Released in 1993, Schindler’s List remains Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece. In charting the change of heart of German Industrialist Oskar Schindler who used his armaments factory as a shelter for over 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust, Spielberg’s film is a compelling overview of the darkest period in 20th Century history. Yet, for all its epic sweep, Schindler’s List doesn’t skimp on intimate memorable details. As the film makes its bow on Blu-ray on 8 April, here are some of the film’s most poignant, shocking and moving moments as described by the people who made them.
The Girl In The Red Coat
During the melee of the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) watches the Nazi brutality from afar. He is drawn to the fate of a young girl, Genia (Oliwia Dabrowska), blithely walking through the carnage, Spielberg underlining the point by colouring Genia’s coat red within the black and white imagery. Simple but stunningly effective, the result is one of the most seminal moments in movie history.
Steven Spielberg, Director: “America and Russia and England all knew about the Holocaust when it was happening, and yet we did nothing about it. It was a large bloodstain, primary red colour on everyone’s radar, but no one did anything about it. And that’s why I wanted to bring the colour red in.
Storming the Ghetto
March 13, 1943. Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) orders the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, sending packs of stormtroopers into the tenements of the Jewish quarter. In between chillingly observed vignettes — refugees stuff jewels into bread and swallow them to save them being taken, a doctor administers poisonous doctors to save more crueler deaths — Spielberg captures the carnage with a documentarian’s eye, sending his handheld camera into the heart of the action.
Ben Kingsley, Itzhak Stern: “Once they started to run in with the handheld cameras and have the tracking cameras as well, the takes were very long and the shock built up in us. Bodies, blood, the smell of explosives in the air and people still running after being told to stop by an Assistant Director. Horror after horror until you heard the klaxon for ‘cut’.
Shoot On Site
It’s one of Schinlder’s List’s most wrenching moments. From the balcony of his villa, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), stripped to the waist, his gut pouring over his trousers, surveys his kingdom — the Plaszow labour camp. Scoping the workers with his high-powered long-range rifle, Goeth zeroes in on a slow-moving woman. Without rhyme or reason, he shoots her in cold blood, bends down to pick up a lit cigarette from the villa’s railing and shoots again, the weirdness of Fiennes’ movements adding to the inhumanity of the scene.
Ralph Fiennes, Amon Goeth: “It may sound glib but I think the killing of human beings that capriciously is like the [grown-up] version of the little boy with the air rifle who is blasting at sparrows or smashing wasps with a fly swatter. And obviously, it was something that turned him on.”
Deciding that a new arrival of Hungarian Jews means he must reduce the size of the Plaszow camp workforce, Goeth initiates a Health Aktion to differentiate the “sick from the healthy”. As a scratchy tune plays from a phonograph, the men and women are stripped naked and forced to run circuits around the muddy compound to determine their medical condition, women pricking their fingers and rubbing the blood on their cheeks to create a healthy complexion.
Steven Spielberg, Director: “It was hard on me to be there. I couldn’t look at it. I had to turn my eyes away. I couldn’t watch. None of us looked. I said to the guy pulling the focus on a very difficult shot. ‘Do you think you got that?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know. I wasn’t looking.’”
Learning of the closure of the Plaszow labour camp, Schindler and his accountant Itzhak Stern have a goodbye drink. As both men understand this means that Stern will almost certainly be sent to his death, the toast is tinged with meaning, Stern marking his newly-earned respect for Schinder and Schindler acknowledging the finality of Stern’s fate.
Ben Kingsley, Itzhak Stern: “It was a wonderful scene to film. Liam and I became friends, and mutually supportive in the very difficult process of making this film. And I think our characters share the same relationship that we did. It’s marvelous when that real feeling can be brought to the camera.”
The Shower Scene
Schindler has negotiated the release of 11,00 imprisoned Jews to work at his factory in Bruunlitz. While the men arrive safely at the munitions works, the women are put on a train bound for Auschwitz and forced into the communal showers fearing the worst. Yet unthinkable horror turns to unimaginable relief as water begins to pour down on the naked women. It’s a difficult moment, delivered with raw power yet immaculate taste.
Steven Spielberg, Director: “The most difficult part was putting the women into the showers, turning off the lights on them. That was tough. One of the actresses was born in a Czechoslovakian concentration camp and she was a year old when the camp was liberated by the Russians. During the scene she had a complete breakdown. Several women did during that scene, actually.”
The Schindler Jews Today
Newly liberated, the Schindlerjuden come over a hillside to the strains of Hebrew song Jerusalem The Gold. The black and white imagery dissolves into colour, now with over one hundred real life survivors saved by Schindler walking in a long line, accompanied by the actor who portrayed them in the film. Following a Jewish tradition, each of the survivors places a stone on Schindler’s Jerusalem gravestone, Liam Neeson placing the last stone. By this time the stones have grown into to a huge pile.
John Williams, Composer: “Spielberg showed me the film … I couldn’t speak to him. I was so devastated. Do you remember, the end of the film was the burial scene in Israel — Schindler — it’s hard to speak about. I said to Steven, ‘You need a better composer than I am for this film.’ He said to me, ‘I know. But they’re all dead!’”
Schindler’s List 20th Anniversary Edition is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 8 April from Universal Pictures (UK)
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