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Toward a Kinder, Gentler America?

Schindler’s List and the False God

by RAYMOND GUSTAVSON

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 raygfl@yahoo.com; or his website: raymondgustavson.com

Sources

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