(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Schindler's History

Just as Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ has issues of realism and history in film back in the spotlight, the tenth anniversary of Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation has come around, marked by the DVD release of Schindler's List. However,as the NY Times reports, the DVD extras and presentation of the film speak of a complex relationship between film and history:
By 1937 in Poland "we had a feeling that things weren't going to be so good for the Jews," says a survivor of the Krakow ghetto in a 77-minute documentary that accompanies Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List," released today for the first time on DVD by Universal. Accompanying the documentary, called "Voices From the List," is a 12-minute short, "The Shoah Foundation Story With Steven Spielberg," about the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, founded by Mr. Spielberg in 1994 to videotape the recollections of thousands of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. Heard in "Voices From the List," many of them give a running account of the Krakow experience that rivals the movie in dramatic impact. [...] Cast and filmmaker biographies are on the flip side of the disc, but other than brief remarks on a pamphlet attached to an appeal to contribute to the Shoah Foundation, there are no features about the making of "Schindler's List." That could disappoint some viewers. "Steven didn't want anything but material about and from the Shoah Foundation on the DVD," Marvin Levy, a Spielberg spokesman, said by telephone last week. Mr. Spielberg has not done director's commentaries on DVD, but normally he talks extensively and entertainingly about his films during making-of documentaries and the like. This time, Mr. Levy said, "he wanted the experience to be exactly what the film was, and that was it."
On the one hand, having direct survivor testimony so readily and widely accessible is extremely useful for oral historians and educators seeking to use actual testimony and voices to narrate the tragic experiences of the Holocaust. However, the way these issues are presented, as accompaniment to a feature film, begs difficult questions about the way history is being mediated by cinema. The emotional weight of these testimonies almost makes Schindler's List feel like an historical documentary, not a Hollywood drama. Spielberg's decision to treat the film as a voice unto the past, and to avoid the stndard director's commentaries and so forth, seems to be aimed at elevating the truth-value of the film itself. While obviously it is better to have these issues confronted, and Schinder's List did an amazing job in starting and continuing the debates surrounding the Holocaust and historical representation, should we be a little weary of promoting Schindler's List to a definitive role regarding the experience of the Holocaust? Is history on film sufficient? Does it matter if Spielberg blurred some historical material to up the dramatical impact of the film? While I would never argue that Schindler's List was not a brilliant film (it certainly had a large impact on me when I first saw it), do historians and media theorists need to add a little critical distance between a Hollywood film and historical narratives?


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