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Why "Lincoln" matters
11-09-2012, 11:35 AM
Post: #1
Why "Lincoln" matters
Posted this today on my Facebook page.

This week we witnessed two very disparate scenes. We saw one man bask in the glory of his supporters. He shed tears as the immensity of what had just happened sunk in.

Conversely, we saw a man register unmistakable shock at an outcome he had not expected.

This isn't new to us. In our modern era, with the advent of the oxymoronic "fake reality" shows, we see emotions and watch the drama play out in "real time." We expect that what once would have been relegated to a private moment with a few friends is now open for all to witness.

Abraham Lincoln understood the power of image. Not as much the photographic image, although he certainly exploited it for all he could, but the image evoked by the spoken word. Whether it was standing in the Illinois House of Representatives, warning that a house divided against itself could not stand or in a hastily-built national cemetery at Gettysburg explaining his vision of a new birth of freedom, Lincoln took advantage of a natural ability to put into words not only what he felt but what the divided country he led was experiencing.

Lincoln was one of the first presidents to embrace photography, ironic for a man not known to be very photogenic. From the moment he walked into a New York photography studio before delivering his Cooper Union address, the speech which would put him on the national map, to the final portrait of a man who, it seemed, had aged decades in just four years, Lincoln's visual image haunts us today like no other.

But it remains one-dimensional. Given the technological limitations of the time, all we see are stern eyes staring forward. No smiles. No movement. No signs of what we call life.

Most actors who have portrayed Lincoln have played him with a quiet dignity which was more fitting for their times. Little emotion and certainly no actions that would betray the image of Lincoln we've been fed since childhood ever appeared on screen. I've often said, only half-jokingly, that we never could even imagine that Lincoln used the privy.

Yet the laconic image presented by Henry Fonda or Walter Huston wasn't true. They never yelled. They never shook with rage. You hardly knew they were alive. They were just as one-dimensional as those pictures of Lincoln which stare at us from the musty pages of history textbooks.

Even if Daniel Day-Lewis's portrayal of Lincoln is judged unrealistic, he and director Steven Spielberg have already accomplished one thing. From the previews, it is apparent that the portrayal of Lincoln has added another dimension to his character. Lincoln is alive. He shows anger. Emotion sometimes overcomes him. We see that Lincoln, while miles above us intellectually, is just like us in what makes us human.

It was said of Carl Sandburg that he got many things wrong in his massive six-volume biography of Lincoln. Even so, James G. Randall, the sharp-eyed dean of mid-20th century Lincoln scholars candidly admitted to Sandburg that the poet's work did more to bring him alive than any other writer up to that point. "Other books are dull and stupid by comparison," Randall said of Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. Those who are unfamiliar with Randall won't immediately comprehend the importance of that statement.

Spielberg's movie will matter not just because it will be entertaining, although that's the first test any production must pass. I think it will, like Sandburg and Ida Tarbell before him, draw people into the orbit in which I've lived for nearly 42 years now. There will be minutiae that won't please some. There may be things that I myself question.

But while it's important to respect and adhere to the facts as we now know them, it's just as important not to sit over the movie, vulture-like, and point out every bit of information that isn't correct. History is an on-going process. The final word is never written. My knowledge of Lincoln is obviously much deeper today than when I was a seven-year-old boy and just beginning to study him.

It's much different from the college student I was in the 1980s. It's much different since I've started to put my thoughts on paper in the hopes of bringing people back to life whose studies should not be forgotten. It will be much different five or ten years from now if I'm lucky enough to join the ranks of people whose talents I deeply admire.

Just as the final word is never written in history, "Lincoln" won't be the end-all of biographical movies. Each generation, it is said, has to make sense of our national heroes in their own milieu. But if it inspires a young person to search out other works on Lincoln and brings them into a world which I and millions of others have embraced, then it will have done its job.

Studying the past is a living, breathing exercise. Making those one-dimensional figures we see in the textbooks into animated objects is the true purpose of history. Film, when properly done, can do that unlike any other medium.

That's why "Lincoln" matters.

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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11-09-2012, 11:46 AM
Post: #2
RE: Why "Lincoln" matters
Rob, you expressed that so well.

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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11-09-2012, 11:58 AM
Post: #3
RE: Why "Lincoln" matters
I second Gene!
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11-09-2012, 12:22 PM
Post: #4
RE: Why "Lincoln" matters
Thanks guys. I appreciate your kind words.

Best
Rob

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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11-09-2012, 03:11 PM
Post: #5
RE: Why "Lincoln" matters
Rob-You Have A Gift! "The study of history is-The key to past and the door to the future"!
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11-09-2012, 07:43 PM
Post: #6
RE: Why "Lincoln" matters
Thanks, Herb.

Best
Rob

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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