Posts Tagged ‘Spielberg’

Brave_New_World

Steven Spielberg’s Amblin, Syfy

…set in a world without poverty, war or disease. Humans are given mind-altering drugs, free sex and rampant consumerism are the order of the day, and people no longer reproduce but are genetically engineered in “hatcheries.” Those who won’t conform are forced onto “reservations,” until one of the “savages” challenges the system, threatening the entire social order.

 

Spielberg’s Lincoln and the Resilience of Historic Myths
By Ruth Hull

Think about the word “history” — his story. History is always told by the victors. Victors have the money and power to acquire spin doctors to come up with created history so these winners will sound so good that they are unrecognizable.

Some popular myths (as in not true):

  • Lady Godiva’s ride (sorry),
  • Columbus discovering America,
  • Washington’s cherry tree confession,
  • Betsy Ross sewing the first flag (though she was a successful businesswoman and flag maker),
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address being written on the back of a paper bag,
  • Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation being written to free the slaves,
  • John Wilkes Booth as a crazed lone assassin,
  • Lee Harvey Oswald as a lone crazed assassin,
  • Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,
  • The killings of Osama Bin Laden by Bush and Obama (in different years), and
  • Obama as a Socialist Muslim (when in fact he is a Christian and an extreme capitalist).

Some even cooler myths that I had never heard can be found at: Debunked Myths about the U.S. Presidents.

With Thanksgiving approaching, some people want to re-create the early days of the early settlers.

Remember Plymouth, a place where the Pilgrims did not land on a rock. There is a commemorative rock there now. Jamestown was founded first.

In Jamestown, one of the more interesting dishes was human beings. Yes, check out Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.” Many of us were descended from cannibals. Now, while known cannibals like the Jamestown settlers were white, there are no documented instances of non-white cannibalistic societies. Such non-white societies are myths. So maybe a white Thanksgiving isn’t a good idea if you want to keep your body parts.

If you wish to eat like the Pilgrims, make sure you use your fingers. Howard Zinn calls Thanksgiving, “the celebration of the friendly dinner that came before the genocide.” So, in keeping with tradition, have dinner with your neighbors and then slaughter them.

The Lincoln movie by Spielberg also played into historical myths. Sometimes myths are fun. In the case of Lincoln, they were very entertaining. It’s easy to get lost in these myths and some believers are willing to fight against anyone trying to provide them with facts. Though Lincoln scared the South into seceding, he was at best a reluctant abolitionist, preferring an intact Union to freeing even one slave. Occasionally, he would say something to appease abolitionists and then go back to statements expressing his belief in inequality of the races. His letter to Horace Greeley is consistent with this as were his statements in the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Emancipation Proclamation, which could have freed slaves in the Union territories but specifically did not free even one slave in the Union. The Proclamation was designed to demoralize the South, against which the Union was fighting while giving the appearance that it actually stood for something. Lincoln opposed interracial marriage. He spoke of deporting the Blacks to Africa and he supported fugitive slave laws. An African-American scholar named Leone Bennett, Jr., wrote a book in 2007 calling Lincoln a racist and documenting his claims directly from Lincoln’s speeches. Mr. Bennett ignored the myth-writers and therefore stirred up a lot of anger among whites who insisted their white President freed the slaves single-handedly. The book is called, “Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.” Regardless of your feelings about Mr. Bennett, Lincoln’s own words in the Lincoln-Douglas debates and elsewhere show he did not consider himself an abolitionist. While we may wish Lincoln had been a stronger opponent of slavery, we are stuck with the facts as they were. It is hard to think our leaders were so ignorant that they didn’t get that even debating before ending slavery was itself an abomination.

In the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, this is one of the most repeated of Lincoln’s statements. Here in the sixth debate, he is quoting his anti-abolitionist position to prove his consistency on this point.

