated.
The gentleman from the suitcase store, Poldek Pfefferburg (played in the film by Jonathan Sagalle) was recruited as the film's advisor and consultant, which has resulted in a film that does not sacrifice fact for story line. What we are offered is effectively all true - each horrific, horrid moment. It was Spielberg's intention that we would become so fully immersed in this story of the Shoah (the Holocaust), that it would become entrenched in our psyche, with the hope that our propensity for violence against others along discriminatory lines could be quelled in the face of personal responsibility.
Now, all these years after its cinematic release, it remains a lyrical, heartbreaking and remarkable piece of filmmaking that transcends all barriers of theatrical disbelief and draws us personally into the dark hearts of a dark age, then redeems us with the few beams of light produced by the deeds of the righteous few.
In the wake of Schindler's List's cinematic release, there has been discussion and dissent about this film's rightful place in history. There are arguments that contend that in featuring Schindler himself, Hollywood is providing a WASPish presentation of the Shoah. That focusing on him rather than a Jewish hero undermines the Holocaust story. There have also been many comments about the other missing persecuted - the Jehovah's Witnesses, the handicapped, the homosexuals, and others. To this, I would say that this is one story of the Shoah. It is a very personal story, and it is the one that one survivor, Poldek Pfefferberg, wanted told. No one film should be required to tell every story related to a subject. Schindler's List is a valuable contribution to the composite story of the Holocaust. Its voice, plus many others, need to be heard, and their experiences must be processed into a resolve that we live our lives in a different way. We need to acknowledge our capacity to do great harm to our fellow man, and reach beyond that to our potential to instead do great good.
For an in-depth article on the life and times of Oskar Schindler, click here.
Commensurate with a release of this significance, Universal Pictures have provided a very good transfer.
The transfer is presented at the ratio of 1.85:1 which is the original cinematic format.
The sharpness of the film is excellent, given that Spielberg has used a number of cinematic devices to "grain up" the picture making it more like a film from the forties, rather than a film about the forties. When creating his sets for filming, Director of Photography, Junsz Kaminski tested how black and white film stock treated various colours. He discovered that green and its variant shades did not render well in monochrome and declared the sets a "green free zone." By all accounts, working on the set was a rather bizarre colour experience, but on film, his edicts have resulted in a clear and distinct cinematic atmosphere. There is no low level noise present and the detail in both the shadows and highlights are superlative. Kaminski frequently utilises the low key lighting style of film noire as a vehicle to portray danger and nefarious activity, but also uses it to excellent effect in his capturing of the elegance and style of Schindler. There are shots of him in this dramatic direct lighting that look like William Mortenson portraits of the 30s and 40s - glamorous, sleek and fascinating.
With the exception of a brief shot of candles being lit at the commencement, and the final shots of the Schindlerjuden at the graveside, the film is presented in black and white. However, as a particularly potent emotional marker, shots of the little girl in the ghetto are coloured in a very dark red. Those parts of the film which are delivered in colour show excellent skin tones and a good broad colour palette. Editor Michael Kahn's transitional shot of the present-day Schindlerjuden from the liberation shot is subtle and well balanced, with the colours moving in gradually and to great effect.
There was occasional evidence of aliasing on some of the usual suspects, like staircases and the like, but given the "ageing" treatment that the film employed, it was never a particular distraction. Likewise, graininess, film marks and dust spots may well have been artificially added to accentuate the effect. There was only one incident at which this seriously caught my eye, which was at 12:57 on Disc 2 where a scratchline appears for one shot. Some of the tweedy jackets showed up their normal moiréeing tendencies, but there was very little of a technical nature that drew one's attention away from the film.
The subtitles available for the DVD were excellent - well-timed, accurate and generally very easy to read. By contrast, on the occasions where the original film had overtitles, they were a little difficult at times to read, with their white text blending somewhat with the background picture.
The movie transfer is spread over 2 discs. Disc 1 is RSDL formatted with the layer changed placed at 62:23 as Poldek Pfefferberg stands in the doorway looking for Mila. It is the tiniest pause that causes no distraction whatsoever. There is no layer change on Disc 2 although Disc 2 is dual layered. The disc changeover point is at 128:18, at the end of the scene where Schindler has recently been arrested for investigation of his "horrific" act of kissing a Jewish woman at a New Year party. It builds appropriate impetus for inserting the next disc, but the transition is a little abrupt, with a sudden cut to black.
The DTS soundtrack is a magnificent audio transfer, and is of reference quality.
There are two audio tracks on this DVD. The default is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. There is also an English dts 5.1 track. I listened to both and was very pleased with the results in both modes. The DTS track has a distinct clarity advantage over the Dolby Digital one, but if you do not have DTS compliant equipment, do not for a moment feel you're being cheated out of an excellent sound experience.
