Both films demonstratively take on a time in history and rework it in the name of memory. The power of both movies lies in their label of authenticity. Schindler’s List is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler and Saving Private Ryan is in part based on the true story of Friz Niland. The factual historical figures are not the only interplay between “fact and fiction”. Scenes in classical Hollywood film standards stand in contrast with the integration of various devices originally belonging to a documentary. An example for a scene in Schindler’s List that can be easily identified as fiction or as a classical Hollywood scene is when the women and children are taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau due to a mix-up of lists. They are told to take a shower. Spielberg spends a good deal over this scene showing the women’s frightened faces with the violins playing in the background and the women’s cumulative screams. At the end, water flows from the shower heads and the frantic screams get replaced by laughter. Supporting the idea stated in the review, this scene was there to make the event more dramatic. It created an element of fiction. In Saving Private Ryan one noticeable classical Hollywood mode is the movement of the camera. It breezily moves alongside the characters, which helps the viewer through the narrative dialogues. The real story of Friz Niland becomes a narration and with this a mixture between fiction and fact.
Both movies are considered classical Hollywood films, however, Spielberg also integrates various devices originally belonging to documentaries. In Schindler’s List almost the entire movie is shot in black-and-white. Leon Wieseltier addresses Schindler’s List’s use of black-and-white in Close Encounters of the Nazi Kind: “It’s renunciation of color is adduced as a sign of its stringency; but the black and white of this film is riper than most color.”(p. 42) The rejection of color is “riper than most color” because of the way it increases the historical feeling. Since all of the pictures we have from that time are not in color, we have only seen the Holocaust in black and white. This puts the film closer to reality. Shooting in black and white is a device normally used in documentaries. With using something originally used by documentaries, Spielberg creates the image of portraying fact and a slice of reality. In order to achieve a more historical texture in Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg manipulates the film stock. The images of the past are presented in reduced brightness and a flatter contrast. Besides the reduced brightness he also uses a camera movement typical for documentaries. As an example, I want to look at the scene of the invasion of Normandy. The camera, unable to keep up with the speed of death, dashes from man to man. At times the images even lose their corresponding sound to simulate the effect of being shell-shocked. Additionally, the battle scenes are captured with a hand-held camera. This camera style resembles a documentary film and claims to portray the truth or to have direct access to the reality of what happened during the invasion of Normandy.
Furthermore, Steven Spielberg breaks away from the Hollywood convention of a neatly divided diegesis between good and evil. Oskar Schindler is a war profiter. He wished to profit from evil, but as the plot develops he uses his financial profits to save the people who helped him win them. It is just when his jews are to be sent to Ausschwitz that he becomes the “good” character and uses his money to buy them back. In Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg breaks away from the typical Hollywood convention of introducing us to a protagonist (whom we can follow through the diegesis) in the first few minutes. Instead, he leaves the audience confused. In the first thirty minutes of the movie, we cannot identify with any character. Instead, Spielberg gives us the impression of being alongside the characters. The use of various different devices lets the line between fact and fiction become less and less recognizable. It creates an illusion of portraying the past as it really was. This illusion makes us believe that the picture of World War II is captured authentically in both movies.
My last argument is on the ground that both films employ their themes in similar ways. First of all I’m going to look at the use of color. Schindler’s List uses color or the absences of color to create a moral reawakening in the main character. With the film almost entirely in black and white one image strikes out- the girl in the red coat. She is one of the few color images in the entire film. Our attention is drawn to her even if she is but one of a hundred people in a long shot. She is the pure innocence, walking unnoticed through the Nazi Regime. Schindler follows the small figure as she walks aimless and alone amid the madness and horror in the street. At the end he sees her lying on a small wagon besides other murdered prisoners. She touches his soul in a way the shear amounts of numbers couldn’t. Her image stands for all of the mass murder of millions of people. She is a symbol for all the 6.000.000 victims, who died, who had families, who had lives and who had dreams. It is at that moment that Oskar Schindler begins to change. He changes his dedication from his capitalistic fantasies to the saving of as many Jews as possible. He becomes the “good german”, an individual that is able to save lives. In Saving Private Ryan no character is presented as the only colorful image in a black and white sequence. However, color is used in an artistic way since most of the movie’s color is saturated. The opening and final scene, when present-day Private Ryan and his family visit the American Cemetery and Memorial, is shot in “unreduced color.” This scene shot against the bright light of Colleville-sur-mer in France stands out sharply. It seems to convey the image of a slice of today’s reality. The foregoing footage in bleach bypass stands in contrast to it. The color makes a clear difference between what happened in 1944 and what is happening today. While the greater part of the movie captures the brutality of war, the final scene focusses on the survival. The bright color, which conveys a slice of reality, emphasizes the survival of soldiers, while the saturated color supports the senseless and gory picture of war.