“After reading I added these words: ‘Now, gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any great length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery or the black race, and this is the whole of it; any thing that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastical arrangement of words by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution in the States where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so. I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together on the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.'” (source)

The Lincoln movie does have a certain amount of charm. The favorite part for Israel’s Likud Party is undoubtedly towards the end. Why would an 1865 Abraham Lincoln be reminiscing about wanting to take off to Israel? The Israeli plug was silly at best. Robert Lincoln refuted the false historical claim that his father was Jewish. The timing of the movie’s opening to coincide with the attack on Gaza was likely something Spielberg didn’t expect, but those in the Israeli leadership, who met with Spielberg, before the filming started, did have choices and they chose to massacre children on the opening weekend.

The movie also diminished the contributions of African-Americans and women in getting the 13th Amendment adopted, making it look as if the Amendment was a gratuity granted to them. In Lincoln, the physical handing of the 13th Amendment document to the African-American love interest of Thaddeus Stevens symbolizes the idea that it was a gift handed down from the Whites as opposed to something the Blacks inherently deserved.

Embellishing to build up our leaders as role models is sometimes considered useful, but not when the admission of teens to college depends on their getting 5’s on their Advanced Placement U.S. History exams. Fortunately for this year’s AP students, there is half a year to dispel the myths of this movie and get top scores. The best prep for that particular AP exam is Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.

Now, while the Spielberg movie mixed myths with history, it left out Lincoln’s opposition to corporate rule and also the special holiday he gave America: Thanksgiving.

Lincoln was theoretically (though this could be another myth) inspired by editorials and letters written by Sarah Josepha Hale, the New England editor of Godey’s Book, to create the occasion. In 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg, he declared the National Thanksgiving Holiday.

So have a Happy Thanksgiving. If you want to see a movie over the holiday weekend, a good choice is the final chapter in the Twilight series. Breaking Dawn, Part 2, may well turn out to be the best anti-war movie of the year. See it and you will find out why.

Ruth Hull is the chairman of a liberal Democratic organization that is working to move the country towards its true base, the people. She has organized major human rights events and worked with some of the most liberal leaders in America. Her career has included work as a criminal defense attorney, a licensed private investigator, an educator and a writer.

 

 

by Jennifer Epps

The period epic Lincoln may be the least Spielbergian movie that director Steven Spielberg has ever made.  Not only is it shot in a remarkably straight-forward way for such a visual stylist, but it is also an unhurried, contemplative, and actually quite subtle film for a director whose recent ventures were War Horse and The Adventures of TinTin. Therefore: never say never. Lincoln  is proof that Spielberg can be a great storyteller when he has a great script.

He has that here, thanks to perhaps America’s most intellectual and politically passionate playwright, Tony Kushner (Angels in America). The dialogue is a thing of beauty — both literate and folksy, touching on grand ideas as well as the frailty of ordinary humans — and it often feels like the thoughtful, opinionated discussions by the Founders in HBO’s John Adams. Like that award-sweeping miniseries, which was based on a 650-page biography, Lincoln  accomplishes an impressive feat — it adapts a door-stopper, in this case Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 750-page history Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and winnows out the important and meaningful information. It feels rich and alive but not rambling (the graveyard of lo, so many bio-pics), because it focuses with determined precision on a 4-month period around the end of the Civil War when Lincoln was most actively and most urgently pursuing an amendment to outlaw slavery. At the same time, however, Kushner and Spielberg leaven all the epic stuff about changing America forever with just the right number of small details: Abe’s animosity toward wearing leather gloves; how much he spoils his youngest son; the unhappiness of his marriage; and the look in his eye when his aides want decisions and instead he digs in his heels and tells a drawling anecdote.

Though the characterization of the eponymous character, as written by Kushner and performed by Daniel Day-Lewis, is mesmerizing, Lincoln is not just a biography of a president but also a biography of radical change — a process story about the passage of the 13th Amendment, with some similarities to earlier types of process stories, like Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing,  though more monumental. It turns out that the steps on the road to the abolition of slavery were anything but noble: there are nowhere near enough votes to pass the amendment, and the imminent end of the Civil War hangs over Lincoln’s head, making him fear that those he has freed will be ordered back into servitude if his Emancipation Proclamation has no peacetime equivalent. A point is reached when the only way to secure the needed support for a firm end to slavery is to bribe, threaten, cheat, and deceive. Or in the words of a Lincoln ally near the close of the film: the 13th Amendment was “passed by corruption aided and abetted by the purest man in America.” (Lincoln was never quite a saint, though, as this article shows.)

The sausage-making of politics is not supposed to be palatable to watch, but in this case, the hijinks are quite delightful. Like  the Godfather, or Nixon, honest Abe has to take a back seat so his name cannot  be linked to anything unsavory. This leaves lots of the most dynamic work up to supporting players — who are bursting with vim and vigor, and deliciously well-cast: James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson play three low-lifes  hired to extort co-operation from members of Congress; Peter McRobbie and Lee Pace are vociferous Democratic congressmen staunchly opposed to abolition; Tommy Lee Jones is the radical, hotheaded abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens; Michael Stuhlbarg is a timid politician pressured into doing the right thing; and David Strathairn is the reserved, pragmatic Secretary of State, William  Seward, who finds Lincoln’s plans ill-advised and yet helps make them happen. (His characterization has met with the approval of the director of the historic Seward House, though two significant moments from Seward’s relationship with Lincoln were left out of the film.)

President Lincoln is in almost every scene, and with Day-Lewis in the role he quietly dominates each one. But there is also an enveloping tapestry of Republicans, Democrats, abolitionists, soldiers and advisors, all of them struggling through a uniquely turbulent time. Neurotic Mrs. Lincoln (Sally Field) is there, adoring yet resenting her husband — she seems to wish she had married a more ordinary man. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Lincoln’s defiant son, ill-suited for following in his dad’s intellectual footsteps. Jared Harris is the Union’s dignified General, Ulysses Grant; Hal Holbrook (who has himself played Lincoln on TV) is Francis Blair, a southern Republican with contacts on the Confederate side (he will later turn Democrat);  and Jackie Earle Haley is a beady-eyed emissary from the South, registering all the humiliation and anger of his people when he realizes slavery — the region’s economic staple — is history.

Though there are ignoble actions going on, there’s never any  doubt in the movie that Lincoln possesses a fundamental morality, that he cares  deeply about ending slavery. He is down-to-earth and modest, but we can see the remarkable person underneath: wise, shrewd, humane, and committed. Day-Lewis plays him as an idiosyncratic but consummate leader who listens intently to  even the humblest interlocutors, his eyes peering into their souls. He is introduced, in fact, at an army base, meeting with soldiers one-on-one. He is the epitome of gentle courtesy and rapt attention, whether listening to his boisterous pre-pubescent son or to a challenging black soldier who wants to make sure Lincoln understands the issues. Yes, it’s a hagiographic depiction, with the  crowd-pleasing humor and warmth that fits so comfortably with a holiday season release, but it’s also a layered portrait, permitted by the director to flower slowly. Day-Lewis’ Lincoln draws people to him simply by thinking, and he manages to radiate energy just sitting and staring at the floor.

And there’s a lot of thinking required. The burdens of leadership weigh heavily upon his shoulders. Like Shakespeare’s Henry V, he likes to perambulate among the common people because he is faced with an awesome responsibility — and difficult choices. The long and winding path to abolition hits a pivotal crossroads when ending the Civil War and ending slavery come to be at odds with each other. Lincoln could engage with the South’s proffered peace delegation right away, or he could delay so as to have  the leverage to pass the amendment. (His public argument having been that the South is fighting to preserve slavery, and that they won’t sue for peace unless they see that slavery is no longer an option, he stands to lose the support of those on the fence, those who don’t care much whether slavery continues or  not.) Lincoln’s dilemma becomes even more terrible and personal when his own son enlists — and Mrs. Lincoln has a meltdown over the prospect of losing a second son in the war.

