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A cinematography analysis on Schindler’s List

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Schindler’s list is a very honest and sincere film made by Steven Spielberg, which is about the life of Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, womanizer and war profiteer who saved the life of more than 1100 Jews during the holocaust.

A shot that captures Schindler’s character

A shot that captures Schindler’s character

Excellency achieved in every aspect of filmmaking make this film a cinematic masterpiece. The opening shot of lighting the candle (its yellow resembles the yellow Jewish badge, at least according to my interpretation) conveys to us that the film is about hope, a common thread in all Spielberg films. A well-made decision of choosing black and white style, give the experience of travelling back to the past, prevents deterioration of attention of audience minds and serves the purpose of diluting the goriness. Janusz kaminski says that this black and white images also resembles German expressionism and Italian neo-realism. To attain this, he shot the film in black and white film stocks, like 35mm Eastman double X 5222, plus-X 5231, EXR 500T 5296.

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Neatly staged and glossy lit Nazi parties

Neatly staged and glossy lit Nazi parties

Cinematographer shot in the wider 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as every frame has to accommodate many characters. He avoided 2.35:1, as the film’s major market Europe doesn’t comply with cinemascope standards. Kaminski’s cinematography always stands at a point where aesthetics and logic meets. Be it a Nazi officer’s glossy parties, concentration camps or interiors of deutsche email fabrik, Kaminski brings alive the past, shown steep contrast between places and successfully enhanced the content.

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Nazi officer’s party sequences are often characterized by cleverly staged, glossy lighting, high contrast, fluid camera movements and stylized shifting focus shots. These techniques collectively, gives us the mood of bureaucracy and film like look. One can never disagree, that the 17 minute long, liquidation of ghetto sequence is one of the most intense, horrifying and very lively visuals in cinematic history. It is achieved by documentary style handheld shots, deglamourized lighting, grained shadows and diffused highlights. Here, there are many wide angle shots, with shallow depth of field shown to highlight the expressions of individuals among the crowd. Janusz used lightweight Arriflex 35 III, Arriflex 535and Arriflex535B cameras. Spielberg decided not to plan the sequences with storyboards and to shoot it like a documentary. He felt that this will add a spontaneity to the film and surprisingly he finished the shoot in 72 days. Who will forget the little girl in red coat? The technique symbolizes the bloodshed, conveys the brutality of the genocide and strongly registers the reason for Schindler’s transformation from an opportunist to a savior. Steadicams, elevated shots or zoom lenses are never used throughout the film.

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Another sequence where Schindler’s Jews (women and kids) brought to gas chambers at Auschwitz by train amidst snowfall is to be mentioned for its aesthetics. Snowfall that gets mixed up with ashes, beacon light that leaks though the frightened faces of women inside the train, train’s steam, and a tilt down shot of Jews march into the underground gas chambers to the black smoke out chimney, deserves a word.

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