Neeson auditioned as Schindler early on in the movie's development. He was cast in December 1992 after Spielberg saw him perform in Anna Christie on Broadway. Warren Beatty participated in a script reading, but Spielberg was concerned that he could not disguise his accent and that he would bring "movie star baggage". Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson expressed interest in portraying Schindler, but Spielberg preferred to cast the relatively unknown Neeson so that the actor's star quality would not overpower the character. Neeson felt Schindler enjoyed outsmarting the Nazis, who regarded him as somewhat naïve. "They don't quite take him seriously, and he used that to full effect." To help him prepare for the role, Spielberg showed Neeson film clips of Time Warner CEO Steve Ross, who had a charisma that Spielberg compared to Schindler's. He also located a tape of Schindler speaking, which Neeson studied to learn the correct intonations and pitch.
Stephen Schiff of The New Yorker called it the best historical drama about the Holocaust, a film that "will take its place in cultural history and remain there." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four and described it as Spielberg's best, "brilliantly acted, written, directed, and seen." Ebert named it one of his ten favorite films of 1993. Terrence Rafferty, also with The New Yorker, admired the film's "narrative boldness, visual audacity, and emotional directness." He noted the performances of Neeson, Fiennes, Kingsley, and Davidtz as warranting special praise, and calls the scene in the shower at Auschwitz "the most terrifying sequence ever filmed." In the 2013 edition of his Movie and Video Guide, Leonard Maltin awarded the picture a four-out-of-four-star rating; he described the movie as a "staggering adaptation of Thomas Keneally's best-seller ... with such frenzied pacing that it looks and feels like nothing Hollywood has ever made before ... Spielberg's most intense and personal film to date". James Verniere of the Boston Herald noted the film's restraint and lack of sensationalism, and called it a "major addition to the body of work about the Holocaust." In his review for The New York Review of Books, British critic John Gross said his misgivings that the story would be overly sentimentalized "were altogether misplaced. Spielberg shows a firm moral and emotional grasp of his material. The film is an outstanding achievement." Mintz notes that even the film's harshest critics admire the "visual brilliance" of the fifteen-minute segment depicting the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto. He describes the sequence as "realistic" and "stunning". He points out that the film has done much to increase Holocaust remembrance and awareness as the remaining survivors pass away, severing the last living links with the catastrophe. The film's release in Germany led to widespread discussion about why most Germans did not do more to help.
At a 1994 Village Voice symposium about the film, historian Annette Insdorf described how her mother, a survivor of three concentration camps, felt gratitude that the Holocaust story was finally being told in a major film that would be widely viewed. Hungarian Jewish author Imre Kertész, a Holocaust survivor, feels it is impossible for life in a Nazi concentration camp to be accurately portrayed by anyone who did not experience it first-hand. While commending Spielberg for bringing the story to a wide audience, he found the film's final scene at the graveyard neglected the terrible after-effects of the experience on the survivors and implied that they came through emotionally unscathed. Rabbi Uri D. Herscher found the film an "appealing" and "uplifting" demonstration of humanitarianism. Norbert Friedman noted that, like many Holocaust survivors, he reacted with a feeling of solidarity towards Spielberg of a sort normally reserved for other survivors. Albert L. Lewis, Spielberg's childhood rabbi and teacher, described the movie as "Steven's gift to his mother, to his people, and in a sense to himself. Now he is a full human being."
First we offer some caveats. Spielberg does not see himself as a reconstructed Nazi industrialist. He publicly identifies with the Jewish victims, and many of his charitable efforts since the film have been devoted to Holocaust survivors and their relatives. Nor did he raise his arms in triumph and declare that he was "the king of the world" when he received Oscars for best director and picture. The Holocaust is a subject sacred to many, and Spielberg attempted to respect that sacredness. Despite some pointed criticism that he did not, in the process he accomplished something that many thought was impossible to achieve: he brought to popular culture a feature-length film that did not shy away from Nazi genocide. While making the film Spielberg noted, "I'm making Schindler's List because I have the ability to make it. Most everybody else wouldn't have been allowed to make it because it's just not commercial." And yet, at the same time he affirmed that "no matter how this movie turns out," more than any other film he had made, Schindler's List "reflects who I really am" (Salamon 194). To achieve his goals, Spielberg relies on the subject he knows best--himself--portraying Oskar Schindler, and more subtly, Itzhak Stern, in ways which, at least for us, strongly parallel the life and career of the director.
(Schindler's voice-over) It is my distinct pleasure to announce the fully operational status of Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik - manufacturers of superior enamelware crockery, expressly designed and crafted for military use, utilizing only the most modern equipment. DEF's staff of highly skilled and experienced artisans and journeymen deliver a product of unparalleled quality, enabling me to proffer with absolute confidence and pride, a full line of field and kitchen ware unsurpassable in all respects by my competitors. See attached list and available colors. Anticipating the enclosed bids will meet with your approval. And looking forward to a long and mutually prosperous association. I extend to you, in advance, my sincerest gratitude and very best regards. Oskar Schindler.
On a train platform, soldiers and clerks with typed lists are supervising the boarding of hundreds of Jews into cattle cars. They are promised: "Leave your luggage on the platform. Clearly label it...Do not bring your baggage with you. It will follow you later." Pfefferberg has summoned Schindler from a love-making session to the station to search for Stern - who has been mistakenly placed on one of the slatted livestock cars bound for liquidation. Boldly and brazenly, Schindler asks for the Gestapo clerk's name who has identified Stern's name on the list and dutifully refuses to release him: "I'm sorry. You can't have him. He's on the list. If he were an essential worker, he would not be on the list."
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