Steven Spielberg's Schindler's list is a classic in every sense of the word. He managed to portray the brutality and nastiness of the Holocaust and Nazi regime with the deft tender humanism it required.
The film's depiction of how Oskar Schindler saved thousands of Jewish lives by employing them in his factory is educational, heart-renderingly emotional, fantastically acted, and beautifully shot. It is a true masterpiece of filmmaking.
Schindler's List was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture and a long-awaited Best Director for Spielberg. It is one of, if not the, finest movies ever made about the Holocaust.
Here are 11 things you need to know about Schindler's List:
Holocaust survivor, Poldek Pfefferberg, fought for this film to be made.
1. Poldek Pfefferberg, one of the people Schindler saved, had campaigned for a film to be made about Schindler's life for almost 40 years. After surviving World War II, he emigrated to the United States in 1948. He tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade director Fritz Lang to tell Schindler's story before convincing Australian author Thomas Keneally to write the 1982 novel "Schindler's Ark", which became the basis of Schindler's List.
2. Steven Spielberg acquired the rights to Schindler's story fairly early (in his late thirties), but he deemed himself to be too young and immature to handle the subject matter.
Few filmmakers dared attempt to tell the story
3. Spielberg then offered the story to fellow directors, most of whom were uninterested or scared to take the role. Martin Scorsese initially thought it would be better to have a Jewish director, but eventually agreed to take it off Spielberg's hands. Spielberg took it back months later, swapping the project for Cape Fear.
The importance of (relatively) unknown actors.
4. A number of A-list Hollywood actors were considered for the role of Schindler, from Kevin Costner to Mel Gibson, but Spielberg refused to cast anyone with movie-star baggage. He thought the audience would have preconceived ideas about the cast before the film had even begun. He settled on a then unknown Liam Neeson.
5. Ralph Fiennes, who plays Nazi controller Amon Goeth, gained 28 pounds for the role. His performance was apparently so disturbingly dead-on that Pfefferberg's wife, Mila, started to tremble when she met Fiennes in character on set.
6. Spielberg refused to be paid for his part in the project. He considered any fee he might receive to be "blood money."
It was both a moral and an artistic decision to shoot in black and white
7. Spielberg decided to shoot the film in black and white for a variety of reasons, all of them well-thought-out. He felt black and white would have a timeless quality that perhaps color would not; it reminded him of documentary footage of the Holocaust; and he thought that the film should be drained of color to reflect the draining of life during the Holocaust.
8. For Spielberg, who often broke down in tears on set, the hardest moment was the scene in which concentration camp prisoners are stripped and humiliated. It has been reported that he couldn't actually watch that part of the shoot.
9. The highly emotionally-charged filming sessions took its toll on everybody working on the project and many had to employ coping strategies. Spielberg himself asked Robin Williams to phone him every night and watched re-runs of Seinfeld.
The girl in the red coat.
10. In one of Schindler's List's few vivid splashes of color, Spielberg chose to pick out one little girl in a red coat. In real life, there actually was a little girl in Krakow famous for wearing her red coat, her name was Roma Ligocka. She survived the Holocaust, and she published a memoir in 2002 named, "The Girl in the Red Coat."
11. Spielberg refused to shoot inside the gates of Auschwitz, only outside, out of respect for the dead.