Sunday, December 9, 2012


I saw the movie yesterday with two terribly interesting and compelling companions. I’m glad I was with someone who understood that a general, personal withdrawal and some quietness was required at the film’s conclusion.
by Charlie Leck

Sam knew I was extremely moved by the film. I was still fighting back emotions as we filed out of the theater.

“I can’t wait to read your blog tomorrow,” Sam said, as we walked through the theater lobby toward the exit doors. After that, he remained quite silent as we walked to the car, uttering a nearly silent farewell to Bert.

“No, this was too big for me to write about it,” I replied very quietly, after thinking about it.

“Not for you,” he said. “I’ll bet you write about it.”

“No! How do you even begin to explain such a film?”

Yet, I knew he’d thrown me something like a challenge and I sat around last night thinking about it. I sipped on some scotch that I had poured over a mountain of clear ice cubes and thought about it. I stared at the newly decorated Christmas tree and thought about Lincoln! How could one possibly explain such a big movie – such incredible storytelling and such a wondrous recreation of historical reality?

I mean… What do I mean?

The cameras and the people who worked them and directed them seemed as intruders on reality. They carried me back into history and to moments that I’d wondered about as I read the historians who tried to explain them – Doris Kearns Goodwin, in A Team of Rivals, and Gore Vidal in Lincoln.

But, I can’t explain the power of this movie to you! I sit here thinking about it and I begin to tremble when I think about the man – Lincoln. What can I write that will be meaningful?

Here’s what I know!
The movie tried to capture a period in Lincoln’s presidency – a moment when he was trying to get the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution approved by the U.S. Congress.

What was it the New York Times said about the movie – praise that got me so excited about seeing it?

“The squalor and vigor, the glory and corruption of the Republic in action have all too rarely made it onto the big screen.
“There are exceptions, of course, and one of them is Steven Spielberg’s splendid “Lincoln,” which is, strictly speaking, about a president trying to scare up votes to get a bill passed in Congress. It is of course about a lot more than that, but let’s stick to the basics for now. To say that this is among the finest films ever made about American politics may be to congratulate it for clearing a fairly low bar. Some of the movie’s virtues are, at first glance, modest ones, like those of its hero, who is pleased to present himself as a simple backwoods lawyer, even as his folksy mannerisms mask a formidable and cunning political mind.” [A.O. Scott, NY Times, 8 November 2012]
To me, it was about that something more that A.O. Scott mentions. It was about a moment in history – a moment, mind you, that might pass without decisive action or, through great moral belief and perseverance, might display the awesomeness of human character. Lincoln! Seward! Thaddeus Stevens! Oh, my, what men!

A.O. Scott says: “…Daniel Day-Lewis, who eases into a role of epic difficulty as if it were a coat he had been wearing for years.” A friend of mine spoke to me about the movie in the days before I saw it. “Daniel Day-Lewis nailed it,” he said with such total enthusiasm it was as if he were proclaiming a moment of epiphany! And, yes he did – Mr. Lewis, I mean! He absolutely nailed it and captured a Lincoln who was, to me and the other viewers around me, so real that it was as if we were sitting with him in his White House, listening to his humble tales born out of his experiences in Kentucky, Indiana and Southern Illinois. Such little stories with such far reaching morals to them!

“Above all, he gives them voice. His Lincoln speaks in a reedy drawl that provides a notable counterpoint to the bombastic bellowing of some of his allies and adversaries. (John William’s score echoes this contrast by punctuating passages of orchestral grandeur with homey scraps of fiddle, banjo and parlor piano.). [A.O. Scott, NY Times, 8 November 2012]

The screenwriter is Tony Kushner. I know nothing about him. My companions at the movie theatre were enthused and delighted when they saw that he had written the script. It was quite brilliant and excruciatingly realistic. Lincoln, Kushner makes both eloquent and down-to-earth folksy. How could a man tell tales so well of George Washington’s portrait in a toilet (WC) in Great Britain and utter so compellingly those words at Gettysburg, or deliver the magnificent chord so vibrantly in the Second Inaugural Address? Kushner, Spielberg and Day-Lewis deliver just that to us in startling reality. Brilliantly, to boot!

I have never sat through “a full-length, feature film,” as we used to call them in the old days, that so grasped me and held me tight from beginning to end. As I so boldly said in the opening to this blog, I was drawn back into the reality and moment of history and allowed to be a living, contemporary and witness right at hand.

Sally Field allowed me to have great sympathy and even compassion for the bedeviled Mary Todd Lincoln. No mother, no wife, no woman should have to endure the agony and great personal expenditures paid by Mrs. Lincoln.

Tommy Lee Jones was brilliant as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. He was put on a grand stage and given the opportunity to play a complex and well-spoken, sharp-tongued character. He grasped the opportunity and delivered a forceful performance with such reality that I forgot it was digital images I was watching.

The gorilla in the room, in this entire story, and that which provides the compelling conflicts, confrontations and great debates, is the institution of slavery in America and whether it can be allowed to stand at the conclusion of the Great Civil War that was fought over this very question: Can a State be a State within the Union, but defy the compelling heart and soul of the Constitution of the United States that cries out that “all men are created equal!” All men!

The film is about the question of slavery and how it shall be abolished. Clearly, some dynamic northern politicos decide that it must go before peace treaties are consummated. However, the North is divided about the question. Is the black man truly the equal of the ruling white men? Is the black man equal? Is he? The question lingers there and probes at us and at the characters in the story with a sharpness that is frightening. You are smacked with it again and again! Is he?

Spielberg opens the doors to the House of Representatives and to the White House and allows us a view of the political process in all its unseemly reality – and that is incredibly dramatic and forceful. It is also dirty and corrupt and unwholesome. Yet, it is beautiful because the ends do seem, in this case, to justify the means.

Enough, read the NY Times review by Mr. Scott. Then, if you haven’t already, get your tired old ass out there and sit in a grand, big-screen theater and become an actual witness to one of the most important historical moments in all of time.

If you don’t get it yet, here is my message in total bluntness: “God, I loved this movie!”

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  1. I have seen the film; I echo your reasons for believing it as brilliant a piece of filmwork as has been made in years.

    One comment... a cavil, is all... there is no reference in the Constitution to "all men are created equal." That's from the Declaration of Independence, which is in no way a governance document. In fact, we had to add Amendments in order to put equality into the Constitution, and we still haven't gotten women's equality in there.

    Happy New Year :)