A second way in which Spielberg employs themes is through the use of long shots and close-ups. We learned that technique is never just technique. It retains a responsibility towards the presented picture. Spielberg uses the difference between long shots and close-ups in both movies- a technique that lets us understand and identify the different themes. I want to take a look at one scene in particular. Spielberg uses parallel editing to interwove Izaak Stern’s waking up and Amon Goeth’s speech with each other. The sequence is presented as a point-of-view sequence, in which Stern is taken as the witness of the preparations for the transportations going on in the Ghetto. Emphasized by a close-up, Stern puts on his glasses and turns towards the window. The following shot is an extreme high angle shot from his vantage point. It takes the window and curtain as the frame. After a shot of rows of chairs and tables being stet up, the camera comes back to a medium shot of Stern, who turns away from the window. Throughout the sequence Goeth’s speech was used as the tone. The scene ends with reconnecting Goeth’s voice to his body. Quoted in the book Critical Perspectives on Schindler’s List Goeffrey H. Hartmann says that: “To see things that sharply, and from a privileged position, is to see them with the eyes of those who had the power of life and death.”(p 98) Later in the movie, Amon Goeth’s position and view is represented in a similar way of long shots and close-ups. It presents us with the power he has over life and death. This technique makes the viewer feel uncomfortable, who is able to see how Goeth randomly shoots at people. In Saving Private Ryan I want to look at the use of long shots and close-ups in the shell chock scene at the invasion of Normandy. The camera lies in a mid shot on Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks. It then changes to a mid shot of two soldiers, whose face cannot be seen. It is a subjective point of view shot as it is through Tom Hanks eyes. Going over to a long shot, we can now see the characters whole body as they try to run away from an explosion. After we see Tom Hanks in a mid shot again, the shot transfers to a long shot showing a soldier who has lost his arm and other soldiers hiding behind dead bodies. At the end the scene ends in a close up of Tom Hanks face. His facial expression is serious and has a look that say’s “let’s do it”. The camera carries us through the mind of an soldier. We can see the things he sees, switching from one event to another. With the close up of the face, the decision to stop looking but fight for the survival is made. Through the difference in long shots and close-ups, Spielberg is able to emphasize the decision of life and death. It helps to employ themes and an unforgettable experience.
Last but not least, I want to look at the opening and closing scenes of both movies. The opening scene in Schindler’s list is a close-up of a hand lighting a pair of Jewish Sabath candles. Then a man recites the prayer over the wine in the presence of his family. The family vanishes from view and in another close-up shot we see the candles burn lower and lower until they burn out, sending a hint of smoke into the air. The obliteration of the candles is a symbol for the obliteration of the Jewish people. (, which employs the theme of death). The final scene is set in present- day Jerusalem. One of the last shots is one of Schindler’s grave, which stands in a christian cemetery. The camera encompasses the large cross attached to the cemetery, which looms against the blue sky. Just prior to the credits, a hand places a rose on Schindler’s grave. In a long shot we see the Christian cemetery filled with crosses and we are able to read on the screen: “In memory of the more than six million Jews murdered”. The targeting of the crosses seems to say that if Christians would have followed their christians beliefs, not so many Jews would have died. However, the last scene also honors one Christian, who risked his life and helped Jews to survive. Through the opening and closing scene, Spielberg employs the theme of death and survival. The candle turns out at the beginning of the flim, which stand for the death of Jewish people. The bright sky of Jerusalem picks up the light from the first scene and stands for the survival of Jews. Saving Private Ryan both ends and begins with the American Flag. The opening and closing scenes are both set in the American Cemetery in Normandy. An elderly veteran and his family are walking through the cemetery. The tombstones represent the amount of loss experienced during World War II, while the veteran, Private Ryan, stands for the people who survived. The movie is framed by the glorification of the American flag. Within this frame, however, the film acknowledges that the attempt to save private Ryan comes at the expense of soldiers. So while the American flag is there at the beginning and the end it is not clear what it means. One can portray the controversy in the film to America. On the one hand, it has a Declaration of Independence, that people have a free will, and on the other hand it has Federalist 10, which orders people to go to war. Spielberg ultimately ends and opens his film on a note that people survived