Sunday, November 25, 2012


photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia page

A few comments about Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, which you should go see:

--I was pleasantly surprised to find myself sitting in the second row from the front for this film.  Spielberg film or not, historical films or biopics do not draw huge crowds.  I got to this one twenty minutes early (pretty amazing for me) and almost had to see the next one, half an hour later.  The crowd, at a quick glance, was about 28 and older.  No teens; no kids.  (This will make for a better film experience.)

--Spielberg is usually the star of a Spielberg film.  This time he shared the billing with Daniel Day-Lewis, who was amazing.  But the film was so well-directed, with obvious Spielberg/Wellesian flourishes, that he doesn't let you forget who's sitting in the director's chair.

--This movie could've been a bore without Spielberg and Day-Lewis, as historical films and/or biopics can be.  Over 95% of the film is interiors and dialogue.  Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones often hold forth.

--This apparently isn't just movie theatrics, either, as characters throughout both cringe and anticipate Lincoln's long-ish stories.  Jones's character was also known to fillibuster, too, apparently.

--I'm betting $20 that most of the fires in the fireplaces were CGI.  I guarantee you the heat made by them would screw with the cameras, the lights, and who knows what else.  And it looked CGI most of the time to me.  If someone reading this happens to know whether this is so, please let me know.

--Who knew that Lincoln had a sense of humor?

--In case you're reading this: Uh-kay.

--The film (actually, Sally Fields' Mary Todd Lincoln herself) often mentions the First Lady's struggles with depression (she'd be classified bi-polar today, I'll bet), but the film does not mention Lincoln's own well-documented melancholia.  (Both had a lot to be depressed about.)

--One of the film's strongest moments is when Lincoln mentions her depression.  Her sadness.  Her anger.  The point being that she was so worried about her feelings that she ignored those of her husband and her other two sons.  From what I've read of her (and her sadness-drawn love of seances), this smacked of truth.

--Both Lincolns seemed like people you would not want to mess with--Lincoln on the political battlefront, Mary Todd at home.

--Speaking of home, the White House was apparently a pigsty when the Lincolns got there.  I'd known about this--the White House famously was ill-designed for heating and ventilation, and it was often in ruin because the Presidents then were, well, ill-kept themselves--but I had no idea it had gotten that bad.

--Obama and Lincoln are often compared, but I'll throw out another one: they were both either extremely well-loved, or extremely despised, with nothing in between.  Few people would think of either with a shrug of the shoulders.

--Someone mentioned that Bush Junior was the same way, but I was quick to point out that, though he was very heavily despised, he was not very well-loved, even by the dumbies who voted for him.  (I had to go back and delete a stronger word there.)

--Speaking of Dubya, make it a point to notice, in a VERY heavily researched and historically accurate film, that every table was filled with books, piled high.  Lincoln was mostly home-schooled and self-taught, and Bush went to Yale, but one has a Presidential Library that's known as a good place to research, with lotsa books.  The other hasn't opened yet, but when it does, to the tune of $250 million, the sound you'll hear is one hand clapping.

--And both Obama and Lincoln had a country at war with itself, socially.  Then and now, it is very evenly divided.  The south has not, apparently, changed all that much.  Perhaps we are two separate countries after all.

--David Strathairn is in a ton of films, and always does a quietly great job, and never gets any recognition at all for his work.  He's been doing this since the 80s.  For example, how many of you know who in the film I'm talking about?

--Daniel Day-Lewis will get the recognition he deserves (he already is), but the greatest thing about his work is that he made a revered American icon surprisingly and appreciably human.  Lincoln is almost as revered in the U.S. as many religious figures, then and now, and think for a moment if someone were to try to humanize one of them.  (::cough:: Martin Scorsese, 1988 ::cough::)

--Day-Lewis almost made me not wonder when Lincoln would pick up an axe and start swingin'.  Almost.  Two Lincolns at opposite ends of the spectrum in the same film year.  Weird.

--Back to the fireplaces again: Everyone's cold.  Sure, it's winter in D.C., which can be worse than winter in New England, but the White House seemed like nothing more than a big barn with one big fireplace in each room.  As I can assure you, one fireplace is not enough to warm a big room.  Everyone's wearing shawls, even the manly, well-dressed and -suited politicians.  Nice historical touch.

--Notice also that everyone wrote on small, wooden portable desks, sort of a take-it-with-you tiny podium.  I've got to get myself one of those.  What're they called?