I had expected Lincoln  to glorify militarism more, especially considering Spielberg’s recent foray into  the First World War. I think he’s consciously trying not to do that: the movie’s very first imagery is the silent ugliness of the Civil War, as soldiers from both the North and the South, the Northern regiment being black, wrestle bitterly in a muddy drizzle. But it’s not actually a war movie: most of the film seems to  take place in wood-paneled drawing rooms and offices, in a dim gloom broken up by cold natural light. The war is referred to frequently but barely glimpsed; it is a merely abstract, background concept. I’m sure Kushner could have  conveyed the horrors of the Civil War if that had been the assignment — besides writing a heart-rending play on Afghanistan, he co-authored the last serious film Spielberg directed, the espionage drama Munich  (an action thriller about a Mossad agent’s soul-searching), and he adapted Bertolt Brecht’s classic anti-war play Mother Courage  in 2006. But that was in fact not the assignment, and at the end of the picture, Lincoln’s speech to the troops, about fighting until every last whiplash is avenged, rings in the air.

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Hollywood: “War Horses” and the “Great War” of 1914-1918.
A Comment on Steven Spielberg’s most recent movie

by Jacques R. Pauwels

My dictionary’s definition of “warhorse”: (1) A knight’s or trooper’s powerful horse; (2) A veteran soldier; (3) A reliable hack (a person hired to do dull routine work).

Forget, for a moment, the horse that seems to be the star of this movie: the real “warhorse” is the sad old man, an incompetent and alcoholic farmer living with his wife and teenaged son Albert in a gingerbread cottage somewhere in Devonshire, England, on the eve of the “Great War” of 1914-1918.

The film shows how Albert, too, becomes a “warhorse.” Papa was in the Boer War, doing his patriotic duty for the British Empire, saving the lives of lots of buddies, and generally being a hero; for which, when the job was done, the authorities pinned some medals on his chest. But when he returned to his farm, he tossed the medals aside, leaving it up to mommy to save them, and later show them off to her son. The only memento papa cared to keep was the pennant of his unit, a reminder of his selfless service in a war in which, like any good warhorse, he had asked no questions. Impressed, Albert pockets the pennant.

In 1914, Albert becomes a “warhorse” too, joining the army as a volunteer, even though he is under age. He fights stoically and heroically on the bloody battlefields of France, manages to wipe out a mile of German trenches with one well-thrown grenade, and saves his own buddies too. He also gets gassed rather massively, but that only causes some temporary discomfort and red cheeks – no big deal!

So the film can reach the minimum two hours required to qualify for blockbuster status, viewers are also forced to sit through some pretty tacky scenes involving yet another “warhorse,” this time a real horse named Joey, belonging to Albert. When the war breaks out, Joey is sold to the cavalry and whisked off to France with papa’s pennant attached to it. The poor hack somehow survives a cavalry charge, hangs around for a while with two German deserters, is adopted by a pretty French mademoiselle living with gramps in yet another gingerbread cottage, hauls huge cannons up hilltops for the Krauts, and even performs a little pas de deux with a tank – old-style versus new-style cavalry, get it? And – just like the two human warhorses! – Joey also manages to take care of a buddy, a big black horse he’d been teamed up with, first for the benefit of the British and then for the Germans.

Since this is Hollywood, Albert, Joey and the pennant are happily reunited at war’s end. They trek home to the farm in Devon and – against a gorgeous sunset lifted from Gone with the Wind – papa proudly welcomes back the pennant, now also a token of his son’s patriotic service as a warhorse. Isn’t that wonderful?

Here is something less wonderful: the war in question – but never questioned in any way by the filmmaker – is the “Great War” of 1914-1918, a senseless bloodbath if ever there was one, wiping out hundreds of thousands of the humble denizens of the British Empire who duly rallied behind the flag and did as they were told by their superiors. And the moral of the story, dear moviegoer, is this: when your own empire goes to war – anywhere, for whatever reason – you don’t ask questions. You rally behind the flag and do your duty unthinkingly, like the warhorses in the movie. And if you can’t be a warhorse yourself, you should at least respect and admire those who march off to serve as warhorses, applaud their actions, and approve the war they are fighting, no matter how bloody and senseless.

The message implied in Warhorse is a militarist one. If Spielberg is to rack up another Academy Award, let’s hope it isn’t for this film.

Jacques R. Pauwels, author of The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War and Beneath the Dust of Time: A History of the Names of Peoples and Places.