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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 82

[82nd of 100]. Complacency is a trap that makes much of the possible evils in the world take root and fester. And so once in a while, we do need reminders that come as a slap, to awaken and disturb us. It is much harder to accomplish this than one might realize. Most people cannot be bothered. Complacency is so much more comfortable, and uncaring feels like the natural recourse for many people, and when confronted with the knowledge of the horrible, some might even insist on contrarian revisionism, denying altogether the evil that has transpired. This is humanity at its bleakest aspect. Which is why, when this film came out in 1993 and dramatized in unblinking harshness one of the horrors of the 20th century, it proved to be a necessary history lesson. That it was also great cinema is fantastic, but also quite beside the point. I remember that year as a kind of triumph for Steven Spielberg. That summer, he unleashed on us the romp of Jurassic Park and the film blew away my 18-year-old sense of wonder and everyone else's, I believe. It further cemented his status as a Hollywood visionary with blockbusters in his DNA. That film remains iconic, and Spielberg's 1993 would have been one for the books already were it not for the unexpected second part of his double whammy. By year's end, he released this Holocaust drama that was the utmost opposite of his summer fare -- and we had to wonder: how did he do it? To release in the same year a fun movie ride with dinosaurs, and then a sobering, uncompromising history lesson in sheer black-and-white? But he did, through some miracle of his own making -- sweeping the Oscars the next year with these two films, Jurassic Park gobbling the technical recognitions, and this film winning the plum prizes, including Best Picture -- and finally a Best Director nod in his favour. The Holocaust film also proved to be an unlikely box office draw, and it was gratifying to see so many people in the movie house [I watched it in Park Theater] become aware of a piece of history they might not necessarily want to know about on their own [and school wouldn't be much help either, history being such a neglected part of people's education]. But here was a popular movie that was also a didactic vehicle, and it served that purpose well: I remember people in the theater being moved, being shaken to their core, being reduced to tears. I remember this quote being banded about: "This will never happen again." It did serve a worthwhile end -- but alas popular culture can only do so much, and it is never elastic enough to contend with time and people's forgetfulness. Today, there are neo-Nazis proudly proclaiming their abhorrent views to the world, and fascists once more run the world. And alas, it is harder to shock people with a well-made history lesson in film. Nevertheless, I love this film. It remains a powerful document, although I am also aware it has received brickbats for "sentimentalizing" a tragedy. But I'll quote Roger Ebert's defense of the film: "The film has been an easy target for those who find Spielberg's approach too upbeat or 'commercial,' or condemn him for converting Holocaust sources into a well-told story. But every artist must work in his medium, and the medium of film does not exist unless there is an audience between the projector and the screen. Claude Lanzmann made a more profound film about the Holocaust in Shoah, but few were willing to sit through its nine hours. Spielberg's unique ability in his serious films has been to join artistry with popularity -- to say what he wants to say in a way that millions of people want to hear." Exactly. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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