December 5 of 2013 marked the twentieth anniversary of the release of Schindler’s List, a movie that generated a feeling of hope for mankind. Unfortunately, what followed the movie’s premier was a series of disastrous events that resulted in the current state of affairs found in this country. In essence, the entire process reminded me of a malignancy: a slow, tedious, and agonizingly downward spiral, with the end result being the demise of a nation.
How did this come about? How did we get from a feeling of hope to one of death?
To begin with, some background about the film is necessary. In a
March 4, 2010 interview, the actor, Ralph Fiennes, spoke of the cadenced
effect of evil [he played the Nazi officer, Amon Goeth, in the film],
saying how hard it was “to order so many meters of barbed wire and so
many fencing posts, and I had to get so many people from A to B.”
Fiennes continued by saying Goeth was really letting off steam about the
difficulties of the job, “and so I suppose you can step back and say
that is where the evil is…you can step back and look at it.”
The movie, Schindler’s List [a production filmed in black and white],
had a tragic melody played by violinist Itzhak Perlman. That music
evoked sadness in me with its leitmotif of man’s inhumanity to man; and
that was coupled with the idea of an unspeakable cruelty conjured up in
the collective soul of one race of men toward another. Of note, the live
YouTube recording in Chile with Perlman had scenes from the movie
playing on a projection screen behind the orchestra, thus heightening
this evil, giving it a very real presence. In one part, for example,
there was the little Jewish girl in bright, vivid red [the only color
used in the film] holding a Nazi officer’s hand as they walked along a
street strewn with refugees, and then, later, her running alone up the
street, her face a mask of child-like confusion amidst all the madness
going on. Finally, in a desperate move, she retreated to her second
floor bedroom, where she hid under her bed. Her angelic face peered out
into the room. But we all know what came next, what fate had in store
for her, because she was seen, later on, lying dead on a cart as it was
pulled through the streets.
In a Guardian interview, the composer John Williams said he “was
amazed by the film,” and felt it would be too challenging to write the
score. He said to Spielberg, “You need a better composer than I am for
this film.” Spielberg responded, “I know. But they’re all dead!’” Later,
Williams said that “Steven is a very warm man. The success of his films
is not so much the result of craft and artifice. Rather, it’s because
of his basic humanity.”
One of the self-appointed critics on YouTube asked what did Spielberg
or Perlman know about the holocaust, since they were both born well
after the end of WWII. To me, this argument is akin to saying what did
Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) know about the Reformation, which took place
between the 14th and 17th centuries, or other such events when he wrote
his ten-volume A Study of History? The same could apply to other
famous historians. In essence, one makes judgments based on the evidence
presented, not on ad hominem arguments.
An Audiophileparadise review stated that “the [Schindler’s
List theme] song has a quite sober opening, but starts to rip open your
heart from 00:14 when it starts that loop which made it so famous.” The
reviewer goes on to speak of several more loops—high and low—“sometimes
going off the loop but never off the track so that all throughout the
song, you feel as if the loop is trying to convey the sorrow of 6
million unfortunate Jewish souls to you.”
The YouTube recording with Božo Paradžik on double bass gave the
music a more somber effect, perhaps because it was played an octave
lower. Nevertheless, the melody was equally as compelling as the Perlman
recording, perhaps more so. The double bass [as well as Perlman’s
violin] personified that feeling of the sorrow of “6 million unfortunate
Jewish souls,” as mentioned in the Audiophileparadise review above.
I listened to perhaps a dozen other recordings, with piano and
violin, a solo piano, and, lastly, a violin solo. The recordings ranged
from mediocre to good, from professionally detached to emotionally
involved, but none of them, with the exception of the Paradžik double bass, came close to the feeling engendered by the Perlman recording.
What profoundly struck me in the Perlman recording was the expression
of deep sorrow on the artist’s face and in his eyes. When he played, it
was as if he was making the violin cry, pulling the sorrow from the
music in a tonal catharsis that was a purging of all mankind’s hate. In
this sadness I felt a message being conveyed that somewhere in this mad,
god-forsaken world there was hope for us. I likened the process to that
of holding a shriveled, water-starved flower at arm’s length when it
began to rain. And, slowly, as in the music, the flower lifted its head
toward the heavens and asserted its right to grow once again.
But, alas, hope was supplanted by the rebirth of evil in new forms:
an-going war in Iraq with its thousands of casualties; pictures of
Americans torturing and being tortured; wedding parties bombed on the
celebrant’s day of happiness and rejoicing; and IED’s blowing to
smithereens soldiers and civilians alike. Next, arose the war in
Afghanistan which was like a spider’s web, drawing in all who dared
trespass upon its peripheries. And it was a never-ending war, much as
the Hundred Years War between England and France. Coupled to the above
events was the construction of a North Africa command which expanded the
scope of control over that continent. This was followed by a
depression; and then the Drone Experiment, the latter in actuality a
process much akin to Hemingway’s “mechanized doom” in the way it spread
terror and destruction not only from the sky, but from thousands of
miles away. It was a system designed to assassinate leaders not in
agreement with Washington’s aims and ideals (sic).
The post Schindler’s List era can be viewed as analogous to two
express trains roaring past each other in the night, their noises
drifting away to nothingness, totally forgotten and never to be seen or
heard from again. Or as Shakespeare put it, “life’s but a walking
shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and
then is heard no more.”
And the common man, along with his political leaders, cared not a
draught about any of this because he was preoccupied with sports and
sport’s figures, political squabbling, petty television shows, and
discussions about inane subjects.
These forms have become the new opiates of the masses, and it appears
their proponents have no desire to reincarnate the images or feelings
generated by the hope of Schindler’s List. Their cheering, echoing
through the open-air stadium of life, is but a false god.
Raymond Gustavson is the author of A Thirst for War, several short stories, and numerous articles dealing with the VA claims process. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or his website: raymondgustavson.com
Interview with film composer, John Williams – 3 February 2002: The Guardian
SparkNotes: Schindler’s List: Analysis of Major Characters.
Audiophileparadise: Review Of John Williams – Schindler’s List (Theme Song) Aug 20, 2012.
YouTube recording: Itzhak Perlman. Schindler’s List: New York Philharmonic
Lincoln Center – September 2012
YouTube recording: Božo Paradžik, double bass – Recorded live in Berlin (2010)
YouTube recording: Itzhak Perlman. Schindler’s List, The City of
Praga Philharmonic Orchestra at Santiago, Chile on 18th Nov, 2010.
Voices on Antisemitism Interview with Ralph Fiennes from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum – March 4, 2010