The Obligations of History

Accuracy versus irony in depictions of the Holocaust
by Anne Nelson   posted Apr 1, 2010

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this whole article is about quentin's use of one of the most serious of events in history to fuel an obviously fictitious story. what about schindler's list, a film based on a true story but shot in a style similar to the greatest lit films of the 40s about a man who eventually sacrifices his comfort and risks his life to save many Jews from death? it's a wonderful film about a man changing his thought and doing something amazing with his life in the midst of incredible adversity, but i do not find it to be a film about the atrocity of the Holocaust, as many people claim it is. to me the use of subconsciously familiar lighting is very manipulative as it makes the film feel more like a film instead of the grittiness that seems to show more truth in another spielberg film saving private ryan. As schindler’s list is a film regarded as accurately dramatizing the horrors of the holocaust i find it far more shallow in its depiction of evil and the depths of human depravity than people say it has achieved. when kubrick was preparing for his film Aryan Papers he said he wasnt sure if he would be able to film it because book after book he read for research was worse than the next. He didn’t know if he would be able to accurately depict the true horrors of the holocaust onto film. and that if he was able to do so he questioned if anyone would be able to watch it. to me schindlers list greatest failure is that it basically approaches the holocaust in a comfortable way. very bracing, and at times blunt, but still familiar in its nearly orson wellesian lighting and use of nazi's as inhuman homicidal maniacs (ralph fiennes character). this is too simple of a depiction of these soldiers. what made them so terrifying is how normal most of them were, as explored somewhat in the reader and the white ribbon. so why attack a film that does explore feelings of terror and revenge (Mélanie Laurent's character) and american propaganda (pitt's take on john wayne) with an on the sleeve approach to film history and artistic creation/license and not criticize a film taken so seriously but is really just as manipulative of a drama, if not more so, than tarantino's inglourious basterds? At least inglourious basterds is not trying to sum up the horror and complexity of the holocaust in one film, he is instead exploring deeply human themes like terror, hatred, revenge, the various facets of duty, and as an artist, passionate creation.
malcolmcrowe   posted 14.04.10


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Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarantino


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Anne Nelson teaches New Media and Development Communication at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. She won a 2005 Guggenheim for work on her 2009 book on the German resistance, Red Orchestra, currently in development with Salty Features and Trilogy Films.

More articles by Anne Nelson
Author's Website: Random House page