PARIS — “Jurassic Park” made millions of dollars for director Steven Spielberg, but in Europe it’s “Schindler’s List” which is making him friends.
And if Hollywood wanted an international ambassador to promote its cause in the post- GATT era, Spielberg would be a tough candidate to beat.
How things change. At the height of last year’s GATT battle, the Gallic forces would happily have strung up Spielberg by his pterodactyls.
As the French mounted their cultural hobby horse, “Jurassic Park” and its unsuspecting director became the bete noire of Paris. Frankly the French found the film just too commercial for words. The dino pic came to represent the mighty Hollywood machine, stamping European films underfoot.
Culture Minister Jacques Toubon, doffing a hitherto hidden critic’s cap, said the film wasn’t worthy of Spielberg and grumped that “les dinosaures” were taking up too much theatrical space at the expense of local pics. For the record , local exhibitors quietly wrote to the minister pointing out that they were quite happy to have their copies of the monster movie.
Spielberg then got drawn into a public squabble with producer David Puttnam et al over censorship and the right of European pics to exist. Newspaper ink flowed, voices were raised. It was less than edifying.
“Schindler’s List” has changed all that.
Last week, Spielberg was dashing across Europe for “Schindler” premieres and getting the kind of red carpet reception normally reserved for heads of state.
President Francois Mitterrand of France asked to meet Spielberg and then sat down for a 40-minute exchange of views on the Holocaust and the international film industry. A senior aide at the Elysee Palace confessed to Variety that as far as he knew, Mitterrand had never met with an American film director, “but he is always keen to promote cultural events which help raise awareness of those terrible events of the war.”
Emerging from the presidential powwow, Spielberg positively oozed diplomacy: “I still believe that it is very important for French cinema, French culture to have their own films that are very representative of the way you think and feel today,” he told waiting reporters. You could almost feel the GATT wounds healing. Bete noire to wonder boy, all in less than an hour.
After that, there was no stopping the presidents. As the Spielberg entourage moved to Germany, Poland, and on to Israel, they all wanted to see “Schindler’s” and talk to the director.
The artistic toll the film has taken on Spielberg became clear at a Krakow press conference. Asked by reporters what his plans are now, the director replied, “I can’t make a musical or a western or a sequel to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ “; I could just not do that now,” he said. “I have no idea what I can or will do next. I will take a year off and think about my life and my career.”
Amid all the(very genuine) emotion of filmgoers, dignataries and Holocaust survivors, some people remarked on the irony of a situation where a European tragedy, filmed in what most agree is a far cry from typical Hollywood style, should have come from an American. “Shouldn’t we have done this?” they asked.
One answer is that Europe has its Holocaust movie — Claude Lansmann’s 570 minute “eyewitness” docu “Shoah,” which took the helmer nine years to make. “I think that this is the only picture that could be made about the Holocaust,” reflected Gallic producer Marin Karmitz. “It’s very disturbing to think of making money out of this subject.”
There are those in Europe who tried to get Schindler onto the big screen, however. Producer Arthur Brauner, a concentration camp survivor, fought 10 years to get backing for a Schindler project titled “An Angel in Hell.” But funding fell through.
One theory as to the eventual American authorship of this European tragedy is that Spielberg is just about the only living helmer who could have gotten the project made. “Apart from Spielberg, it’s difficult to think who could have gotten it financed while also having a big enough name to attract audiences to such an emotional subject,” said a London-based industryite.
With critics almost unanimously upbeat about the pic, the big question now is: Will the public bite. Releases have been limited, but the signs are good. “Schindler’s List” bowed on 30 screens in Germany March 3 and moves to 170 screens on March 17. At last week’s premiere, the $ 60 charity ticket price didn’t prevent a sellout at Frankfurt’s 800-seat Municipal Theater.
In France, first-day ticket sales March 2 reaped $ 235,000 on 94 screens, while in the UK, the film has taken $ 703,035 in two weeks on 13 screens.
This time ’round, there are few voices in Europe protesting a Spielberg success.