I thought I’d get an avalanche of responses to my challenge to my faithful, transient…occasionally curious …bored …lazy …film lover-hater readers. ”Lincoln,” …you turn…? I got a meager handful of half- hearted hints. “Liked-loved it,” “OK.” I was underwhelmed. Since no more seem to be forth-coming it’s Saturday afternoon, no playoff game in sight, it’s cold outside, having returned from Florida my blood has turned to water, I could read, don’t feel like it and I can’t think of another good reason to avoid… so… , “Lincoln.”
Thank goodness for my little books which many know, I am never without. “The ability to make a note when needed …is the difference between writing and not writing.” I made notes in Florida in November. “Lincoln,” opened Vimi and I ran …ran mind you … at least in the car ran to the local movie theater. The trick is the late show. All the oldies are snug …bed- y-bye. There were six people in the audience including us. Big ticket opening and old folks like Lincoln…and Spielberg, nice Jewish boy playing with Tony Kushner another nice Jewish boy, uses big words so well, what can be bad. But it’s the late show so no worries. We saw, ”Les Miz,” and were the only two in the theatre. So no barometer. Our own private screening room. It should be called, “Les Mess.” It will get it’s own treatment later.
So, finally, “Lincoln.” It has the sound of seriousness. A historical document on film. A friend said it should have been called, “The 13th Amendment.” A grand civics lesson. Every child should be given one. Daniel Day-Lewis is Lincolnesque to the core. His is a remarkable performance. Award deserving. We have a grim battle scene of men, black-white, blue-grey, in the mud…blood …gore…mortal combat, hand to hand and then some, (Saving Private …) and … Lincoln leading the troops, slowly, hunched over on horseback, through the haze and fog of war. Impressive … Americana front and center. Stirs the blood. Soon we get a moment with young … young black soldiers …The Gettysburg address …even a young white boy gets into the act …how else to get those fine inspiring words into the muddled time line of the screen story. All good stuff … but is it a great motion picture or is it, once again, the triumph of marketing in a cynical age. I think, and I am not the voice of G-d …nor do I want to be the voice of G-d … I think that it is a good film, a film to be seen by one and all … at least it strives to be taken seriously. I also think that it is a film with flaws. Not nit-picking, fault finding flaws, around the edges flaws. Flaws …major flaws, that can be seen and heard and criticized.
It seems to me that the bug in the soup is Tony Kushner. I’ve long thought that he was too in love with his own words…and…it is not a matter of stage or film. The man loves to pontificate, called for or not. And…he gets away with it. Darling boy that he is. It’s not that I’m a minimalist. I love words when they are needed and that covers a lot of ground. I use words. I believe that sometimes more …is more. Your ear, and eye in film, should tell you when it is excessive. When the little voice in your head screams, “Will this guy never shut up,” you know the game is up. It’s one step to boring. It might carry the sound of profundity but it’s also heavy going, window dressing…watch out the voice says because it may just be boring. Let’s face it Tony Kushner suffers from verbosity. At times, “Lincoln,” feels bloated …to me. Words for the sake of words. What happened to, “If you can see it …you don’t have to say it.” It’s film. Get on with it.
That brings me to collaboration. Spielberg, Kushner, not exactly Rogers and Hart or even Rogers and Hammerstein for that matter. Speilberg’s film drags under the weight of Kushner’s words. I watched the film…I thought …interesting…admirable … it didn’t grip me or take me away …it didn’t move me. I was outside looking in. I saw the film. I got it. I wanted more. I wanted the Lincoln that has moved me from childhood. Understand… ah yes …the 13th Amendement debate…relevance to today. Politics. You see …it’s always been that way. All through the movie they didn’t know what story they wanted to tell. I wanted the Lincoln who makes me cry thinking about the enormity of the man and his words … his words …his words…his words. I want what he made me feel about the expectations for this country I feel every day. Feelings and the fulfillment of ideas that Lincoln laid out for us. I wanted a Lincoln for our time. I wanted a, “Lincoln,” for all time. And …it’s not Daniel Day Lewis, who was grand … towering … a performance to hold your breath for. And it’s not Sally Fields who is peerless in her approach, touching in her sensibility and heart breaking in her Molly. She is deserving of the highest of honors and that I hope that she receives. What I came with was Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Fields. Not Lincoln. And only by manipulation the 13th Amendement.
I could talk about incongruities, things that don’t seem to fit, and performances that feel like they drift in from other films but you get my drift. My beef is with Spielberg and Kushner. It should be a better film…I think.
You want to see a film of historical significance …go and see, “A Royal Affair,” a wonderful film from Denmark, then talk to me about entertainment that can be significant. Sweeping and small all at the same time. It deserves it’s own space which I will deal with soon. Meanwhile tomorrow we observe the fifty seventh Presidential Inauguration Day. God bless America.