Archive | Book Matters

‘Schindler’s List’ in Trump’s America

The first time I saw Schindler’s List, it enraged me.

Admittedly, this was not a typical response. Upon its release 25 years ago, the film was touted as the crowning glory of director Steven Spielberg’s career and 1993’s greatest cinematic achievement. At the Oscars that year, the adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s historical novel about true-life figure Oskar Schindler won seven Academy Awards, including Spielberg’s first for best director.

It wasn’t just that the 3-hour-and-16-minute film was expertly crafted. Though documentaries like “Night and Fog” (1955) and “Shoah” (1985) had already catalogued the ravages of the Third Reich, Spielberg’s feature about a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Polish Jews ignited younger generations’ commitment to “never again” just as Holocaust survivors and witnesses were beginning to die out. In a 2013 interview, the director said, “The shelf life of ‘Schindler’s List’ has renewed my faith that films can do good work in the world.”

Really, as an introduction to both the horror and the goodness of which humans are capable, it was the ultimate Spielberg vehicle. And that was my problem in a nutshell. As the film’s credits rolled and people around me sniffed, I stormed out of the theater, saying, “Leave it to Spielberg to find the feel-good story of the Holocaust.” Continue Reading →

The Book of ‘And Then’

Yesterday I woke early to watch the latest episode of “This Is Us,” which means I was a puddle by 7 am, when I’ve programmed my phone to wake me every day with Aretha Franklin singing “Hello Sunshine.” The show always undoes me–Gd knows I’m not alone in this fact–but the last few episodes have been completely ruining. The death of Jack Pearson, the patriarch played so sweetly and sadly by Milo Ventimiglia, devastated me even though intimations of his demise have been woven into the series since its inception.

The timing also wove devastatingly into my real life. I’ve always believed it’s not my right to disclose the details of other people’s hardship on my blog, and I won’t begin to do so now. Suffice it to say the father of one of my dearest friends, a person so private I’ve never included a picture of her here or even her real name, died last week, and I’ve been taking her loss with me everywhere because that’s how our bond works. When good things happen to one of us, they happen to both of us, and the same holds true with the bad. But I also know that while I can hold my friend’s hand and even some of her pain, this is a path she walks alone. The loss of one’s father is a shadow nothing can fully brighten, especially in a world in which good daddies are far and few in between. Continue Reading →

Why ‘The Exorcist’ Haunts Us Still

I first saw “The Exorcist” when I was 13 and home alone. This, of course, was a mistake; by the time the iconic bars of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” were running over the credits, I knew I’d never sleep that night, or possibly ever again. But it was not the circumstances of my viewing that made this film so abjectly terrifying. Forty-five years after its release, the adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 eponymous novel remains the most frightening movie ever made, and not just because it features a tween whose head spins backward.

At the time of the book’s publication, it seemed unlikely to ever achieve a mass audience, let alone be adapted into the ninth highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. Until then, Blatty, who also authored the screenplay, had been best known as the comedy screenwriter who’d given us the Inspector Clouseau mystery, “A Shot in the Dark.” A devout Catholic, he’d fictionalized an account of a 1949 exorcism by a Jesuit priest, but even his fancy Hollywood credentials couldn’t save it from being sent back to the publisher in droves. Only when a mysterious set of flukes landed him on the Dick Cavett Show for a full 45 minutes did the “The Exorcist” catapult to the New York Times best-seller list, where it remained for 57 weeks. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy