Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Epic Lincoln

On an outing this past weekend, Susan and I viewed the latest edition of Steven Spielberg writes history – “Lincoln”

“Lincoln” is compelling! Size matters – this film demands to be seen on the Big Screen. Get to the movie theatre and view. Don’t wait for downloads, cable or the DVD.

The flick is long, over two hours. It has beautiful cinematography but it is essentially a film of dialogue. There are some iconic shots, Lincoln telling stories, reading to his son, walking down the hall of the White House, but this movie is a talker. There are many many conversations that fully develop the characters; Obviously Lincoln but many others, Mary Todd Lincoln, Robert Lincoln, William Seward, Thaddeus Stevens, U S Grant, Preston Blair, Edward Stanton, and others.

Lincoln’s best attribute and what I found most enjoyable was his use of story telling and parable using it for political persuasion and advantage. The movie is spot on in this regard.

The movie credits the book being based on the Doris Kearns Goodwin’s history, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”. The movie credits also note that Civil War historian James McPherson was a consultant.

I recently read “Team of Rivals” and enjoyed it thoroughly. I like Ms. Goodwin. Her book had original research and presenting Lincoln in a somewhat different way. Her book focused briefly on Lincoln’s history but was about his nomination, election, and Presidency (focusing primarily on Lincoln’s conduct of the War.) The movie caught Lincoln’s traits as described by Goodwin but the book was much broader in scope than the film’s focus on the 13th Amendment. Goodwin’s book is focused on Lincoln’s political skills and interpersonal skills in dealing with his cabinet, some of whose members had opposed him for the Republican nomination.

Politically an interesting aspect of both the book and the movie was the fact that a President actually consulted with his cabinet. He just didn’t use them for propaganda and photo opportunities.

James McPherson like Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize winner. Goodwin won for “No Ordinary Time”, about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Goodwin’s best book was “Wait Till Next Year”, her memoir of growing up a Brooklyn Dodger fan, the Dodgers move to Los Angeles, and the suburbanization of America in the last half of the 20th Century. 

McPherson won for “Battle Cry of Freedom.” If you are going to read only one book about the American Civil War, this is the one. McPherson is readable and lays it out culturally, socially, economically, militarily, and thus historically. I am not sure what McPherson added to the movie, other than perhaps as a “fact checker.”

Sidebar – “Fact Checker” is a new word that seems to have been added to common usage if not our vocabulary in the 2012 Presidential Election. I guess this has been necessary as veracity lately has been hard to come by. Sometime, I may post on this modern day need for someone to make sure our politicians are truthful. In the good old days when a politician was not honest he lost his credibility and often that was a career ender… anyway back to Honest Abe.

Essentially “Lincoln” is the story of the Congressional (House of Representatives) passage of the 13th Amendment (the outlawing and abolition of slavery) to the U S Constitution

The time frame is the last months of 1864 and January of 1865. To those interested in politics, the passage of the enabling legislation is not only interesting but compelling and instructive. The film depicts, political opponents who actually talk to each other. There is fiery debate, much lobbying, and even some horse-trading for jobs among some defeated Democrat house members. The amendment was passed during a lame duck session after the November 1864 General Election.

The cast – Lincoln is portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis. Lewis was born to play this role. You do not see Lewis in this film. You see Abraham Lincoln. I cannot explain it but it is True. This if for no other reason is why you must see this film. If you want to see Abraham Lincoln go see the movie. Perioid!

If it were not for the fact that Lincoln is in the movie playing himself, Tommy Lee Jones (that would be Assistant US Marshall Samuel Gerard and Al Gore’s Harvard roommate) steals the show. Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens. Sally Fields as Mary Todd will be looking for another Oscar (reportedly Field gained 25 pounds to play a proper Mary Todd). Unbelievably (but very believable) the 87year old Mark Twain er Hal Holbrook shows up with a stellar performance as Preston Blair. All the acting is tremendous.

Lincoln will walk away with Best Motion Picture and probably as many as nine of the little gold guys. John Williams for score, Spielberg again, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, costumes, screenwriting – the whole package.

If you are even remotely interested in History – SEE IT!