Zara and I went to a really fascinating lecture last night. It was given by Jeremy Dauber, a professor at Columbia, and the topic was the movie Schindler's List. It's part of a series on American Jewish film, although it's the only one I went to and really stood on its own just fine.
Dauber is a really engaging speaker and had lots of interesting information and insights. He spoke about the genesis of the book and the movie, about the movie's place in American Jewish culture and American popular culture, about some of its themes and how they played out on film, and about how it has influenced American Holocaust movies since. He chose clips carefully, juxtaposing scenes from different parts of the movie that illustrated his points. There was also some audience participation, and the audience included Schindlerjuden and descendants.
Some things I learned:
- Although both Liam Nissen and Ralph Fiennes are big film stars now, they were not well known to American moviegoers at the time. Spielberg chose them over "name" stars because he thought it would be easier for them to kind of disappear into the role.
- When first hearing about Schindler, Spielberg said, "That's a hell of a story. Is it true?" Dauber said that in order to become the seminal Holocaust movie it had to be something that was a hell of a story and true.
- Keneally was reluctant to write the book because he's not Jewish.
- Keneally's original title for the book was Schindler's Ark and that's the title it was originally published under. His American publishers told him it would not go over well with American Jews and got him to change it (I can't begin to say how much that title makes my skin crawl). He asked Spielberg to give the movie the "Ark" title, saying he felt it was the perfect metaphor for what Schindler did, and Spielberg said "I can show lists. I can't show metaphors" and stuck with the American title.
- Schindler's widow said that her husband had never done anything remarkable before the war and never did anything remarkable after the war. I think I knew that, but had forgotten the quote. It was particularly striking in counterpoint with one of the clips Dauber showed, where Schindler is trying to defend Goeth, saying "War brings out only the bad in people." Yet it brought out truly the best in Schindler.
- Spielberg had an uphill battle getting the movie made. It was widely believed that it would not be a commercial success. One Hollywood executive told him that they'd do better to just donate the money to Yad Vashem, because no one was going to watch the movie. Spielberg kind of paid for the movie by agreeing to do the very commercially successful Jurassic Park, and the timing was such that he was filming Schindler's list during the day and reviewing/editing Jurassic Park at night. Of course, Schindler's list turned out to be very commercially successful, too.
- There's a memoir by Keneally about his research into Schindler and writing of the book called Searching for Schindler. I'm going to add it to my library list.
Zara and I both got a lot out of the lecture and talked about it all the way home.