ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
ON MONDAY I did what everybody has to do if they have any interest in either the history of the cinema or the history of the human race: I went to see Schindler's List. It's a harrowing experience. So it should be. It's also a monumental achievement. I was expecting to be a bit disappointed, having read those five-star notices from Quentin Curtis and others. But the film is so good, it lives up to its own reviews. The rest of the audience - a packed house at Whiteley's, Bayswater - seemed to think so too. Never have a few hundred people trickled out of a shopping centre in such silence, such stunned rumination.

A colleague saw the film the next night, at the Empire, Leicester Square. Again, a large auditorium was transfixed. He went to the gents' at one point - the film lasts three and a quarter hours - and noticed the ushers and usherettes all watching the screen intently, instead of slipping in and out, or milling around chatting, as they usually do.

One note of warning. The film is sickeningly violent. This is not a criticism: it deals with possibly the most violent episode in history, and probably the most sickening. But nothing you know about the Holocaust quite prepares you for the shock of seeing the violence re- enacted - that viciousness, that randomness, that chillingly institutionalised evil, and above all, thanks to Ralph Fiennes's towering performance as the chief Nazi, those not completely inhuman people perpetrating it.

It has been pointed out, and in some quarters used as an attack on Steven Spielberg, that the central story, the tale of Oskar Schindler, is a happy one. But to call it a film with a happy ending is to do a Sir Robin Butler: it's half true, and wholly misleading. We do not come out feeling redeemed. The happy bit is so dwarfed by the awfulness that you suspect Spielberg really used it only as a device, a way of telling the most horrific story of all without abandoning all the normal conventions of fiction. The special horror of the Holocaust was that it turned murder into an industry. Schindler's ark was a factory: his story is therefore a little mirror, an ironic microcosm, of the Final Solution.

'Sickening', by the way, is not a metaphor. I felt physically sick. So another note of warning: don't take any popcorn in with you. As well as driving your neighbours mad, it'll make you feel even worse than you ought to.

IT USED to be the Russians who were so poor that their orchestras were forced to go abroad to earn money; now, it seems, the British music scene is in a similar position. The Philharmonia led the way with its residencies at the Chatelet in Paris. Now, I hear, the Danes are about to build a Glyndebourne-like opera house on a country estate on the island of Langeland; and who will the resident pit band be but our own (though maybe not for much longer) Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

I should add that the music director designate is Mark Wigglesworth; and given that the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen has just been taken over by yet another Brit, Elaine Padmore, you could interpret this turn of events as a triumph of cultural annexation rather than an economic diaspora (or a plain brain drain). But whatever you call it, at this rate the remnants of the Arts Council won't have to devote any more time to the removal of orchestras. They'll have removed themselves.

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