lincoln movie criticism

Posted on October 8th, 2020

Earlier versions of this piece have appeared at Quora and Wikipedia. Scott of the New York Times says "There is no end to this story, which may be why Mr. Spielberg’s much-noted fondness for multiple denouements is in evidence here.

TWITTER Comment document.getElementById("comment").setAttribute( "id", "a169fc3b41d7e7d8629bab06f4b537c1" );document.getElementById("hdbf318017").setAttribute( "id", "comment" ); Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. But it is the job of the filmmaker to use creative “imagination” to recover what is lost to memory.

Not a false note. The leading academic critics of Spielberg’s movie so far have been Eric Foner, Kate Masur, and Patrick Rael. In yet another scene, Lincoln’s young son Tad plays with glass negatives on loan from photographer Alexander Gardner’s gallery. But Gardner would never have sent one-of-a-kind, fragile plates to the rambunctious little “sprite” of the White House. PO Box 1773 / Dickinson College From time to time, even “Honest Abe” himself exaggerated or dissembled in pursuit of a great cause. In pursuit of broad collective memory, perhaps it’s not important to sweat the small stuff. In fact the tall victim was placed diagonally in the too-small bed, and was under a cover, naked, when he breathed his last (doctors had removed his clothes to search for other possible wounds). Michael Vorenberg, author of Final Freedom (2001), was especially pointed in his comments to Brown University students on their Facebook discussion of the movie. The White House is less a temple of state than a gathering place for wheelers and dealers. Can DreamWorks recapture some of that oscar magic that saw it — albeit in another incarnation — win the big prize three years in a row as a stakeholder in American Beauty, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind?, Forgotten Abolitionist: John A.J. The Los Angeles Review of Books produced one of the best summaries detailing the range of historian reactions in a piece by Kelly Candaele (December 14, 2012). Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and one of the most respected historians in the field, claims the movie “grossly exaggerates” its main point about the stark choices confronting the president at the end of the war over abolition or peace (Letter to the Editor, New York Times, November 26, 2012). Oakes has praise for the screenwriter’s decision to draw together the politics of abolition and peace talks, but finds “more troubling in terms of historical accuracy” Kushner’s insistence that conservative Republicans (such as the Blair family) opposed the slavery amendment. Kushner says that he read Final Freedom carefully but denies that it was a “principal” source for the movie. To help allay any concerns about his use of sources, Kushner then shared with Noah a list of more than thirty sources –both primary and secondary—which he claims were especially influential in shaping the script beyond Team of Rivals.

“Films don’t have to have footnotes,” he told the Brown student newspaper, “If my book helped add accuracy to the film, I can take some pleasure in that.”. 4:29 PM PST 11/15/2012 Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America: A Companion Book for Young Readers to the Steven Spielberg Film Lincoln, and a consultant on the movie, picks out what’s true and false in Spielberg’s movie—and says in the end it’s not the details that matter. When the House of Representatives finally, dramatically votes to approve the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, Washington erupts in celebration. To be sure, there is no shortage of small historical bloopers in the movie. He writes, “With the exception of Secretary of State William Seward (played convincingly by David Strathairn), Lincoln presents almost every public figure as either comical, quirky, weak-kneed or pathetically self-interested.”. Currently you have JavaScript disabled. Zeitz, who is currently preparing a biography of Lincoln aides John Nicolay and John Hay, considers the depiction of the president and his political challenges to be “masterful” but finds extensive fault with the one-dimensional portraits of nearly all the president’s men. Along with Holzer’s notably balanced assessment, one of the most helpful early historical evaluations of the film comes from Joshua Zeitz writing for The Atlantic (November 12, 2012). (Until the advent of machine voting, the House voted alphabetically by name; this I know from experience—I once worked for Representative Bella Abzug, number two on the roll call, and it was always a challenge to move her considerable frame from her congressional office to the House floor in time to answer the roll right after James Aboureszk. In his interview and in his new book, Freedom National (2012), Oakes demonstrates that the Republicans were almost entirely united on nearly all wartime votes regarding emancipation and abolition. All rights reserved. This is a film not about an icon of history, but about a president who was scorned by some of his political opponents as just a hayseed from the backwoods.”, STORY: Steven Spielberg Receives Standing Ovation at 'Lincoln' L.A. In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page.

Was Mary Todd really there? Finally, Lincoln’s last moments—in a deathbed at the Peterson House across the street from Ford’s Theatre on April 15, 1865—look little like period descriptions of the gripping scene.

