How Hollywood Does the Holocaust
What kind of role has the Holocaust played in American Hollywood films?
This historical event has had a “touchy-feely” relationship with Hollywood and has just recently gotten to the point where the tragedy and horror can be depicted in a more revealing light. Movies about the Holocaust never uttered the word “Jew” until it was clear that the Post-WWII era had begun. Prior to this era, the actual footage and reenactments of the nature of the Nazis were not revealed in movies either in an effort to shelter audiences from the reality. With time and some impatience from family members of those who went through the WWII genocide, these horrors became part of the films being made about the Holocaust. Whether this is because filmmakers wanted audiences to be informed and understand the brutality that came from the event or if it was because of the grace period that stood between the actual events and the timing of the new films, Hollywood made much more solid attempts to bring the tragedy to the big screen.
In general, the Holocaust has received some negative feedback from its Hollywood movies. Like any other historical event the more time that passes, the more out of touch we are with the reality of that actual event and all we have to go off of are these Hollywood depictions. The debate over Holocaust movies is if the images do the reality any justice and if the brutal deaths suffered by innocent people are depicted accurately. There is also debate over the depiction of the Nazis in the major Hollywood films and whether or not they are glorified in their character parts. Regardless of the controversy that comes along with an event this embedded into the world’s history, the Holocaust has all of the elements for Hollywood to be able to make award-winning films. Hollywood has recognized the gold mine that comes along with this historical event and has used it many times.
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List is a movie adaptation of a fictional book based on the story of a real man and a real situation. Schindler‘s List was able to be a fiction movie but still inform its audiences at the beginning of the film that what they are about to see is “based on a true story” (Raven). This fictional story about a real man, Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson), is all in black and white. Whether this was done by Spielberg to appeal to the historical eye or to take the color out of a time that did not seem to have any color, this was an artistic measure taken that is very important to note about the content of the movie itself. Black and white film connotes real life footage and events that actually occurred, and Spielberg may have been touching upon the historical accuracy of his film and trying to portray events that actually happened.
Schindler’s List, like every other Hollywood movie, has scenes that have been dramatized for entertainment purposes. For example, Oskar Schindler has gotten the attention of a few biographers who say that Schindler did not even start the list that is mentioned in the title, but that the list with names of Jewish workers in his factory who he wanted to be sent to Czechoslovakia where they would be safe from the Nazis was the work of his assistant (McD). Oskar is portrayed as a hero in this movie, when it is argued if his intentions were to help those living in fear safe from harm or to benefit his own business.
Another aspect of this film that implies its historical accuracy is its length. Longer Hollywood films are associated with real life events to most audiences. People watching films assume that the longer it is, the more likely it is to be based off of facts (hence why it continues to go on and on). In the movie, Schindler is a member of the Nazi party who recognizes the evil that the concentration camps hold, and realizes that he has the power to save lives through his factory. But while watching this film it is clear that the place of the Jewish people is to fill a role of incompetent people who can only be helped by others. Perhaps the film, while accurately showing the horrific concentration camps better than most Hollywood films, follows the life of Schindler too closely while forgetting to go into the same detail about the Jewish experience.
Originating as a memoir, The Pianist follows the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman who is a Jewish young man living in Poland during the Nazi takeover. He is a pianist who found his escape in music and was ultimately saved by his talent when a Nazi hears him play the piano. This film is much more autobiographical and therefore has some fact that it can be compared to. When researching the facts behind Szipilman’s real-life situation, most of the movie is in fact accurate (WWII Films). The director of the film, Roman Polanski, is “a survivor (from Krakow) of the horrific events of that time” (Watson) which contributes to its historical accuracy.
The Pianist defies the negative critiques that Hollywood has received for its Hollywood movies; it accurately shows the brutal life of the Warsaw ghettos and Szipilman is a character that is not glorified or someone in the shadows, but a “witness who was there, saw, and remembers” (Ebert). It is these images of the living conditions of the Jews in the ghettos that provide a gut-wrenching truth for the viewer. Audience members become very attached to Szpilan throughout the film, making it even more difficult to watch the dehumanization of him and his family. When Spilzman leaves the Warsaw ghetto and is managing to stay alive, eating out of garbage cans and living literally on the streets, we are saddened and embarrassed for his conditions.
The Pianist depicts the loneliness and fear of the Holocaust through the eyes of one individual. This is an effective and accurate display, allowing audiences to see a part of the Holocaust that is not always discussed. The lives of Jewish families when Nazis were just beginning to infiltrate is shadowed by memories of gas chambers and concentration camps; however, this film brings audiences back to the root of terror for the Jewish population.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
This Hollywood movie, which is also more recent and based on a novel, takes a much different approach to showing the impact of the Holocaust. The story follows two young boys and how they form an unexpected friendship, considering that one of them is the son of a Nazi party member (Bruno) and the other one is living in a concentration camp (Shmuel). The young boys represent innocence in a time of hate and ultimately they are both killed in a gas chamber when Bruno disguises himself as a Jew and wears the “striped pajamas” to see what the inside of the camp looks like. His family tries to come save him but it is too late.
This film is clearly more emotional and is not supposed to be based on fact, but rather meant to show a side of the Holocaust that people do not get to often see. The critiques of this film are that it is overly dramatized and that two little boys would not be able to form a friendship through the barbed wire considering the amount of security guards they had at the camps. Another criticism is that young boys who were not capable of working were put into the gas chambers when they first arrived to the camps, not later on (Schickel). Also, the characters all speak with British accents when they are supposed to be in Nazi Germany which can throw you off at first (Bergler Blog). This movie requires the audience member to dismiss their knowledge of the Holocaust and immerse themselves into the minds of the young boys who are unaware of their own situations.
This film pulls at the heartstrings of audience members that some of the Holocaust movies do not. Having a story about children, whether its historically accurate or not, promotes innocence and you cannot help but feel deep sadness for them. Even if there is not much history or fact in the storyline, this “story” is an important piece to weave into the history of the Holocaust.
Hollywood has used the Holocaust as a means of entertainment and it is highly debated whether it has been done appropriately. Is this an event that is off limits for movie producers or is it something that has gained more respect and education through the films it is portrayed in?
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Historical Accuracy.” : The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The Bergler, n.d. Web. 26 June 2014.
“Historical Accuracy of WWII Films.” Historical Accuracy of WWII Films. The Pianist, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.
McD, David. “Historical Accuracy of Schindler’s List.” Yahoo Contributor Network. Yahoo Voices, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.
“Movie Reviews and Ratings by Film Critic Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert.” All Content. Sun Times, n.d. Web. 26 June 2014.
Raven, Gregory. “Schindler’s List: A Review.” ‘Schindler’s List:’ A Review. Institute for Historical Review, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.
Schickel, Richard. “: A Failed Holocaust Fable.” Time. Time Inc., 07 Nov. 2008. Web. 26 June 2014.
Watson, Chris. “The Pianist as a Historical Document.” The Pianist as a Historical Document. The Bicycling Guitarist, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.
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