--Spielberg said he didn't want to release this film until after the election because he didn't want to influence any votes.  You'll see why when you see it, but that tells you another very obvious comparison between Obama and Lincoln--in many ways, they're fighting the same issues.

--The same issues, about 147 years later.

--Thank goodness Lincoln was president during the Civil War.  Can you imagine Dubya or Mitt as President during the Civil War?  We'd still have slavery--and women still wouldn't be able to vote.


  1. You certainly paid great attention to detail in this movie. I was intensely concentrating on the dialogue so I may have missed all those nuances such as the stacked books and CGI fire. I saw the flames, but was gullible enough to believe it was real. I suppose that works in the movie's favor.

    More importantly I walked away with far more knowledge of the proceedings which led to the 13th Amendment than I had anticipated. I liked how this movie showed a certain window of time during Lincoln's life. The sets, costumes, atmosphere, and acting were so solid it felt like I was eavesdropping on actual conversations.

    I agree Daniel Day-Lewis became Lincoln in every which way and should be commended for his performance. I never knew he was such a humorous guy either. He seemed to put everyone in the room at ease yet used his power and assertion when necessary. All actors involved were on point from Sally Field to James Spader to Hal Holbrook (who did in fact play Lincoln in 1985's TV Miniseries "North and South")

    There was a bit too much hero worship at times though, especially in the beginning when the two soldiers recited the Gettysburg Address back to him. I also felt the title itself was misleading. As I mentioned before this movie depicts only a certain time so why not call it "The Amendment" or something eluding to what was being showcased. I also thought it should have ended with him walking out of the white house off into the distance and then concluding with his second inaugural address. The death scene was a bit gratuitous. We know it happened and how it happened. It was overkill at what could have been a more sentimental send off. In fact I think Vampire Hunter got it's ending right!

    Overall it is film making at it's best and it's great to know Spielberg has still got it. Bring on the Oscars!

    1. Thanks for responding!

      I also liked that the movie focused on a barely-acknowledged part of his presidency, and that the movie showed him to have more political acumen than he's given credit for.

      In fact, this latter reason makes me respectfully disagree with you about the hero worship shown in the beginning of the movie. Fact is, Lincoln was either very well-loved, or very despised, during his presidency, so it isn't unbelievable that an intelligent and appreciative African-American soldier would memorize the Gettysburg Address, and indulge in some obvious hero-worship while speaking to Lincoln face-to-face. After all, he might have been talking to the very man who'd freed him with his Emancipation Proclamation! If you aren't going to show hero worship to someone who's solely responsible for your freedom, who would you show it to? And some people really were as starstruck for Lincoln then as some are for Obama now. Can you see someone, African-American or not, reciting part of Obama's "Yes I Can" speech to Obama, with obvious stars glittering in his eyes, if given the chance to speak with him face-to-face? Yes I can.

      And it's called "Lincoln" rather than "The Amendment" for the same reason that Shakespeare called his play "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar" rather than "The Tragedy of Brutus": money. Lincoln is a name that everyone knows, and it sells. In Shakespeare's day, the life of Julius Caesar was required reading for all grammar school students, and so would've been a name that everyone knew, and it sold. Plus, I again respectfully disagree: The film is VERY much about Lincoln the man. Lincoln the shrewd politician. Lincoln the revered hero to many. Lincoln the folksy (and often tiresome, but always appreciated) story-teller. Lincoln the bereaved father and exasperated husband. Lincoln the Philosopher-King. Lincoln is very much showcased here, not the amendment. Lincoln, and not the amendment, IS the story. The plot focuses on Lincoln, not on the amendment.

  2. But wasn't Lincoln a Republican?

    Actually, don't answer, I'm just being a stinker. When BILL Clinton was in his second term, I told my Hillary-for-President-fearing friends (at a drunken pub debate) that America would sooner elect a Black Male against a White female. Look what happened.

    You want to know what I think Obama really has in common with Lincoln?

    ...The end.

  3. Yeah, someone else said that to me today. Let's hope that's not true!

    Another comparison they have, that I noticed after I started reading Goodwin's book the movie's based on, and after I read that Obama and Mitt had lunch recently at the White House: both Lincoln and Obama reach out to men they've beaten politically and show extremely good grace doing so. I don't know what Obama has in store for Mitt (I have a few suggestions...), but Lincoln gave the men he'd beaten for nomination very important Cabinet posts. And what a Cabinet Lincoln had, possibly one of the best ever. He and Seward soon became good friends--the same Seward who had the foresight to acquire Alaska for very cheap, not "Seward's Folly" after all. Sarah has Seward to think for her ability to see Russia from her town...