Sitting through masterpiece “Schindler’s List” 25 years later was just as painful. The Tribeca Film Festival screened the 3 hour 15 minute movie at The Beacon Theatre to a sold-out crowd of 2,900 on Thursday April 26th. The travesty of the Holocaust is almost inconceivable as Steven Spielberg and Liam Neeson take us on an unbearable and unforgettable journey. The conclusion was accompanied by a panel led by former film critic for the “New York Times”, Janet Maslin, who was joined by Steven Spielberg and cast members Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz, and Caroline Goodall. While Maslin was a brilliant film and book critic her skills as an interviewer were less impressive.
Her voice was barely audible and she waited 18 minutes to even ask a question to the film’s protagonist, Liam Neeson, leading the audience to clap when she finally addressed him. Ralph Fiennes and scriptwriter Steven Zaillian were unfortunate no-shows but were referenced continually during the panel. In an unfortunate interview given to the New York Times in 1994 Fiennes said “he felt a kind of sympathy” for his demonic character Amon Goeth and “in the end he became an extension of his own self and he liked him”-something Maslin never mentioned. Thankfully, Spielberg understood the gravity of the movie and was highly emotional when he described what it was like to see it with an audience 25 years later. Spielberg remarked that for the first time he noticed the long lingering look Emily Schindler gave her husband’s grave at the end of the movie which she had never visited and was “blindsided” by it. Similarly, Ben Kingsley remarked that every memory of the film was “indelible and in our shared DNA.”
Spielberg said The Academy Award he received was not a celebration because of the subject matter and the impact it had on all who participated. He remembered pleading with the audience at the Awards to teach this story in schools through the 52,000 accounts Spielberg recorded through the Shoah Foundation. Spielberg denied that Mel Gibson was to be cast in the lead but Scorsese as a director was a possibility. Maslin failed to follow up on this interesting admission. Maslin noted that Spielberg’s mentor Sid Sheinberg at Universal suggested in 1982 that he ought to make the book “Schindler’s Ark” into a movie. Spielberg said when he got to the end of the book he said to Sid, “I just don’t know how to make this movie.” Maslin recalls 1993 as the year where Spielberg had the great one-two punch of “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List”. Spielberg remembers it differently saying that when he read the best draft of Steve Zaillian’s script he knew he had to shoot “Schindler” in Poland during the Winter and was required to return home to California two to three times a week to approve T-Rex shots.
Spielberg felt “tremendous anger” that he had to go from what the audience experienced in “Schindler’s List” to dinosaurs chasing Jeeps in “Jurassic Park”-joking that his anger subsided in June when he received the big box office receipts. Neeson said Schindler’s List “was a job” not his state of mind because he was falling in love with his wife at the time, who he said had passed away, and he felt unworthy of the part. Neeson recalled finishing his play “Anna Christie” on a Sunday, flying to Poland Monday, and appearing at Auschwitz on Wednesday. Joining him in Auschwitz was co-producer and survivor Branko Lustig who pointed out one of the huts he had lived in at which point Neeson said it then hit him “f-in hard.”
He said every day with Spielberg and Kingsley was a master class and an extraordinary experience. Neeson discussed partying with some of the survivors of the Holocaust the night before they shot the scene at Schindler’s grave and at times appeared out of sync with the gravity of the subject matter frequently joking about drinking pints of Guinness. Contrastingly, Spielberg recounted experiencing nightmares three quarters of the way through the film that people wouldn’t believe the movie because of his reputation as a maker of Science Fiction. Consequently, he added the ending of survivors placing rocks on the grave of Schindler “in a desperate attempt to certify that what he had done was credible.” Spielberg felt this was a performance driven motion picture that was all about the banality of evil.
Spielberg recalled Ben Kingsley throwing a man to the ground in Poland who mimed a noose around a neck to Jewish castmate Michael Schneider; and seeing swastikas painted on walls to taunt the cast. Kingsley said he had the temerity to ask Steven what his dramatic function was and Steven responded “witness” with Kingsley replying “conscience” as they both shook hands. Embeth Davidtz, looking sharp in a tight fitted lace dress, said Ralph Fiennes brilliant performance was a revelation but once he was off the set he had a grand old time being the wild child of the bunch. While others may have found levity during the filming,
Spielberg said the scenes where the women were naked were “the most traumatic of his career” and recalled two Israeli actresses who had nervous breakdowns and couldn’t shoot for three days. Robin Williams knew what he was going through and would call Steven once a week and do 15 minutes of standup hanging up on the loudest laugh without ever saying goodbye. Neeson recalled that in the 55 movies he has worked on he has never seen a director like Spielberg who worked without a storyboard and was so nervous because he felt it was a “story he had to tell” recalling Spielberg running with a camera being an “exciting, dangerous and unforgettable” time. The Polish Jews depicted in the film were mostly Israeli actors and the German actors were mostly German or Austrian with Spielberg commenting how hard it was to converse with the uniformed German actors; he didn’t warm up to them until they shared a Seder in Poland during Passover. Spielberg conceded that this movie is his greatest accomplishment since that time-a sentiment most of the audience members agreed with.