Sunday, April 26, 2009

Movie greatness

I caught Schindler's List on HBO last night. It was certainly not the first time I've seen it, as it is required viewing for any Jew over the age of about 13 - it may have been incorporated into the Bar Mitzvah process, and if it hasn't, it should be.

This was probably the fifth or sixth time I sat thru Spielberg's masterpiece, and with this level of familiarity, I noticed some new things this time around.

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler is pitch-perfect throughout. He has the physical presence to portray a man who will, alone and without hesitation, enter the gates of Auschwitz to pull "his people" back from the abyss. He completely sells the transformation of Schindler from womanizing snake-oil salesman to great, compassionate, righteous human - a man who starts as all flash becomes substantial enough to comfort with a gentle kiss the traumatized Jewish maid/punching bag of a concentration camp commander; a man who begins the film with no significant visible morality is, by film's end, capable of such moral clarity and strength that he is able to turn his back on everything he had professed to be interested in and care only for the victims he sees around him.

Casting Neeson was a masterstroke.

The rest of the cast is equally exceptional. The music is perfect. The little use of color in the film is perfect. Sets, continuity, staging, photography - all exactly right.

All this is to point out the perfectly obvious: Steven Spielberg is the greatest maker of movies in the history of movies.

Schindler's List is clearly his masterpiece, and, given the subject, may be the greatest movie ever made. Add to that his other spectacular success - Saving Private Ryan, ET, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indy in general), I could go on and on and on - my God, what a talent.

Sure, AI gave me a headache. Catch Me If You Can and 1941 were trifles (but entertaining trifles), and I'm still not sure what to make of Minority Report. No one hits a home run every time. Except Pixar, but that's another story - call me when they match Spielberg in longevity and production, and we'll compare notes.

I said to myself a number of times during last night's viewing, and have repeated it a number of times since: How fortunate are we to be around to see this guy's work as it happens.

The great news is he shows no signs of losing grip of his powerful gifts. Nor does he show any inclination to stop doing what he does so masterfully.

Thank you, Mr. Spielberg. Here's hoping you spend many more years embellishing your record as the greatest ever at what you do.

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