Spiegelman hates Spielberg

"Schindler’s List: Myth, Movie and Memory Discussion, from the Village Voice," a roundtable discussion. The transcript was published in the Voice on March 29, 1994.

Here is a good summary of the discussion written by Jane Sussman:

Participants (as defined by the Village Voice): Wanda Bersnen, director of National Jewish Archives of Broadcasting at the Jewish Museum, Richard Goldstein, from The Village Voice, J. Hoberman, from The Village Voice, Ken Jacobs, filmmaker and professor of film at the University of Binghamton, Gertrud Kock, professor of cinema studies at Columbia University, Art Spiegelman, author of Maus, James Young, professor of English and Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Annette Insdorf, Chair of the film division of the School of Arts at Columbia University.

The introduction to the roundtable discussion, written by J. Hoberman, is about how Schindler’s List is more than just a movie; it is a momentous work of art that can affect the world and affect change. Hoberman ends with a quote by Stephen Schiff from the New Yorker, that says, “… I don’t want to burden the movie too much, but I think it will bring peace on earth, good will to men. Enough of the right people will see it that it will actually set the course of world affairs.” This sets the scene for the roundtable discussion.

Young: fearful of the accessible thing (Schindler’s List or the Holocaust Museum) becoming the last word on the subject because they are the most predominant. Spielberg’s hero is only good because he is hungry for power, similarly to Spielberg who seems to be hungry to make the great Holocaust film. Jews are often memorialized as children because children are the perfect, blameless victim.

Insdorf: Accessible art spurs and inspires the making of more art on the subject. Schindler’s List must be seen in at least two contexts: the political (she uses the example of a study that had come out right before Schindler’s List was made about how a large percentage of Americans did not believe that the extermination of the Jews ever took place), and the context of Spielberg himself (ie: that it was not Jurassic Park set in Germany). Even though she defends Schindler’s List, Insdorf admits that it is “simplistic” and “emotionally manipulative,” for instance, in the scene where corpses are burned with a soundtrack of schmaltzy music and choral voices. Insdorf believes that it is a strength of the movie that Schindler’s motives are never questioned, and are instead left up to interpretation. Insdorf recounts how his mother, a Holocaust survivor, was grateful that such a popular filmmaker had made this movie.

Jacobs: Nothing can depict the horrors of the Holocaust accurately, and Schindler’s List will become a historical document, much the way we see Gone With the Wind. Spielberg is creating a movie in comprehensible terms and clichés so that it is in the language of the viewers. He is being attacked because he has worked within the system to create something of the system, and then when it smacks of the system it is repugnant. The scene toward the beginning where the Jews desecrate the Church seems to logically justify all that happens after that. Schindler is a romantic, attractive character, and the “Jews function as a background and pawns of this dramatic contest” between the good and evil in the world. Spielberg does not show the true horrors of the Holocaust (like the SS men throwing babies out of windows and shooting them), even in allusion “without attempting to represent.” Jacobs believed that it was a violation to be made to see through Schindler’s eyes, he did not want to be “put through emotional paces in that way.” Jacobs thought that the saving grace of the movie was when the real survivors are shown, and that Spielberg should have had more instances of actual humanity in his film, instead of the figure or idea of a Jew, and that this does a huge disservice.

Hoberman: There is a real horror if Schindler’s List becomes the final word on the Holocaust. “Right from the moment Adorno made his all-purpose pronouncement that poetry was impossible after Auschwitz, there has been a problem with representation.” Schindler’s List is pleasing because it circumvents the problem of representation. Spielberg fails to show the connections Schindler had with the Jewish underground movement and Zionist agents, which minimizes the connection he had “with other forces, including Jewish forces, that were in play during the war.”

Bershen: “This critics’ chorus” will make it impossible for moviegoers to make a decision for themselves about whether the movie can stand alone as simply one representation or if it will becomes the final word on the Holocaust. The scene where the young Jewish boy first exposes then saves a Jewish woman is an example of how Spielberg makes it seem as if certain people had control over and could conquer certain events.

