November 19th, 2012
Every high school student in America should be required to view Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” side by side. Then the instructors should say, “Spielberg, good, Michael Bay, baaaaad.”
HISTORY VS. IDIOCY
SAGE VS CLOWN
THERE IS HOPE
Thank goodness for Steven Spielberg. I went to a screening of “Lincoln” yesterday at the Directors Guild in Hollywood, which features perfect projection plus they have very nice guide books they hand out with the movie — listing all the amazing cast in the various contexts.
What a tremendous movie. I hope it sweeps the Oscars. There are times when you feel like movie making just isn’t what it used to be, but I honestly think this is perhaps the greatest historical movie ever made. It has such a powerful voice. It’s not just a telling of events. It is an historical essay, loudly and forcefully told, as it should be. Truly amazing.
From start to finish, it’s gripping, efficient, and a perfect combination of substance and style (tons of substance, with filmmaking style that never gets in the way of the story). If you want to see an example of the wrong combination of those elements — all style, no substance — dig up Michael Bay’s abomination, “Pearl Harbor,” of 2001 (in fact, I bet Ben Affleck is feeling like his bold movie this year, “Argo” is at last his ablution for having starred in that shocking piece of Michael Bay effluvia).
Some days I think of Mike Judge’s brilliant, “Idiocracy,” and think it’s not a joke — it really is humanity’s destiny. But then you see a movie like, “Lincoln,” and you think maybe not. And especially in the light of Obama’s re-election. It’s an incredibly timely movie. He could have ended the movie with something similar to the end of, “The Last Emperor” (which was Bertolucci’s epic of China that was comparable to Spielberg’s work).
That movie had a wonderful and powerful time transition shot at the end that went from the Emperor’s Palace in the 1940’s immediately up to the Palace today as a tourist attraction. Given the ubiquity of African Americans through “Lincoln,” Spielberg could have ended with a fade from Lincoln back then giving a speech to Obama today giving a speech — the extrapolation of one event to the other — absolutely connected. Obviously they didn’t want to editorialize that bluntly, but the message is woven throughout the movie (and actually is a little too blunt in the beginning when an African American Union soldier talks assertively to Lincoln — as this excellent article in the KC Star notes, there’s no way that would have ever happened, but who cares).
GOOD STORYTELLING: HUMANIZING ABE
One thing to point out from a storytelling perspective (and btw, “Lincoln” is proof that the true art of storytelling in the movies is not at all dead — let’s hope other filmmakers can aspire to do what Spielberg does). They (meaning Spielberg and Daniel Day Lewis) do an absolutely stunning job of bringing Lincoln to life in three dimensions (without having to resort to the brainlessness gimmick of 3-D technology!). You know how they do it … through humor.
It’s priceless. They have Abe telling jokes and stories, all the way through. Some of the jokes and stories aren’t that funny, which is also funny. It’s so wonderful, and it’s why Spielberg will go down in history as the most beloved filmmaker. His movies have so much humor mixed in with the emotion.
The result of the warm portrait of Abe they create is that when Lincoln dies at the end of the movie (yes, major spoiler, sorry, some guy shoots him), you actually feel it. You really do. You feel how it must have just wrenched the guts out of everyone in the poor war torn country. You get it, not intellectually, you feel it in your heart. Which is the ultimate goal of good storytelling.
THE WHITE HOUSE TODAY
One last note. There are wonderful scenes of Abe, late at night in the White House, talking quietly and thinking. Which you know went on back then. Back when nobody was checking their email and iPhone and Facebook and Twitter and Linked In and Instagram and Spotify and … It’s not the same world today. People don’t think and feel as deeply as they used to. But fortunately there is still Spielberg who is able to create at least the illusions of a thoughtful world that we still wish for.
Give Spielberg all the Oscars. Rename the Motion Picture Academy for him. This is the greatest historical movie since … “Schindler’s List,” which was directed by … him. Everybody else in the business is a bunch of pygmies by comparison. Even Zemeckis (as proven by his mediocre “Flight” this year). Spielberg Uber Alles (wait, there’s something wrong with that, roops!).