It takes real chutzpah to write that among a list of the 100 Greatest Jewish Films, “Schindler’s List is astoundingly stupid.”
But that’s exactly how Tablet magazine’s Liel Leibovitz described Steven Spielberg’s seminal genre film, relegating it to “Holocaust melodrama.”
“It would take a doctoral dissertation to elaborate on just how much is wrong” with the film, Leibovitz writes in his unsparing summation, citing, among other things, that its most egregious offense is telling a Jewish tale through Christian eyes.
Topping the bottom of the list, at No. 100, Leibovitz does not diminish “Schindler’s” cultural importance (that would have been astoundingly stupid). If nothing else (which is eminently arguable though I won’t get into it in this post), “Schindler’s List” realized the adage “Never Forget” in the most important and influential cultural medium in the world, making the Holocaust an accessible and edifying subject for the masses. The movie, in a word, mainstreamed the Holocaust, giving it a visual language and commercial appeal (I know, it’s icky even to suggest) but that undoubtedly ensured its survival as a cultural and historical document. Just count how many Holocaust-themed films followed, cementing it as a genre in the pop culture canon.
The rest of the list is also worth skimming—and skimming is really all that is required since each film is notated in a few brief sentences—so I’ll highlight only one, which I count among my Jewish favorites, not only because on more than one occasion I’ve belted my way through the living room, tears streaming, singing “My Man” in shameless, un-self-conscious mimicry of its final scene, but because it’s Babs, Jewess Godess of them all, and because for some inexplicable reason I’ll have the crazy good fortune of hearing her perform live tomorrow night at Haim and Cheryl Saban’s annual benefit for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.
Plus, Alana Newhouse’s not-so-subtle slight on Jewish men made me laugh. Why must they break our hearts, over and over and over again? And why do we take them back, on our knees, desperate for the mix of passion and pain that carves into our souls and grudgingly stays?
Ranking at No. 41, here’s Funny Girl:
1968, dir. William Wyler. Barbra playing Fanny Brice playing herself: This late-’60s musical is like a Matryoshka doll of Jewish womanhood. A story of the comedienne’s stormy love life and unlikely career, it forever changed how America thought about ambitious women, parades, rain, and men named Arnstein.