Schindler’s List as an Archetype of Hollywood Filmmaking: the Holocaust, Representation, and Nostalgia

Walker, Matthew (2023) Schindler’s List as an Archetype of Hollywood Filmmaking: the Holocaust, Representation, and Nostalgia. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis begins in 1993 as a means of re-exploring the centrality of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List in American visual culture and in the wider global perception of historical events fifty years prior. I examine whether Spielberg’s film signified a retrospection of Hollywood’s engagement with the Holocaust as much as an actual representation of those events. To do this, I argue the three-act structure that is so central to Hollywood films defines not only the chronology leading up to 1993, but crystalised as a definite access point to the past in Spielberg’s film. Yet, the three-act structure has been moulded by over a century of cinematic conventions which in turn were products of capitalism, patriarchy, and a perceived Anglo-American superiority that dominated Hollywood from its very beginning. To illuminate how Schindler’s List is a product of this history, my methodology focuses on the technical and creative capacity of film in the twentieth century. To do this, I will employ the theories of Gilles Deleuze to show how a presumably universal form of character-based storytelling provides the basis for an American narrative of the Holocaust in 1993. Thus, the thesis is examining the representation of the Holocaust in Schindler’s List and how it increased the popularity of physical memorial sites such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) by being both a product and an architect of American national identity. This will allow me to situate my project within the ever-growing scholarship on the “Americanisation of the Holocaust”. I will argue that Schindler’s List belongs to a specific historical moment of nostalgia in late 1980s and early 1990s, where Hollywood filmmaking was seen to have a dependence on late-capitalism. Economics, politics, and Hollywood film folded into each other in such a way that recreating the past became more about emphasising a singular experience, rather than exploring histories in the plural. Therefore, revisiting Schindler’s List enables us to witness the ultimate saturation of the Holocaust in American culture: the point at which foreign images of atrocity are consumed as Americanised markers of the event.

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Thesis (PhD)
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13 Jun 2023 12:40
Last Modified:
27 Oct 2023 00:08