Monday, November 5, 2012

Mr. Lincoln Goes to Hollywood

Abraham Lincoln's posthumous relationship with Hollywood is explored by Smithsonian Magazine, including a look at the new film by Steven Spielburg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
On the set everyone addressed Day-Lewis as “Mr. Lincoln” or “Mr. President.” “That was my idea,” Spielberg says. “I addressed all the actors pretty much by the roles they were playing. When actors stepped off the set they could be whoever they felt they needed to be, but physically on the set I wanted everybody to be in an authentic mood.” He never did that in any of his 49 other directorial efforts. (“I couldn’t address Daniel at all,” says Kushner. “I would send him texts. I called myself ‘Your metaphysical conundrum,’ because as the writer of the movie, I shouldn’t exist.”)

Henry Fonda in Young Mister Lincoln (1939) might as well be a youngish Henry Fonda, or perhaps Mister Roberts, with nose enhancement. Walter Huston in Abraham Lincoln (1930) wears a startling amount of lipstick in the early scenes, and later when waxing either witty or profound he sounds a little like W.C. Fields. Day-Lewis is made to resemble Lincoln more than enough for a good poster shot, but the character’s consistency is beyond verisimilitude.

Lincoln, 6-foot-4, was taller than everyone around him by a greater degree than is Day-Lewis, who is 6-foot-1 1/2. I can’t help thinking that Lincoln’s voice was even less mellow (it was described as high-pitched and thin, and his singing was more recitational than melodious) than the workable, vaguely accented tenor that Day-Lewis has devised. At first acquaintance Lincoln came off gawkier, goofier, uglier than Day-Lewis could very well emulate. If we could reconstitute Lincoln himself, like the T. Rex in Jurassic Park, his looks and carriage might put us off.

Day-Lewis gives us a Lincoln with layers, angles, depths and sparks. He tosses in some authentic-looking flat-footed strides, and at one point stretches unpresidentially across the floor he’s lying on to stoke the fire. More crucially, he conveys Lincoln’s ability to lead not by logic or force but by such devices as timing (knowing when a time is ripe), amusement (he not only got away with laughing at his own stories, sometimes for reasons unclear, but also improved his hold on the audience thereby) and at least making people think he was getting into where they were coming from. (Read entire article.)


Matterhorn said...

So are they going to show Vice-President Andrew Johnson drunk at Lincoln's second inauguration? That's essential ;-)

Matterhorn said...

Another thing: is there actual evidence of any friction between Elizabeth Keckley and the Lincolns over the politics in this period? If so, there is certainly no hint of it in Keckley's memoir, where she adopts a downright worshipful tone towards the President. So are they getting this from somewhere else, or just making it up for dramatic effect?

I also question whether there would really have been so much shouting at cabinet meetings. Tensions, divisions, etc. yes, but yelling? Sometimes the movies seem to be more about sensationalism and less about true dramatization.

elena maria vidal said...

I think you are making some good points. It sounds like Mr. Lincoln has really gone Hollywood.