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Tony Grist

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Lincoln [Apr. 20th, 2015|10:33 am]
Tony Grist
Apparently it's about the Obama presidency but, not being American, I hadn't made the connection until it was pointed out to me. Actually I think it's about democracy. Any democracy. A good man with great intentions has the opportunity to change his society fundamentally. How does he do it? He wheedles and charms and bullies and bribes and misleads. He hopes he has managed to stay within the law but, well, nevermind...

It's a movie that could have been a TV special. It belongs to its writer and actors- with all the essential action taking place in small, dark rooms. What Spielberg adds is context and texture. There can rarely have been a movie that so captures the grubbiness, greasiness, tattiness of the human past. The Civil War photographs of Matthew Brady seem to have inspired the high contrast, almost-but-not-quite black and white cinematography and- in line with what we see in those images- everbody looks as though they haven't bathed in weeks. We are rarely in the great outdoors; when we are it is made to count- in a hellish opening vision of hand to hand fighting in a muddy river and- towards the end- in Lincoln's ahistoric visit to a smoking battlefield- with the dead, looking exactly like Brady's bloated dead of Antietam and Gettysburg, still lying where they fell.

Spielberg is not know for reining himself in, but he does here. If anyone says he doesn't have the instincts of a true artist then Lincoln is the answer.

Daniel Day-Lewis- gangling, arthritic, folksy, preferring to use the velvet paw but capable of flashing out like Jove- is wonderful. But so are Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones. None of these people are just historical totems; they have private motives and domestic griefs and distractions.  Lincoln has lost one child, is fighting with a second and spoiling a third. Mary Todd is keeping up appearances under the pressure of bereavement, guilt, physical pain and something not very far from madness.  The world is a terrible mess- a flailing, floundering mudbath- and somehow out of- in spite of- this chaotic squalor- great deeds are done.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: michaleen
2015-04-20 09:43 am (UTC)
Interesting. I haven't seen it and hadn't heard that it was about the Obama presidency. How so, I wonder? I can see the parallels of course, in that the Republican party is now firmly Neo-Confederate and the political battles of today are merely a continuation of the War of the Rebellion, but I hadn't heard that this is what the movie is really about.

Nicely reviewed, by the way.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-04-20 10:03 am (UTC)
Well, I haven't followed the Obama presidency that closely, but I think you've hit on the parallels. Here's a man with a vision he's trying to realise in spite of having much of the world- including many supposed allies- against him. Mind you, I don't see Obama has proposed or achieved anything as momentous as the ending of slavery.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2015-04-20 03:45 pm (UTC)
Nothing quite so momentous, no. Expanding access to affordable health care is probably the biggest advance since Johnson, though, and his support for marriage equality is making a big difference for those affected. Given the overwhelming opposition he's faced, in Congress, in the media, it's amazing Obama's been able to accomplish much at all.
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[User Picture]From: idahoswede
2015-04-20 10:34 am (UTC)
Actually Mary Todd Lincoln did end up going quite mad.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-04-20 12:24 pm (UTC)
I didn't know that.
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From: artkouros
2015-04-20 12:56 pm (UTC)
I didn't see it as being especially Obama-esque so much as pointing out how little changes in Washington. Yes, poor Mary Todd, she didn't handle the loss of her children well, and the loss of the Abe was the final straw. She was delightfully scandalous in her handling of the White House finances, and came from an old southern family that sided with the south. I really enjoyed "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I read another book called Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America that toured the country looking at memorials, statues, museums and a convention of Lincoln impersonators - lots of good insight into the way he's become part of the background of America.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-04-20 04:24 pm (UTC)
Team of Rivals is, I believe, the book on which Kushner mainly drew for his screenplay. I should read it. I've always admired Lincoln but I've never read anything substantial about him.
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From: artkouros
2015-04-20 04:31 pm (UTC)
He was an amazing man in an amazing time.
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