The Winter Olympics! Controversy! Politics! Human rights, or lack thereof! Snow, or lack thereof! Happy Scandinavians! And more politics! And more controversy! CURLING!
While it pales in comparison to, say, just about everything controversial about the Sochi games, today the BBC brought up the question of whether Russian figure skater Julia Lipnitskaia’s routine to the score from “Schindler’s List” was in poor taste. My verdict? No. Not really. Leave the girl alone. BBC turned to Twitter, that repository of great human opinion distilled down to quickly-digested bites, to quote somebody asking if routines based on Anne Frank’s diary are next. I’m here in Super Jewish Lady mode to say: calm down.
Okay, I admit I did a little mental “uh oh…” when Lipnitskaia entered the ice and the announcer said she was skating to the theme from “Schindler’s List,” but that’s mainly because I don’t like having emotional reactions to sport other than hysterical glee when Tottenham Hotspur win. I definitely took notice of the red costume and immediately thought of the little girl in the red coat. But, you know what? It’s not a big deal. In the great big net of fish we Jews have to fry, this isn’t even a barnacle on the rope. Not bothered. I sat back and watched her land some jumps.
Fact: I was eight or nine years old when “Schindler’s List” was released, but I never watched it until well into my twenties. I suppose my reasoning is the same of that of a lot of Jewish people in my generation: Holocaust Overload. While undoubtedly the biggest tragedy and the most pivotal time in our history, it can sometimes feel like it’s our only history, and so we acknowledge that we can commemorate and remember our genocide but need to draw the line before we are completely consumed by grief. As an avid reader from a young age, I knew all about the Holocaust and had read plenty of accounts of the horror by 1993. I didn’t feel like I needed to see a film, even one as highly acclaimed as “Schindler’s List,” in order to know even more. For children, everything in moderation, including recollections of deportations, gas chambers, and shootings-on-sight.
But eventually I did watch it, and I was glad I did. It’s a work of art. Neeson’s portrayal of Schindler is brilliant. The cinematography could not possibly be improved. It’s a hard-hitting movie that never lets up and it should never let up. It’s a film that resonates with people of all backgrounds, not just my own Jewish-Polish one. And so “Schindler’s List,” as a Hollywood movie, pretty much belongs to everyone. You can’t draw comparisons to Anne Frank’s diary, which to me is far more “Jewish” than a film, even one from arguably the most famous Jewish director of all time. It’s the story, first and foremost, about the work of a German man, played by an Irish actor. The screenplay was adapted from the Booker Prize-winning Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, an Australian Catholic. The music Lipnitskaia skated to was composed by John Williams, and I have no idea if he is Jewish, but that doesn’t matter – it’s a beautiful, mournful, moving score. Of course, the great Itzakh Perlman is the violinist on that track. The film tells a story of Jewish life and death, but it is not our exclusive property. It’s a story shared with the world, and for that it earned seven Academy Awards and a rightful place in the history of film. I find it actually quite heartening that a Russian non-Jewish girl who wasn’t even alive when the film was made had such an emotional connection with it. That only proves it’s a great work of art.
Now, as for the costume, my main criticism is that it’s a bit too literal. Everybody knows the character of the little girl in the red coat. Figure skating costumes by necessity are made of skimpy Spandex and there’s nothing “coat”-like about that to me. But this is purely a criticism on the basis of fashion, not taste. Figure skaters are first and foremost athletes, not models, and she had to wear a short skirt with a leotard bottom just like everybody else. If she hadn’t worn red, then critics would have wondered why the hell not, considering how iconic that color is in the film. Something to get upset about? This isn’t it.
To Lipnitskaia and other skaters who sacrifice their youth to training for this sport, it’s an art as much as a physical activity. Skaters are taught to create that emotional connection with their audiences the same way a dancer (or hey, maybe even an actor) would. If this 15-year-old girl and her coach and choreographer thought she could do a great job of capturing the emotion evoked by the film score, then more power to her. It’s a lot to ask of a teenager, and I thought she did it well. So did the judges (although I have to admit I have no clue how the new scoring system works but so long as a pair of friendly Canadians don’t get ripped off again I’m happy to let them do their thing). It should also be emphasized that Lipnitskaia is not the first female figure skater to perform to this music – that honor goes to Katarina Witt, who happens to be German. And was a willing accomplice to the Stasi. Welp.
There’s a lot to be upset about in these Olympics. Julia Lipnitskaia’s routine really isn’t one of them. Carry on skating.