Koch: Spielberg wants to have the last word, the most reverberant word on the Holocaust. The rhetoric of the film is that it is the authoritarian voice on the Holocaust; “by using all the quotations from European films, it posits itself at the end of film history.” “This is a problem in the film: he gives us the idea that if you had been smart enough, you could have survived.” Koch brings up an article written in Germany about how Schindler’s List “finally shows that all this bullshit the intellectuals tell about aesthetics after the Holocaust is just not true because one can narrate it. What Spielberg has shown the world is there is nothing that can’t be narrated.” He thinks it is very convenient for German audiences to see this film with a beginning, and ending and “the whole epoch and its horrors” squeezed in the middle.

Goldstein: Creating reality-based art is authoritarian by definition, it is one person’s or one group’s interpretation of an event. The forms are almost always more accessible than the event, which inevitably distorts the event. Many teenagers are forced to watch Schindler’s List and some have an anti-Semitic reaction because the horror in the film is too close so they turn it around on the Jews. Spielberg makes us feel like we are watching a fairy tale, where the Christian savior is Superman to the Jewish Clark Kent. She thinks that this childlike feeling is also the feeling of being a Jew, and compares it to her relationship with a Christian whom she views as her personal Schindler. Even though Goldstein did not believe Schindler’s List was a great movie, she was touched and moved to anger in a way she wasn’t before, mainly because the movie was not realism, and made her experience her own dreams of the Holocaust.

Spiegelman: America confuses film with reality. “After all, Spielberg’s value system was formed by a world that originally brought us Auschwitz. The true moment for weighing the implications and consequences of the genocide was 1945. If the world didn’t slow down then, why should we expect it to be capable of sorting things out after 50 blurring years have past?” In response to Goldstein saying that the Jews in Schindler’s list were the Jews of Europe and not of America, Spiegelman responds that he did not see any Jews in the film at all and that the film is full of stereotypes; “the juiceless Jewish accountant, the Jewish seductress, and, most egregiously, the Jews bargaining and doing business inside a church.” The film is not about Jews, but about the “righteous gentile in a world of Jewish bit players and extras. The Jews function as an occasion for Christian redemption.” Spiegelman also discloses that he has a “Spielberg problem”; Spielberg produced a cartoon about Jewish mice that he saw as a “horrible appropriation” of Maus. In response to Young’s point about children being perfect, blameless victims, Spiegelman says that that is why he had to portray his father in all his imperfections, “enmired in reality, not reducible to being an innocent. Survival musn’t be seen in terms of divine retribution or martyrology.” Spiegelman believes that Spielberg has an odd way of deciding where to draw the line in terms of what to show. Spiegelman goes on to say that Spielberg has never had to worry about “re-creation for the sake of an audience’s recreation,” which implies that that is something Spiegelman certainly worries about. In response to Goldstein’s idea of the movie as a dream, Spiegelman says, “The main dream image the movie evokes for me is an image of 6 million emaciated Oscar award statuettes hovering like angels in the sky, all wearing striped uniforms.” At one point, some of the panelists are discussing how survivors overwhelming liked the film, and Spielgelman says in response that survivors are not critics and are sometimes just so happy that someone is interested in their story and bears the burden of telling it, lifting it from them. Spiegelman thinks that the act of representing the Jews in molds instead of as humans turns the movie’s message one of capitalism: “Capitalism With a Human Face… the Businessman as hero. Capitalism can give us a health care program, and it can give us a Schindler.” Spiegelman continues to give quick witticisms, and says, “We’ve had 15 years to streamline our narratives,” in response to the comments about the movie being too easily digestible. Spiegelman concludes the discussion with another pithy yet incredibly resonant analogy, “In the Passover Haggadah we’re told of four sons, one wise, one wicked, one too young to ask why the Jewish exodus from Egypt is celebrated, and one too simple to ask. The Haggadah says the stupid son is to be told the short simple version of the story so that he can at least grasp something of what happened. Clearly Spielberg has the simple-son market sewn up.”

No comments: