November 13, 2012

"Lincoln"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
With his unimpeachable performance in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (which opens nationwide on Friday), Daniel Day-Lewis seems ready to become the first man ever to win three Best Actor Oscars. 

Read the whole thing there.

By the way, congratulations to Taki for winning the over-70 world judo championship, defeating the giant actor Bo Svenson (Sheriff Buford Pusser in various Walking Tall movies) in the final.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ask Taki if he's ever gone up against Gene Lebell, the legendary judo instructor who taught Bruce Lee how to grapple and made Steven Seagal pass out and soil his pants. That guy is a legend.

eah said...

...congratulations to Taki for winning the over-70 world judo championship, defeating the giant actor Bo Svenson...

Admiration is in order for being able to do judo at that age; double so to compete and win.

It counts as the weird factoid of the day. And before reading this, Bo Svenson would've counted as a good candidate for a Dead or Alive? inquiry.

Jason Sylvester said...

Like any number of larger-than-their-nations/tribes' historical figures - David; Cincinnatus; Alexander; Caesar (Julius); Charlemagne; Muhammad; Elizabeth I; Washington, etc. - it is hard to know where to have and to place Lincoln. I have literally thought something different about him every decade of my life: in the 70s, elementary school hagiography of Lincoln as pure HERO was my formative vision of him; in the Eighties, my Jr. High/High School years, the guy who bookended Ronald Reagan as a great Republican hero was the standard narrative I both heard, accepted, and eagerly embraced; in the nineties, fresh off the national glow of Ken Burns PBS documentary that highlighted the suffering, Christ-like figure who SAVED THE UNION was something I also bought into, thus justifying, seemingly, the twenty years earlier elementary school-taught vision of Lincoln-the-GOP-Saint; the utterly cynical Lincoln of the 00's who was elected president in an unprecedented four-way contest, with 39.8% of the vote, and - surprise, surprise! - was determined to hold onto 100% of the power of being Chief Executive of an emerging powerhouse of a "Union" afforded him, as opposed to winning that high office and idly standing by as roughly half of what he'd "won" bailed on the game because they didn't like who'd won the pot. And ironically at that: Lincoln won the White House in 1860 precisely because of the odd electoral college machinery so many Southerners had insisted on in 1787 to protect their perceived interests.

That last Lincoln has blended my multi-decade views of him, too, perhaps into something more accurate, historically. Or not.

At no step of any of that way has it been possible to cease admiring some part of him, or his career, for any number of reasons - though the reasons have shifted and the admiration redirected, according to numerous reconsiderations based upon tapping into the vast reservoir of written works in the English-speaking world about him.

There is little doubt, however, about how the non-English speaking world thinks about him: American public relations in that regard have been splendid. The World loves Lincoln the American President circa 1861-65.

Anecdote is by no means admissible as proof of anything other than...a single tale by a single soul, really, but nevertheless I offer one: in 1989 I took a road trip with a pair of my Air Force buddies to the Netherlands, and at one point we videotaped our drunken walkings through a McDonald's we'd decided to visit as Americans in a foreign land after a long day of partying; we'd heard a rumor that McDonald's, an American Icon, required American dollars be accepted from Americans at any of their franchises around the world regardless of the local currency. In other words, we were feeling Nationalistic. In the videotape - converted for the ages of future genealogical hounds of the Sylvester line from its original VHS tape onto DVD - the Dutch counter girls we are good-naturedly harassing about accepting our American dollars for Quarter-Pounders with Cheese are seen rushing off to summon their manager, who comes out to reassure us they will take our American money. And then something peculiar happens, on tape: most of them have never seen an American five dollar bill before, and they all gather around, briefly, to look at it - "Lincoln," the manager says, and they all, every Dutch one of them, momentarily oooh's and aaah's about how impressed they are with Lincoln, before going back to work, and handing us our food. One of them quotes a line from the Gettysburg Address as she bids us goodbye with our bags of burgers and fries; it was literally the most accidentally and sincerely patriotic, in the total sense of the word, I can recall ever feeling in my life. It made me uniquely proud, at that moment in that place, that a Dutch girl could quote lines from the 16th President of the United States, and in the context of our national history. It still does.

Jason Sylvester said...

Steven Speilberg's Lincoln is not Lincoln, anymore than Jason Sylvester's scholastic, literary, and otherwise-encounters with Lincoln in my hopefully long and happy - albeit relatively insignificant - American life offers no definitive word on Lincoln. It is hard to scour his memory with invective no matter the facts; it is impossible to bathe his historical self, as Lincoln, in honey no matter the ubiquity of his figure as one Beyond Criticism, like, say, frauds and terrorists (respectively) far beneath his stature and dignity like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Che Guevara.

Lincoln was not the first New American Leftist, as many of our neo-Confederate friends would have it: he would have been appalled by modern-day Detroit, and rapidly dispatched Grant's bayonets and - if necessary - Sherman's scorched-earth battalions to restore law and some semblance of order to that and many other distracted urban areas of our land were he transported, with both his full regal and bureaucratic powers as president of the United States, to 2012 America. Of this I have no doubt.

But that ends up just where I started: it is hard to know where to have and to place Lincoln. I will see the movie on the strength of your review alone; but I don't believe for one moment that I will beguiled by anything other than Steven Spielberg's cinematic magic, the same magic he has beguiled me with since I was that Okie kid in the 70's, captivated by the wondrous light show at the local theater of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

At the end of the day, I do not expect to know Spielberg's Lincoln any better than I knew Spielberg's aliens in "Close Encounters" - beings who briefly poured out of a magic, lighted ship, and promptly ascended back into the heavens, to the gaping wonder of the humans left behind.

In some sense, the historical figure of Abraham Lincoln is just the same; and in that same sense, Spielberg is just retreading and repeating an cinematic theme he has had going on, wondrously and often magnificently, since I was a kid going to elementary school during the Ford administration - which is to say, a long, long time ago, in an America far, far away.

Anonymous said...

@Steve Sailer

"The battles of 1862-63, culminating with Gettysburg (where only one civilian died), were arguably the closest the human race came to war truly being (in Churchill’s words) “cruel and magnificent.”

No, these were actually fairly minor battles between opposing armies of a country that, at thst time, was still a developing country and didn't have the scale of production and lethal technology that armies had in either World War ! or II. All the greatest land battles ever were between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht in WWII. The number of casualties in the siege of Stalingrad, for instance, was moroe than 10 X greater than that of all battles of the American Civil War COMBINED. Adn whar do you mean by cruel and magnificent? More cruel and magnificent than Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held the entire Persian army of a quarter million men, fighting to the last one of them. Were the battles of the American Civil War greater than that? Greater than Waterloo? Greater than Gaugamela?

I find your über-nationalism obnoxious and annoying. It's like, to you, the U.S.A is the greatest ever at everything. The way you constantly chest-thump and blow the born of the U.S.A is almost cartoonish. It is ridiculous. It is amzing to me that someone can live so vicariously through their countries and derive so much sense of self-worth from it.

Anonymous said...

@ANONYMOUS CRITIC

Sailer was obviously talking about Gettysburg as fitting Churchill's "cruel and magnificent" quote because it was a HUGE battle that featured none of the rape and brutality towards civilians that was exhibited in the counter examples you give. Your reflexive hatred against all things Americans makes you a dense man.

Anonymous said...

Great comment by Jason Sylvester on th Dutch McDonald's- almost got a little choked up.

Saw the video of Taki in the Judo final. As impressive it is that a man his age still competes, I was left unimpressed. Very slow movement, little athleticism or violence. I'm fairly certain he paid the dude to take a fall - reminiscent of Billy Fox - Jake LaMotta, except there was no skill or ability displayed at any point. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think I could take him....

Lincoln....good review, I will wait til it's on demand. I assume he's a great President but a lot of Americans died on his watch. Plus didn't he have a crazy wife? You have to question his judgement there as that's a fairly big decision which he blew apparently.

Dan in DC

EBT charisma said...

I always liked the numismatic image of Lincoln reading a book sitting on a tree he'd just vanquished, for the 100th anniversary mint of the coin. Unfortunately it was a penny...

Hunsdon said...

Anonydroid at 12:04 am said: I find your über-nationalism obnoxious and annoying.

Hunsdon, channeling Truth: Door's that way, sport.

Anonymous said...

Nice to notice the "pause and rewind" - I do that all the time. It makes watching complicated movies so much more rewarding, actually being able to understand the plot.

Anonymous said...

Does Spielberg bring up the fact that Lincoln wanted to repatriate all the slaves to Africa? I'm surprised that doesn't cast a bit of a Cloud l over today's views of Lincol Robert Hume

Hunsdon said...

Anonydroid at 12:04 am: All the greatest land battles ever were between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht in WWII.

Hunsdon insists: Click through to Gary Brecher's War nerd column, and think about whether Brecher has paid insufficient attention to the Eastern Front. The cruelty was there, but the magnificence? The, umm, civilian casualties?

And yes, our battles have always been better, because they're ours.

Harry Baldwin said...

It made me uniquely proud, at that moment in that place, that a Dutch girl could quote lines from the 16th President of the United States, and in the context of our national history. It still does.

I don't think anyone behind the counter at the MacDonalds in my town could quote a line from Lincoln, or provide more than a vague description of who he was.

Harry Baldwin said...

I recently watched "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." That was a great film, up there with "From Dusk Til Dawn" and "Con Air." I will be disappointed with any future Lincoln bio-pic that doesn't feature at least some axe fighting.

It did have a glaring historical inaccuracy though, showing a completed Washington Monument during Lincoln's presidency when in fact work on the monument had been stalled for some years and it was only one-third completed. Also, the film depicts the White House with the Truman Balcony, which of course had not yet been built.

Abe said...

The great questions at play during the Civil War were always going to be decided by force of arms, with the winner imposing his will upon the loser.

This movie ought to make a nice companion piece to "Birth of a Nation." BOAN depicts the rise of the Klu Klux Klan in South Carolina as a response to the winners' attempt to impose his will -- black rule -- on the loser. The last third of that movie is absolute nightmare, as I'm sure Reconstruction must have been for both blacks and whites in South Carolina. We won't learn that from watching Speilberg's movie, but it's good to know Lincoln had a sense of humor.

AMac said...

@Jason Sylvester --

Your two-part reminiscence was a very worthwhile read. Keep at it.

Anonymous said...

"Very slow movement, little athleticism or violence."

I guess you haven't seen much judo. It is not exciting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AajY3HA0RtU

Ahriman said...

Does anyone remember the Star Trek episode where aliens create a convincing duplicate of Lincoln, and Kirk really went overboard in his hero worship of him? Classic Roddenberry mixed in with some Brady Bunch saccharine!

beowulf said...

"The last third of that movie is absolute nightmare, as I'm sure Reconstruction must have been for both blacks and whites in South Carolina."

That may be the most idiotic thing I've ever read here. Words fail me.

Anonymous said...

The events of Lincoln begin just days after William Tecumseh Sherman had successfully concluded his March to the Sea with the capture of Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864. Sherman’s revolution in warfare, in which the Union began to wage war upon the Confederacy’s civilian economic infrastructure, goes unmentioned in Lincoln, even though it made possible the Congressional events depicted in the film.

The battles of 1862-63, culminating with Gettysburg (where only one civilian died), were arguably the closest the human race came to war truly being (in Churchill’s words) “cruel and magnificent.” By 1864, however, the War Between the States was turning “cruel and squalid” as both sides saw less sense in risking everything on a decisive engagement. Sherman took this logic of risk aversion the furthest, ensuring that the stronger side would win through his scorched-earth policy of waging war upon the defenseless. By the climax of Lincoln with the House vote on January 31, 1865, Sherman had begun to march north, leaving South Carolina smoldering in his wake.


To the anonymous who complained about a portion of the above passage, Steve praised the battles of 1862-63 BECAUSE THEY DID NOT INVOLVE CIVILIAN CASUALTIES FOR THE MOST PART. Read his quote. He laments that later in the War, war was made against civilians.

That is why he probably does not consider the Eastern Front such a magnificent war. It was a total war of annihilation against civilians.

In my opinion if you want to choose a great war that just involved military forces and left civilians alone, then I choose the Falklands conflict of 1982. I don't know the precise number of civilians killed, but it seemed like a great battle between two nations' armed forces, confined to a fairly limited battlefield, with no atrocities occurring.

not a hacker said...

It made me uniquely proud ... that a Dutch girl could quote lines from the 16th President of the United States, and in the context of our national history. It still does.

Yeah, I met that same girl. In '02 she was an au pair in SF, and I sat next to her on a bus going through Marin County. Across the aisle from us was a fat young black woman who, as the bus overflew the Marin City ghetto, started yelling that the driver had missed her stop. He explained that this bus always bypassed Marin City and made only freeway stops up to Santa Rosa, but she insisted this was 'racist.' After he made special arrangements for a supervisor to pick her up, I told the swedish girl I suspected obesity went with low IQ. She patiently informed me that, "black people are very discriminated against here."

Jeffery said...

Could Lincoln have been sociopathic? He pushed a war that killed almost 750,000 people (7 million in today's population). He locked up thousands of people in the North who protested the war. He displayed a lot of coldness for other people's lives.

Yet, he seems to have grieved for his own personal losses. But then, maybe that is consistent with sociopathic behavior?

Anonymous said...

jefery:"Could Lincoln have been sociopathic? He pushed a war that killed almost 750,000 people (7 million in today's population)."

One way of reading it;another would be that the South pushed the war by seceding.


"He locked up thousands of people in the North who protested the war."

On the other hand, thousands of other vehement critics of Lincoln's administration went unmolested.


"He displayed a lot of coldness for other people's lives."

Coldness as compared to whom?

"Yet, he seems to have grieved for his own personal losses. But then, maybe that is consistent with sociopathic behavior?"

Lincoln's grief over the deaths of soldiers in the war is well-documented; his sympathies were hardly confined to his own circle.

So, the answer is no, Lincoln was not a sociopath, unless you are willing to argue that Washington, Jefferson, Churchill, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, etc, were also sociopaths.

Anonymous said...

A good summary of the life of Lincoln.