“To get a richer sense of Spielberg’s contribution to the small collection of movies about Lincoln, I want to zero in on a couple of specific moments in the two I mentioned earlier. Young Mr Lincoln famously concludes with Abe (Henry Fonda) in silhouette, walking away from the camera and towards a storm. Spielberg echoes this iconic image of a silhouetted, lonely man approaching his destiny.
“What is most interesting about Abe Lincoln in Illinois, starring Raymond Massey, is how it presents the president’s well-known oratorial skills. It shows his affinity for the funny story and also his capacity for soaring rhetoric, something that really shines through in a scene towards the end of the film where he debates with presidential candidate Stephen Douglas (played by Gene Lockhart). One shot repeatedly frames Abe with the flame of a streetlight illuminating the platform on which he stands. Intended or not, this serves as a powerful image of him striving to illuminate a collective consciousness.
“In Spielberg’s film, this association between Lincoln and an illuminating flame is emphatically deployed in a beautifully rendered shot during the film’s concluding moments. We see Abe on his deathbed and then a close-up on a candle flame in which we see him addressing an audience. This delicate visual effect segues into a wide shot recreating the famous black-and-white photograph of Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address on 4 March 1865. (We might see an echo of another Spielberg drama about the traumas of war, Schindler’s List, a film that also makes much use of a candlelight motif.)”
UK critic James Clarke compares Lincoln to previous Lincoln films in his great review of Spielberg’s movie.
“I’m here today to defend War of the Worlds, a movie that’s a minor entry in the Spielberg canon but that would be a major, career-defining work for almost anyone else. In 2005 it was a powerful reaction to the world post-9/11, but in 2013 it’s still a powerful reflection of living in a world where anything can go cataclysmically wrong at any time. It’s Spielberg’s ultimate statement on life in the 21st century, about living in an America that no longer feels secure. While the imagery of War of the Worlds is explicitly 9/11 related - Tom Cruise coming home from the initial attack covered in grey ash recalls the hordes of New Yorkers stumbling from the dust cloud of the World Trade Center collapse - the emotions continue to resonate in a world of super hurricanes and 9.0 earthquakes.”
Bad Ass Digest’s Devin Faraci gives an impassioned and detailed defence of War of the Worlds.
“Every American knows or thinks he knows something about Abraham Lincoln, so part of the sleight of hand of Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner is to combine what’s already known and assumed with an updated, revisionist Lincoln — a benign Machiavellian wheeler-dealer that complements the Good Nazi proposed by Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List by suggesting that capitalist conniving and deception can be redeemed by compassionate, humanitarian goals. That this role model is depicted in the midst of high-contrast allegorical cinematography in which darkness represents slavery and bright light represents emancipation — expedient substitutes, at least if one considers that actual slavery and emancipation are strategically missing from the film — apparently doesn’t interfere in the slightest with Lincoln as a teaching tool, at least if one wants to teach capitalism and its virtues rather than history per se. And the best way to teach capitalist virtues, of course, is to pretend that one is teaching history.”
Jonathan Rosenbaum discusses Lincoln’s protrayal of history in an article that also analyses Argo.
Rosenbaum has discussed Lincoln as a defence of capitalism before and I must say his point baffles me. Lincoln is not about capitalism and makes few (if, indeed, any) points about capitalism. Instead, it’s about justice, freedom and equality. These are, of course, points that feed into capitalism, but that makes Rosenbaum’s point, at best, an indirect and somewhat tenuous one.
His point about Schindler’s List is more understandable considering Schindler was a businessman, but it seems to me that Rosenbaum’s is a bias argument that’s derived entirely from his own politics rather than the film’s. The key phrase is “capitalist conniving and deception”, which seems to suggest that capitalism is inherantly conniving and deceptive - a significant assumption. Surely all political thinking has that potential?
This is one of my great frustrations with modern film criticism - too often analysis that derives from the critic’s personal opinions (be they political, social or psychoanalytical - a favourite for film theorists) are bolted onto the film rather than an objective assessment being derived from it.
This is particularly troublesome for Rosenbaum’s article because he accuses Spielberg of distorting history by putting Lincoln’s story through his own personal filters. Without wishing to show disrespect to one of the great American critics, it seems Rosenbaum’s is doing the same to Spielberg’s film with his article.
“Steven Spielberg has made more obviously entertaining and more emotionally seductive movies than Lincoln, but this is for him the most brave and, for the audience, most demanding picture in the 40 years since his emergence as a major director. It’s a film about statesmanship, politics, the creation of the world’s greatest democracy, and it’s concerned with what we can learn from the study and contemplation of history. Spielberg and his eloquent screenwriter, the playwright Tony Kushner, handle these themes with flair, imagination and vitality, and Daniel Day-Lewis embodies them with an indelible intelligence as the 16th president of the United States.”
Philip French of the UK’s Observer newspaper calls Lincoln Spielberg’s bravest film.