I remember when seeing this film at the cinema that I found it difficult to discern at times what was being said due to some of the characters' propensity to mumble. Of course, that hasn't changed, and those difficulties still exist, but the blame for that cannot be laid at the feet of the audio track. Once or twice I appreciated the assistance of the subtitles, but one does find oneself attuning the ear to the cadence of the voices, and then it's pretty smooth sailing. Audio sync was not a problem at all with this transfer, and was completely spot on.
The musical score by John Williams has stood the test of time superbly well and remains a superlative, lyrical and haunting contribution to the film. He collaborated with the celebrated Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman in creating the score, and Perlman performs the simple, unforgettable violin solo that is a constant refrain in the film. Perlman is on record as saying that his contribution to this film is one of his proudest moments in an illustrious career. Additional to this wonderful original music is an ambient score that contains such gems as Billie Holliday's God Bless the Child, and pieces of local music from the period that add extra historical depth to the story, notably the Gloomy Sunday Hungarian folk piece, and the children's nursery rhyme, Mamatschi as the children are herded away from their mothers.
The surround sound is absolutely perfect in this presentation. It was never completely overwhelming, but its presence intensified the feeling of immersion. There was no distortion or distracting pops present, and its quiet, unassuming existence never drew inappropriate attention to itself.
Spielberg is sort of the king of the subwoofer (who could forget that dinosaur and that glass!) and there certainly is fairly regular subwoofer activity in the more intense action scenes. But, like everything else with this film, it is used with restraint and is not obtrusive, providing instead a bass note of gravity to important scenes.
|Surround Channel Use|
If your definition of a good raft of extras has as mandatory a commentary then you will be gravely disappointed here. However, the extras that are provided are well presented and provide excellent background to the film.
The menu is designed around the film, with the live action of the lit candle as its motif, and the theme music as its background. It is clean, clear and very easy to navigate.
Running at one hour, 17 minutes, this is more a feature than a featurette really, and is genuinely worthwhile viewing. Some of the Schindlerjuden who are part of Spielberg's Shoah Survivors Foundation talk about their real life experiences in Poland, in the camps and with Schindler himself. This is extremely emotional viewing and I found myself profoundly moved by their simple and painful recollections.
Although this is, in truth, an eleven minute commercial and donations campaign, it does outline why Spielberg set up the foundation and the work it does. Of particular significance is the scope of the foundation far beyond Holocaust survivors and victims, extending to tell the stories of genocide from all over the world. Their work is noble and worthwhile, and James Earl Jones' narration is as lilting and warm as ever.
Very informative and quite extensive series of pages featuring:
Steven Spielberg (Director), Liam Neeson (Oskar Schindler), Ben Kingsley (Itzhak Stern), Ralph Fiennes (Amon Goeth), Caroline Goodall (Emilie), Jonathan Sagalle (Poldek Pfefferberg), Embeth Davidtz (Helen Hirsch), John Williams (Composer), Michael Kahn (Editor), Janusz Kaminski (Director of Photography), Thomas Kenneally (Novellist), Steven Zaillian (Screen Writer), Gerald R Molen (Producer), and Branko Lustig (Producer.)
A very good historical précis of the life, time and influence of Schindler. The notes presented prove the veracity and fidelity of the screen play to the known facts of his life and deeds.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
According to Universal Home Video's US site, this film will be available in R1 in a variety of options, namely:
- Collectors' Gift Boxed Set.
The Gift Box set will be packaged in a limited edition oversized plexiglass case and contains, in addition to the Extras I've reviewed:
It appears that this gift boxed version will not be available in Australia. However, the standard Widescreen version appears identical to the disc I have reviewed. Given that this DVD is having a global release, it seems only appropriate to make the comparison of version to version, so I see no reason to recommend the R1 over the R4.
Schindler's List is really more than a film, it is a phenomenon. It appeared on the landscape at a time when there was little interest or sympathy for the Shoah survivors' plight beyond the boundaries of the Jewish community. The news that Spielberg was to make this film was met with abject incredulity - how could a matinee movie maker even consider taking on a project of such enormity? Surely it was folly of the worst kind! But make it he did. And the world came to watch. For three hours, we sat under a collective spell - horrified, overwhelmed, fascinated, inspired. As we staggered blinking from the theatres of the world, moist-eyed and moved, a new era of dialogue began. While still we battle with man's inhumanity to man, we have a banner under which to rally. And the words of the Schindlerjuden in our hearts - "That it may never happen again."
|DVD||Singer SGD-001, using S-Video output|
|Display||Teac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Teac 5.1 integrated system|
|Speakers||Teac 5.1 integrated system|