If you ask most people (a.k.a. the white male majority that covers film criticism now and holds most of the power that drives the US film industry to churn out the kind of crap it does every summer) what they think of Lincoln they will tell you probably something similar to what this anonymous dude wandering out of a screening just transmitted to the NY Post’s Lou Lumenick, who then posted it as credible:
“The performances of Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, and Hal Holbrook were great,” wrote this person, a passionate moviegoer who is not connected with the film industry, who flatly predicts that Day-Lewis will get a Best [Actor] nomination in the title role. “Sally Field was miscast as Mrs. Lincoln, Joseph Gordon Levitt as Lincoln’s eldest son was OK but he really didn’t add anything to the story.
“My biggest issue with the film as a whole was, it was boring,” this civilian viewer wrote. “With the film centering on the vote for the 13th amendment, ending slavery and the Civil War, you’d think Spielberg would have made a more exciting, riveting film. So much of the story takes place in small, smoky dark rooms with Lincoln talking to one or two people, that my mind began to wander. It felt claustrophobic.
If he had shown the horrors of slavery and the Civil War, it might have evened out the story. They pretty much kept the film centered around the politicians.”
So what I know about this person so far is that A) he was close personal friends with Mrs. Lincoln so he therefore knows with certainty Sally Field was miscast. B) He has a hard time paying attention. All the President’s Men would have been a tough sit for this guy. God forbid he should be forced to watch 12 Angry Men or The Philadelphia Story, or Rope. People talking, not his favorite thing. Not enough bombs and bloody mayhem, C) he fancies himself a blogger/critic — he uses the word “issue,” a dead giveaway.
The guy is obviously not dumb. whoever he is. He’s at ease with the lingo of facile dismissal. But that’s just it. Who is he? How do we know he isn’t a studio plant? We know nothing about him and yet — he was able to change the word on a movie just by sending an email to Lumenick. Sure, there is a good chance it’s just some guy who wanted to tell the world how boring Lincoln was. In my experience, though, it is never just some guy. I have gotten those same kinds of “reviews” over the many years I’ve been at this. I used to post them, too, way back when. Now I realize how destructive it is — not to the movie or the studio or the director — but to journalism itself. I don’t call myself one but I do have a few rules I don’t break. And one is to post reactions from anonymous test screenings, or even pop-up screenings. I wait for the actual reviews, or better, to see it for myself.
Joe the Slammer’s complaint that the film is “boring” is very likely to match most of the 18- to 35-year-old males who are expected to turn out for the film (minus the Spielberg fans, of which there are many). What this pseudo-review does do, though, is get the information out there that it’s not going to be about slavery and civil war battles but more about the politics behind freeing the slaves, how difficult that was at the time and that it, in the end, cost Lincoln his life. So in that way, it prepares audiences to alter their expectations.
Perhaps the film will be “boring” to people who long to check their cell phone for the latest status updates and who are so disconnected from history that the subject matter alone would never hold their interest. There is a reason we have the kind of films we have now.
Readers here (I hope) know that I’m no Spielberg apologist. If I’m anything I’m a Lincoln apologist (he who doesn’t need one). I trashed War Horse, I can’t stand Always and I believe Shakespeare in Love was better than Saving Private Ryan. That didn’t stop Richard Rushfield from tweeting this: “come join us sasha! the house of speilberg skepticism has many mansions.” And Mark Graham echoed that false sentiment, saying he was #teamrushfield. Yes, that’s how Twitter works. Rushfield went on to say Spielberg should stick to dinos and aliens. That it was all too serious. That it could never be art, etc.
The truth is, the predestined expectation from Rushfield and Wells is that the film WILL be boring.That a shallow anonymous impression can fuel the smouldering embers of disdain says less about the movie and more about the inflammatory tinderbox of Twitter’s dry underbrush. Not only did it not have to be written at all but the guy didn’t even have to see the movie to have written it. My prediction is that the equally jaded film critics will probably give a similar review. I am old enough now that I have seen this scenario so many times I can tell you how it begins and ends. This is a symptom of what I like to call “frontrunner’s syndrome.” If you are the frontrunner, you will be a giant target at the outset of the race. This is why you always want to be the movie nobody sees coming because if they see you coming they will take a shot.
The movies that have the highest expectations have the hardest time. The movies with the lowest tend to do better and even win. That’s how we humans behave. We don’t like to accept foregone conclusions so we rail against what people think we’re going to do.
All of that nonsense, though, we should remember, has nothing to do with reality. It is all about perception. My hope this year was that somehow it being the subject of Lincoln, being adapted by Tony Kushner from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book that there would be less of the same old shit.
But yet here it is. Same shit, different day. There are voices that matter and those that don’t. If you want to forget about this nonsense and listen to something worthwhile, head on over to The Story and listen to this.
THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION AT 150:
VOICES THEN AND NOW
Today, stories of slavery and fighting for a place in America. We hear from 101-year-old Fountain Hughes about his childhood as a slave. He says that if the threat of enslavement returned, he would shoot himself rather than be a slave again.
[ExSlave Narratives are a courtesy of the American Folklife Center’s Archive of Folk Culture, available at the Voices from the Days of Slavery presentation.]
GUARDING JAMES MEREDITH: LT. HENRY GALLAGHER
Host Dick Gordon looks at the moment in Mississippi’s history when whites fought against integration at Ole Miss. We begin with an excerpt from the documentary “State of Siege” from American Radio Works to set the scene for what was happening in 1962. This was produced by Kate Ellis and Stephen Smith.
Dick speaks with Henry Gallagher who was sent with other soldiers during the violent resistance to integration in l962 to keep the peace and protect James Meredith as he began to attend classes at the University of Mississippi. There were riots on campus and President Kennedy called in the troops. Henry is the author of James Meredith and the Ole Miss Riot.
NOBODY KNOWS MY NAME: JAMES BALDWIN
We listen in on an archived conversation between the late writer James Baldwin and radio host Studs Terkel. The Harlem born James Baldwin describes how he came to terms with being a black man in America, and it involved leaving the country for a time. Thanks to the Chicago History Museum and Highbridge Audio.