The list of such oops-moments can easily go on.

Other scholars quickly jumped into this fray –see especially thoughtful comments from Akim Reinhardt and Gary Gutting. For a few weeks, I haven’t known quite how I would respond. Other historian / fact-checkers have been more kind. I've rarely been more aware than during Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" that Abraham Lincoln was a plain-spoken, practical, down-to-earth man from the farmlands of Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Just check out the shady roads he took to achieve black freedom as “imagined” so dazzlingly in the movie. Historical author / blogger Kevin Levin finds the whole process of historical analysis to be more than a little aggravating. (At one such real-life ceremony, the halyards got tangled and Lincoln said he hoped it wasn’t a bad sign for the future of the country.). Sometimes real history is as dramatic as great fiction. Unavoidably, even at its very best, “this resurrection is a fantasy ... a dream.” As Spielberg neatly put it, “one of the jobs of art is to go to the impossible places that history must avoid.” There is no doubt that Spielberg has traveled toward an understanding of Abraham Lincoln more boldly than any other filmmaker before him. Boasting an urgent density of detail and cunning performances by Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role and Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens, Lincoln is a civics lesson that frequently brings life to the nation’s central political and moral debate. Lincoln, in this movie at least, was a conflicted, often tortured man, who knew what had to be done and was willing to bend certain rules and obligations to achieve his desired outcome.”, Roger Ebert gives the film four stars and adds, “The capital city of Washington is portrayed here as roughshod gathering of politicians on the make. Schmidt was able to employ an arsenal of textual databases and easy-to-use tools such as Google’s Ngram viewer to figure out exactly which words and phrases from Tony Kushner’s script were out of place for that period. Naturally, many historians working in the Civil War field find this claim to be seriously overstated. Terms of Use | Thank you for this conspectus of links to scholarly opinion. FACEBOOK And with doses of candor and reality, it never drags like a History 101 course did/does in college.”. Vorenberg calls Zelikow’s piece “way off” and argues that “it’s unfortunate that Zelikow trashes historians in that piece” when “it’s clear that all he’s done is to skim a few pages of some books” (November 30, 2012). Writing for The Atlantic, he complains, “Historians Need To Give Steven Spielberg A Break” (November 26, 2012). DreamWorks co-financed the movie with Fox, and it is being distributed domestically by Disney, so it’s got plenty of studio support behind it. I have argued for Quora (and Huffington Post) that people must stop worrying about whether any movie which necessarily invents dialogue, characters and scenes should ever be considered as “historically accurate.”  It’s a work of art –historical fiction—which we need to judge by other standards (November 27, 2012). Although the movie has some issues these a few boring scenes throughout the movie. He had less than a year of formal education and taught himself through his hungry reading of great books. | Cookie Settings. © 2020 The Hollywood Reporter Producer: Matthew Pinsker It has also made for a movie whose pleasures are subtle ones, that knows how to reveal the considerable drama inherent in the overarching battle of big ideas over the amendment as well as the small-bore skirmishes of political strategy and the nitty-gritty scramble for congressional votes.”, VIDEO: 'Lincoln's' Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Finally Meeting Daniel Day-Lewis -- After Shooting an Entire Movie With Him, Turan later adds, “One of the surprises and the pleasures of Lincoln is its portrait of the president as a man gifted at reconciling irreconcilable points of view, someone who wouldn't hesitate to play both ends against the middle and even stretch the truth in the service of the greater good.”, Richard Corliss from Time writes, "The analogy of the 16th and 44th U.S. Presidents provides a fascinating undercurrent to Lincoln, the sturdy, sometimes starchy drama directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner. Rael (Bowdoin College) provoked a lively discussion at H-Slavery by arguing in an extensive critique that the film is rooted in “some of the oldest, most out-dated strands of scholarship” (January 7, 2013). Noah points out the Steven Spielberg optioned Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005) long before it was actually written and that Tony Kushner’s final script bears little resemblance in style or content to the book from which it was “officially” adapted. The images by Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg's frequent cinematographer, use earth tones and muted indoor lighting. First Lady Mary Lincoln, for example, never planted herself in the House Gallery to observe the final tally on the amendment.

Zelikow, a diplomat whose specialty is 20th-century history, actually claims that the movie offers an “original” interpretation of the Civil War’s endgame that will “advance the way historians consider this subject.”  Zelikow argues that Kushner and Spielberg have pulled together various strands concerning the slavery amendment and the Hampton Roads peace talks in a way that no previous historians have accomplished., Your email address will not be published.

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