Some days it’s a rough go, filtering life through the waves of chatter online. Much of the time it’s even worse than high school — it’s middle school. In all the ways people can be disappointing they rise to that occasion online every day. And so it is into this atmosphere of pointing and laughing, hipper than thou, too cool for school and fear of not being in the hep crowd that Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is about to launch. Tough crowd out there, tough crowd. Much of the time I can roll with it. But in certain moments, like the launch of the Lincoln trailer, it makes me want to step up in front of the class, start writing names on the board and withholding recess from disruptive students.
Lincoln is a film about the guy who once said this:
Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names, liberty and tyranny. The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty.”
It is to be directed by Steven Spielberg and written by the great Tony Kushner, adapted from the exceptional book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals and it is about the best President the country has ever known, or certainly one of them.
And yet, the chatter on Twitter was all about things that don’t matter — the equivalent of watching Secretariat and commenting about how his balls bounce up and down during the race. Daniel Day-Lewis’ voice was the topic over at Hollywood-Elsewhere but that was, I think, a legit concern because sometimes the reality isn’t really what people want; they want the illusion. Even if Lincoln spoke in a high pitched voice, history doesn’t want to remember him that way. Me, the voice doesn’t bother me at all. Spielberg made it clear in the Google chat afterwards that his goal was to do what Goodwin’s book did so well: to portray Lincoln the flesh and blood man, not Lincoln the seated marble statue we’ve immortalized. To do that, historical accuracy was necessary. You don’t do a movie about King George and not have him stutter. Ahem.
Slate Magazine asked Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer what he thought of Daniel Day-Lewis’ vocal impersonation:
“Uncanny, convincing, and historically right,” Holzer told me. How so? Holzer pointed specifically to “the combined Kentucky-Hoosier twang” and, again, “the surprisingly high-pitched voice.” After all, as Holzer reaffirmed, “Lincoln didn’t growl —- in fact some people said he whined!”
So what’s the problem with Day-Lewis sounding how Lincoln must have sounded? Perhaps it disrupts expectations, which is kind of counter-intuitive for a crowd that seems to not want cliches. Can we figure out what we want, please? Why do we want more what we’ve always been given? As in, I’ll have a Big Mac combo meal? Or are we brave enough to actually open our minds and contemplate something new?