Is Spielberg still on the blacklist?: 'Schindler's List' is being hailed the year's best picture, but a first Oscar for its director is as elusive as ever

WHEN the great, the good and the not-so-good of the film industry gathered for a Christmas bash at Chasen's, a favourite Hollywood venue, one topic of conversation prevailed: why is Steven Spielberg, the most commercially successful director in cinema history, being snubbed yet again?

Last week Spielberg's latest film, Schindler's List, an adaptation of Thomas Keneally's factually based novel about the Holocaust, opened in the United States to extraordinary critical acclaim - even by the standards of a director who has made four of the 10 highest- grossing movies, including the record-holding Jurassic Park.

Newsweek magazine awarded the film its much-coveted cover story slot, with the headline 'Movie of the Year'. USA Today described it as a masterpiece. The New Yorker magazine, a notoriously tough judge of Tinseltown's grubby wares, gushed with praise. And President Clinton implored Americans to go to see it.

Yet, for all the thunderous applause, Spielberg has so far received short shrift for his work. Three groups, whose annual film awards mark the start of the run-up to the Oscars - the Los Angeles Film Critics' Association, the National Board of Review and the New York Film Circle - last week named Schindler's List as the year's best picture (it opens in London in February). But all three named someone else in the best director category.

This has a grim familiarity for Spielberg, who has been scandalously overlooked before. His 30 films include blockbusters such as ET, Jaws, Back to the Future and the Indiana Jones movies. He has filled Hollywood's coffers with billions of dollars. But he has never won a director's Oscar.

The most stunning snub was administered eight years ago when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the trophies, chose Spielberg's The Color Purple for 11 nominations, but left him out of the best director's category.

'In 58 years of the Academy Awards, only 32 other films had won 11 nominations or more,' Anthony Holden wrote in his book, The Oscars, 'and 31 of their directors had been nominated.' (The academy did give Spielberg the Irving G Thalberg producer's award for 'the body of his work'- but that is not quite the same.)

No one knows exactly why Spielberg is so little liked in Hollywood, but it is no secret that his abrasive manner has something to do with it. He is known to be demanding, pushy and uncompromising, though it is hard to imagine what else to expect from the entertainment world's second richest person (estimated annual income: dollars 42m). A more persuasive explanation, says one industry insider, is old-fashioned jealousy. 'Steven is simply too good for most of the others.'

If this is true, the green- eyed monster must be running amok in Beverly Hills and Malibu, because Schindler's List is being widely acclaimed as Spielberg's best work and Hollywood's most culturally important film for years. It has touched on a raw nerve in the US - and not before time, it seems. Polls show that Americans, despite the presence of a highly influential Jewish community, appear to be forgetting the events of the Second World War at an alarming rate. In one survey last spring, almost one-quarter of respondents said it seemed 'possible' that the Nazi extermination of six million Jews never happened. And more than 50 per cent of American high school students, apparently lost in a coma induced by fast food and television, did not even know what the word 'holocaust' meant.

Advocates of Schindler's List hope it will reverse this trend with the force that only a classic film can exert. It is the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German Catholic businessman who moved to Cracow, after the Nazis occupied Poland. Schindler makes an unlikely hero. He was a womaniser, a wheeler-dealer, and a profiteer who traded heavily on the black market and sucked heavily on the cognac bottle.

He had a penchant for gambling and nightlife, and was happy to hobnob with the SS if it served his interests. But he also made it his business to save some 1,200 Jews from the gas chambers by insisting that they were indispensable workers in his factory. Today, there are some 6,000 descendants of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler's Jews) by whom he is regarded as a saviour, if not a saint. And he is probably the only former member of the Nazi party to be buried in Mount Zion cemetery, Jerusalem.

The story's journey from historical fact to the semi-permanency of celluloid is equally remarkable. Author Thomas Keneally reportedly heard about it only when he paid a visit to a luggage shop in Beverly Hills and was kept waiting while his credit card was cleared. The store's owner, Leopold Page (originally Pfefferberg), owes his life to Schindler, and makes it his business to describe his heroism to anyone willing to listen. Keneally did, and his bestseller, Schindler's Ark, came out in 1982.

Spielberg, who is Jewish and had relatives who died in Ukraine and Poland, often tells how an Auschwitz survivor taught him numbers by showing him those branded on his skin. He also bitterly recalls his first brush with anti-Semitism - at high school in California. Kids would beat him up, throw pennies in his path or cough the word 'Jew' as they walked by. 'To this day, I haven't gotten over it, nor have I forgiven any of them,' he says.

As he grows older - he is 46 - he is reassessing his roots. His second wife, Kate Capshaw, has converted from the Episcopalian Church to Judaism. And these days, visitors to his office say there are mezuzahs (small Jewish prayer scrolls) hanging from the doorways.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam