Schindler’s List Cut by Cut: Part 1

Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, tells the story of a German businessman who devises a plan to save over a thousand Polish Jews from annihilation by the Nazis.  The picture’s narrative, acting, music and emotional impact are all outstanding. For obvious reasons, one of our favorite aspects of this movie is the beautifully composed and lit black-and-white cinematography by Janusz Kaminski. But the editing…! Michael Kahn who happens to be the most-nominated editor in Academy Awards history (eight nominations) received the the Best Editing top recognition for this movie (and also for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan).

Throughout Schindler’s List, the story is pieced together with the use of “parallel editing“, or “cross-cutting”, a cinematic convention in which “two or more concurrent scenes are interwoven with each other.” Kahn and Spielberg successfully illuminate the hardships of the Jews and the opposing comfort and optimism of Schindler and the Nazis in Poland through this convention.

Why this blog post? In 2012 the Cinema Editor Magazine published a great article where the author dissected, cut-by-cut, one of the most important scenes of “Schindler’s List.” Last week we rented the DVD, went back to the article, and created screen grabs of each of the cuts in order to better understand Kahn’s editing. There are so many cuts (28) that we will split this post in two. We wanted to post the entire sequence but due to copyright issues, we can’t.

Schindler (Liam Neeson) and Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) falsify documents and create a list of names to ensure that as many people as possible are deemed “essential” by the Nazi bureaucracy.

Cut 1 Extreme close-up of typewriter keys pounding out three names:  as the screenplay puts it, “the letters the size of buildings, the sound as loud as gunshots.”

Cut 1

Cut 2 Medium shot of Stern typing; camera tracks with Schindler pacing past him, reciting the names of Poldek Pfefferberg, his close crony among the Jews, and Poldek’s wife, Mila.

Cut 2

Cut 3 Extreme close-up: “Pfefferberg” being typed.

Cut 3

Cut 4 Medium shot: Schindler giving another name. Pan right to include Stern at typewriter.

Cut 4

Cut 5 Extreme close-up of the name “Stagel” being typed.

Cut 5

Click to keep read­ing

Cut 6 Medium shot: Schindler telling Stern he wants to put his investors on the list; pan back and forth with Schindler.  Stern, apologetic, has typing problems, making Schindler impatient.

Cut 6

Cut 7 The name “Scharf” being typed.

Cut 7

Cut 8 Medium two-shot: Schindler saying “The children–all the children.”

Cut 8

Cut 9 Typing two names in huge letters.

Cut 9

Cut 10 Two-shot starting on Schindler, panning with him and tilting down to Stern as Schindler asks, “How many?”  Stern replies, “Four hundred, four fifty.”  Tilt up with Schindler as he picks up a drink and says, “More–more.”

Cut 10

Cut 11 Camera close on Schindler exiting his car at the base of the hill in the Plaszow forced labor camp, below Goeth’s villa.  Schindler walking away from the camera, carrying a suitcase.

Cut 11

Cut 12 Overhead shot of Stern typing and Schindler pacing, with what Spielberg calls his trademark “God light” streaming from windows at right suffusing the scene with a somewhat unnatural radiance.

Cut 12

Cut 13 Goeth with the suitcase–camera cranes over the lid and tilts down past Goeth’s face to his hands fondling the money.

Cut 13a

Cut 14 Typing–close on name

Cut 14

This is only half of the full three and half minute sequence.  Come back tomorrow for the continuation of Schinder’s List: Cut by Cut, Part 2.

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