Sunday, November 18, 2012

A review of Spielberg's Lincoln

By Steven Graydanus.  It looks like he enjoyed Lincoln.  I don't know.  Daniel Day-Lewis seem to do a good enough job, though surprisingly, he strikes less of a 'Lincolness' look than I remember in others who have played the part.  Perhaps I'm just cynical where Hollywood history is concerned, but I can't help but feel so much of this will be taking our current events and imposing them on the events around Lincoln's last years.  According to the reviews, the movie is less about Lincoln himself as it is the events leading up to the passing of the 13th Amendment   According to Graydanus, much emphasis is on the political wrangling needed to get legislation through a morally stagnant congress.  Sound familiar?  I've often maintained that history tends to tell you more about the historian than the history being written, and I can't help but feel that this movie won't overcome that tendency.  

The late Gregory Peck as a more robust Lincoln
From the TV series The Blue and the Gray
Not that it would be unique.  Hollywood has never done history well.  Only on rare occasions has Hollywood attempted to stand back and just tell a story.  Coppola famously did it with his script for Patton, avoiding the deeper controversies and refusing to take sides to advocate this position or float that view about the general.  It was noteworthy that this allowed both supporters of the war in Vietnam, and opponents of the war, to see the movie as supporting their cause.  Another good venture was the HBO series Band of Brothers. Unlike its follow up The Pacific, it simply took the stories told in Stephen Ambrose's book, and put them on the screen.  Of course some jostling of the narrative was in order, and being the late 20th century, copious amounts of swearing was injected.  Though due to the soldiers' own requests, the 'vulgar' level of sexually charged cussing was dropped, and only one gratuitous sex scene added to fulfill the HBO minimum requirement.  Otherwise, if you watch the TV series and read the book, you'll be amazed at how few embellishments were added.

Sadly, most movies are far less fortunate.  From such laughable farces as Oliver Stone's various takes on history, such as JFK or Alexander the Great, to such credible undertakings as the HBO series Adams, there are varying levels of not just poetic license for the sake of story telling within the medium, but outright altering the actual events by subtly (or in Stone's case, anything but subtly) shifting the focus to a single issue, person, struggle, or even unsubstantiated rumor.  We'll see if that's the fate that befalls Lincoln, or if my suspicions might be happily abated. 

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