Now here’s a list I should have done myself: a day or so ago, the online “Tablet” magazine started releasing – over four days – their “100 greatest Jewish films”.
Films in rank 75 to 100 have been listed on their website so far, and the list is, well, inconsistent, maddening and surprising – although certainly thought-provoking.
At 100 they have Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which they describe this way (I reproduce it in full):
It would take a doctoral dissertation to elaborate on just how much is wrong with Steven Spielberg’s astoundingly stupid Holocaust melodrama, and, certainly, many dissertations have been written on the director’s films. Still, a highlight reel is in order: the baffling scene with the showers that turn out to be nothing more than showers; the soppy final scene in which actors and real-life survivors march together; the excessive use of Christian iconography; and the fact that the movie, really, is about a Christ-like gentile who saves a horde of hapless Jews who have no agency or resolve of their own. This makes Schindler’s List not just one of the most ham-handed Holocaust films ever made but also, peculiarly, one of the least Jewish in sensibility. And yet, for all of its wretched awfulness, we couldn’t help but include the film in our list; its massive visibility helped educate wide swaths of the population previously only dimly aware of the subject. It also drove Spielberg to invest his considerable resources in an infinitely more valuable kind of Holocaust-related filmmaking, namely the collection of videotaped testimonies by survivors, a singularly important historical enterprise. If the cost of these terrific resources is three hours of kitsch, death, and Liam Neeson, so be it.
My response to this:
While there may be much wrong with “Schindler’s List”, calling it “astoundingly stupid” is … well, astoundingly stupid. It is so far from “one of the most ham-handed Holocaust films ever made” (seriously, has this writer seen ALL of the Holocaust films made? This is one of the best; let’s get serious about some truly bad ones.) that it puts the whole list comments into doubt. People were profoundly moved by this film – sure, ultimately it was about a non-Jew, a righteous Gentile, with the Jews playing secondary roles, but – seriously, so what? Great filming, a great story, a powerful ending (were you not moved?), excellent use of black and white with touches of colour, deeply emotional – and it literally changed lives. A Swiss bank guard reportedly decided to “blow the whistle” on Swiss Nazi bank accounts after seeing this film. Very few films have had that impact.
My additional comments on their list below:
No. 76: Private Parts – Good film, but at number 76?
No. 77: The Way We Were – Streisand and Redford, deserves to be higher on the list.
No. 78: The Wizard of Oz – Jewish, oh no. Not even. Just because Jews may have worked on it … sorry. Love the film, stupid choice.
No. 79: The Pianist – strong film.
No. 80: The Squid and the Whale – fine.
No. 81: X-Men – agree, but where are the other X-Mens? X-Men 3 possibly most Jewish of all.
No. 82: Inglourious Basterds – hmm, many love this.
No. 83: Anvil! The Story of Anvil – never heard of it before. Drop from the list.
No. 84: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis – good film, probably should be higher.
No. 85: Gentleman’s Agreement – great film, needs to be higher.
No. 86: The Bellboy – Okay Jerry Lewis is Jewish, but seriously are you going to list every Jerry Lewis film here? Not a “Jewish” film. Drop.
No. 88: Cocoon – Okay, yes.
No. 89: My Favorite Year – Okay, yes.
No. 90: Hungry Hearts – 1922 silent film, now apparently out on DVD in the USA courtesy of the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University. Never seen it and hope to soon.
No. 91: Dirty Dancing – great film, great slice of Jewish social life of its period.
No. 92: Kramer vs. Kramer – great film, but Jewish? I missed that somewhere.
No. 93: Top Hat – no way, not Jewish. Drop.
No. 94: Sleeper – of all the Woody Allen films … don’t know where you rank others, so we will see.
No. 95: White Christmas – yeah year, Irving Berlin was Jewish, but this film is about Christmas, for goodness sake. Not on this list.
No. 96: The Wedding Singer – nice film, but top 100?
No. 97 Hem Hayu Asara (They Were Ten) – where are the other Israeli films?
No. 98: I’m Not There – biopic of Bob Dylan. Really not Jewish. Stretching the point here.
No. 99: Wet Hot American Summer – never heard of it before. Apparently both a critical and commercial flop but becoming a cult hit, according to Wikipedia. I don’t think it belongs here. (But hey, I’m going to track it down!)
No. 100: Schindler’s List – enough said.