A sudden need to see "Schindler's List"
Tim Whyte · March 2, 1997
The guy at the video store looked at me kind of funny. It was one week ago today, and I had placed a two-tape copy of "Schindler's List" on the counter.
He didn't ask, but I knew he was thinking, "Dude, they're, like, showing this movie on TV tonight. You could watch it for free. Why pay?"
It was simple, really. I knew "Schindler's List" was a three-hour-plus movie, and I'd rather have my own remote control to facilitate "breaks." Plus, I'd heard the TV version of Steven Spielberg's masterpiece was going to be edited somewhat, and I'd rather see the movie, as much as possible, as it was originally intended to be seen.
And I'd never seen it before.
It came out in 1993. I knew at the time, and have known ever since, that it is "an important film," one of those movies that you should see.
I don't know exactly why I never got around to seeing it. It's a number of factors, I guess. Going to the movies for a three-hour film is quite a commitment -- longer, my wife might joke, than most men are willing to commit to anything.
Then there's The Downer Factor. You know going in that "Schindler's List" is not a happy movie. I doubt anyone can ever really be in the right frame of mind to see a graphic portrayal of the Holocaust.
And maybe I was a little scared.
It took NBC to prod me into seeing it. When I heard the movie was going to be on network TV, for some reason I felt compelled to see it -- immediately. Suddenly, seeing this film took on an unexpected sense of urgency.
So here I am, four years behind the curve, with what amounts to a belated movie review that, presumably, echoes the sentiments of countless critics who came before me.
You have to see this film. Not because it's entertaining, or fun in any sense of the word. You have to see it because every once in a while we have to grab each other by the shirt, shake like hell and swear never to let this happen again.
Five million Jews were killed by Hitler's Nazi regime. To people my age or younger, it seems distant, maybe even unreal. We can't remember it, so it's ancient history, right?
Of course not. It wasn't even that long ago. Survivors can still provide firsthand accounts of the horrors. "Schindler's List" takes those accounts and slaps you in the face with them.
It is the tale of a womanizing Nazi war profiteer, Oskar Schindler, whose factory became a safe haven for Jews who would otherwise face certain death in Nazi camps. The film masterfully portrays the transformation of Schindler from a man who viewed his Jewish employees as little more than property to one who was willing to completely exhaust his resources, financial and otherwise, to prevent them from being murdered. He is credited with saving 1,100 lives.
The film is graphic. If it were fiction, you'd say the violence is gratuitous, overdone. but it's based on fact, and some say that, even as horrid as some of the movie's scenes are, reality was worse.
Later, I was pleased to hear the NBC version was only edited a tiny bit, so the movie was seen virtually in its entirety by the television audience. As one critic said, to make "Schindler's List" more palatable would be like telling the audience, "Here, we've made the Holocaust easier for you to watch."
It shouldn't be easy. It should make your skin crawl. It should make you uncomfortable. It should make you angry. It should frighten you. It should make you sick to your stomach.
Honestly, though, if I were the guy with the network editing knife, I can't say I would have had the guts to use it as sparingly as NBC apparently did. I respect their fortitude.
NBC and the sponsor, Ford, also deserve a lot of credit for presenting the film commercial-free. Imagine how tasteless it would have been for someone to hawk beer, cheeseburgers or basketball shoes in the middle of "Schindler's List."
It wasn't "fun," but I'm glad I finally twisted my own arm into seeing it. It's a difficult movie to watch, but it is a near-flawless piece of film making. Spielberg filmed it in black and white, with a documentary style that gives many scenes the feel of a newsreel, making the viewer feel as if he is seeing actual footage of people being mowed down indiscriminately, degraded by their captors or executed by gunshot and gas chamber.
I had bad dreams Sunday night.
Tim Whyte is the magaging editor of The Signal. His commentary appears on Sundays.
© 1997, THE SIGNAL -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED