Spielberg’s Lincoln – Outstanding!
Yesterday I attended the opening of the new movie, Lincoln. Having a father, a noted Lincoln authority, I came ready to cast a harshly critical eye upon the film. In years past, along with my dad, I had seen countless film images of Abraham Lincoln. As I watched Steven Spielberg’s new moving portrait of Father Abraham, I quickly found myself, seeing the great man himself. At some point in the early frames of the movie, I had become aware that I was viewing a masterpiece of historical period film making.
The only time I recall my father being truly captured by a portrayal of our greatest president, was the day we both viewed the old film, Young Lincoln. In that masterpiece Lincoln was vividly portrayed by a giant in the field of acting, Raymond Massey. Of course, this film presented Lincoln, a young and youthful man, during his early pioneer days. Dad, as I well recall, was taken by this particular portrayal and he credited the actor’s rendition, “near perfect.”
My father would have been impressed had he gotten to see the Lincoln played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Personally, I was nearly overcome with the actor’s every subtitle nuance. His face and makeup, his every expression, his weathered and bent-forward stoop, his plopping gate, but significantly, Day-Lewis’ high pitched nasal voice carried the day. I can readily recall my father complaining that most actors never seemed to intone Lincoln’s voice quite right. “Bob,” he’d say about the old movies, “They got Lincoln’s voice wrong. He had a very high pitched voice, and the sound carried a unique Indiana twang.” Being from Southern Indiana, like Lincoln, I surely knew just the sound dad was describing. But in Day-Lewis’ presentation, there it was for all to hear. Spielberg, and his chosen actor, had hit squarely upon this, important feature of Lincoln’s aspect. By golly, I thought, in this incredible film, this artistic team hit right upon the “true to life” aspect of the Great Emancipator’s personality.
So, dear reader, how did these two artists come upon the truth of the voice and speech matter? There are no recordings of Lincoln’s voice. However, descriptions of Lincoln’s unique speech pattern have been recorded in print by his contemporaries that had heard him speak. There are many written descriptions of the president’s unique voice patterns with its irreplaceable nasal twang. But my father had his very own firsthand source. His Grandmother, Cynthia Loring, lived until she was 96 years young. She had heard President Lincoln make a short speech as his train passed through southern Indiana on his way to Washington. At that critical time, the train stopped at many small whistle-stop towns, and the president would address the gathered crowd. He, of course, knew that his short messages would be captured and printed in important Southern newspapers by many reporters on the train. His intention, of course, was to keep the southern States from their path towards succession. My great-grandmother was at the Lawrenceburg, Indiana station on that day in 1861. As a child, she was perched high upon her father’s shoulders. Many years later, my father would spend countless cold winter’s nights listening to his grandmother tell the mesmerizing tale. G-Grandma, I briefly came to know her, would then act out the train station scene using her carefully crafted version of the great man’s storied voice. Had my father lived long enough to see the Spielberg masterful movie, I’m sure that he would have pronounced Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance was “near perfect.” Yet, I can also hear him note, “Bob, Day-Lewis was just a tad too short. In height he lacked about an inch and a half.” But quickly I’m sure he’d add: “Well Son, nothing but God’s doings ought-be perfect!”
So kudos to Spielberg and actor Daniel Day Lewis, and the entire cast and crew, for they together created a true masterpiece of 21st century cinematography. The movie is superb. Can you say, Oscar? My prediction: Best Picture for Spielberg, Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Supporting Actor nominations for both Sally Fields & Tommy Lee Jones. And Mr. Jones will long remembered for sporting the most amusing and unconvincing wig in all of movie history! Cheers!
By Bob Loring