Monday, November 19, 2012


President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) looks across
 a battlefield in the aftermath of a terrible siege in this scene
from director Steven Spielberg’s drama “Lincoln”
 from DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.
 © DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved
          Steven Spielberg's movie "Lincoln" delivers what most of the movie going public wanted to see --a reverent, loving, film of "Saint Abraham" "saving the Union" and "freeing the slaves." Of course the real, historical Lincoln gets lost in all the "heavenly" music, worshipful Union soldiers, poor old touchy-feely "Father Abraham" and of course the usual, stereotypical "evil" Southerners.
         What is delivered is the typical, 21st Century, Hollywood version of Northern wartime, Anti-Southern propaganda which very neatly advances the 150-year-old, misleading myth about what the war was all about and who the good guys and bad guys were. It was a very well done movie, technically, and had the right look as far as the sets and costumes go. As would be expected with professional actors, Daniel Day-Lewis, as Lincoln, Sally Field, as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones, as Thaddeus Stevens, all performed their roles well. I think Sally Field delivered the best performance of all. At least she could talk back to her husband.
        Most of the movie was about the political wrangling that went on to get the House of Representatives to approve the proposed 13th amendment freeing the slaves. I'm not sure how historically accurate it was, but  it did seem too melodramatic and too drawn out. Considering the  ruthless ways Lincoln violated the Constitution, such as shutting down opposition newspapers and throwing the editors in jail, military arrests without charge for Northern opponents of his policies, and violating the right of habeas corpus, I think the vote was a foregone conclusion. I doubt there was that much drama over passage of the bill. The amendment wasn't passed by the states until the end of the year, well after Lincoln's death.
        Perhaps the most laughably bad scene was the opening one of what was supposed to be fierce hand-to-hand combat, but which came off looking like a ridiculous, modern mud wrestling fight. That was followed by other silly scenes of a touchy-feely Lincoln sitting on a trunk chit-chatting with adoring Union soldiers, some of  whom spontaneously burst out in recitations of the Gettysburg Adress. I'd like to see the documentation for that. Incidentally,  the "battle" scene is the obscure Battle of Jenkin's Ferry, Arkansas in 1864. It was a very bloody and fierce battle, but I doubt there was any mud wrestling going on.
       My favorite part was the scene of the meeting on the River Queen steamboat at Hampton's Roads, Virginia on Feb. 3, 1865, when Lincoln met with a peace commission made up of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, Senator R. M. T. Hunter and Assistant Secretary of War  John A. Campbell, who was also a former U. S. Supreme Court Justice. The inference in the movie that the South would have rejoined the Union if Lincoln blocked the 13th Amendment freeing
 the slaves, did not seem to me to be historically correct. The Southern commissioners were tasked with ending the war but Southern Independence was non-negotiable. I thought the actor who played Stephens, Jackie Earle Haley, did it with dignity and respectability. He was the main  "Confederate" character in the movie with a speaking role. Incidentally, Lincoln and Stephens had been close
personal friends from their days of serving together in the House  of Representatives in the 1840s, when both were members of the Whig Party.
        There was a scene toward at the end of the movie showing Robert E. Lee leaving Appomattox Courthouse. It was okay and showed that Lee was treated respectfully, but I thought the actor playing Lee didn't quite look the part. He had no speaking lines. Other than that, Confederate soldiers were portrayed in the silly mud wrestling scene, or as dead bodies on the Petersburg battlefield.
        The Lincoln assassination was not presented at all, just the Lincoln death scene in the boarding house across from Ford's Theatre.
        According to the facts of history, the real Lincoln was a tough, crafty, self-serving politician who bumbled his way to victory because he had overwhelming advantages in manpower and supplies. That Lincoln is not portrayed in the movie. His closest friends and associates, Ward Lamon, William Herndon and others, rejected the politically inspired myth-making that was created about  their old friend, after his assassination. They would have resented this movie. But the mythological Lincoln is the image that lives today. There's no changing it. That is what most people want to see and that is what sells.


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