Steven Spielberg crafted his landmark Holocaust story Schindler’s List to look like a documentary, using black-and-white film to give it a newsreel authenticity and employing Steven Zaillian’s straight-forward screenplay as a template that consistently rejects melodrama and lets the barbarity speak for itself. But so immediate and unadorned are the horrors therein that I haven’t brought myself to watch the 1993 Best Picture – about the enigmatic Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a war profiteer who saved 1,100 Jews from the concentration camps – since I first saw it 10 years ago. (I know I’m not alone.)
My second viewing, then, comes on the release of this tastefully packaged inaugural DVD. It’s a chance to take notice of elements I never fully appreciated before – like John Williams’ subdued score and Fiennes’ haunting portrayal of a labor camp commandant. Above all, there’s Oscar winner Spielberg’s impressive discipline. How difficult must it have been for him to hold his anger in check and make a movie in which two primary characters are Nazis? How challenging to repeatedly film such violence and not blink?
Without a director’s commentary track or many other bells and whistles, the DVD barely flirts with answering questions like these. But it’s just as well; the movie alone would be enough. The supplements we do get, however, are worthwhile – two documentaries, one a brief introduction to Spielberg’s educationally minded Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, the other a feature-length film in which surviving Schindler Jews vividly recall their ravaged Polish community and the German-Catholic industrialist who saved them. ”Schindler was not an angel,” says Leon Leyson. ”He didn’t mind taking bribes and giving bribes. But he did a wonderful thing.”