Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lincoln

Lincoln / Lincoln. US © 2012 DreamWorks SKG / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Dune Entertainment. P: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg. D: Steven Spielberg. SC: Tony Kushner - in part from the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2006) by Doris Kearns Goodwin. DP: Janusz Kaminski - DI: Technicolor - colour supervisor: Michael Hatzer. PD: Rick Carter. AD: Curt Beech, David Crank, Leslie McDonald. Set dec: Jim Erickson, Peter T. Frank. Cost: Joanna Johnston. Makeup: Lois Burwell. Hair: Kay Georgiou. VFX Supervisor: Ben Morris. VFX: Framestore Limited. M: John Williams. M excerpts include: "O nuit d'amour!" from Faust (Charles Gounod); Overture to Egmont (Beethoven), "Battle Cry Of Freedom", "They Swung John Brown To A Sour Apple Tree". S: Ben Burtt. ED: Michael Kahn. Casting: Avy Kaufman. 151 min. Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Staffans. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 12, Helsinki, 19 Feb 2013.

Cast as edited in Wikipedia:

LINCOLN HOUSEHOLD
Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln
Sally Field as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln
Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln
Gulliver McGrath as Tad Lincoln
Stephen Henderson as Lincoln's valet William Slade
Elizabeth Marvel as member of the public petitioning Lincoln, a Mrs. Jolly

WHITE HOUSE
David Strathairn as Secretary of State William H. Seward
Bruce McGill as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton
Joseph Cross as John Hay
Dakin Matthews as Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher
Jeremy Strong as John George Nicolay
Richard Topol as United States Attorney General James Speed

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tommy Lee Jones as Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens
Hal Holbrook as Francis Preston Blair
Lee Pace as Democratic Congressman and fiery orator Fernando Wood
Peter McRobbie as Ohio Democrat, U.S. Representative George H. Pendleton, leader of the Democratic opposition
Bill Raymond as Schuyler Colfax: Colfax served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1863 to 1869.
David Costabile as Republican Congressman James Ashley
Stephen Spinella as radical Republican Congressman Asa Vintner Litton
Michael Stuhlbarg as Kentucky Democratic Congressman George Yeaman
Boris McGiver as Democratic Congressman, later Republican, Alexander Coffroth
Walton Goggins as Democratic Congressman Wells A. Hutchins
David Warshofsky as Congressman William Hutton, whose brother died in the war

REPUBLICAN PARTY
James Spader as Republican Party operative William N. Bilbo
Tim Blake Nelson as lobbyist Richard Schell
John Hawkes as Republican operative Colonel Robert Latham
Byron Jennings as Conservative Republican Montgomery Blair
Julie White as Elizabeth Blair Lee: Lee was the daughter of Francis Preston Blair, and wrote hundreds of letters documenting events during the Civil War
S. Epatha Merkerson as Lydia Smith: Smith was Thaddeus Stevens's biracial housekeeper.
Wayne Duvall as Radical Republican Senator Benjamin "Bluff Ben" Wade

CONFEDERATE STATES
Jackie Earle Haley as Confederate States Vice President Alexander H. Stephens
Gregory Itzin as John Archibald Campbell
Michael Shiflett as the third Confederate delegate to Hampton Roads, Senator Robert M. T. Hunter
Christopher Boyer (non-speaking role) as Robert E. Lee

UNION ARMY
Jared Harris as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant
Colman Domingo as Private Harold Green
David Oyelowo as Corporal Ira Clark
Lukas Haas as First White Soldier
Dane DeHaan as Second White Soldier
Adam Driver as Lincoln's telegraph operator, historically Grant's operator, Samuel Beckwith

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2, Panavision Primo and Super Speed Z-Series MKII Lenses, Panavision Panaflex Platinum, Panavision Primo and Super Speed Z-Series MKII Lenses - Laboratory: DeLuxe, Hollywood (CA), USA, Technicolor, Hollywood (CA), USA (digital intermediate), Technicolor, New York (NY), USA (dailies) - Film length: 4104 m (8 reels), 4119 m (Portugal, 35 mm) - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219) - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format) - Printed film format: 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

THE INTRODUCTION OF THE PRODUCTION NOTES:

“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”
—Abraham Lincoln, in a letter dated December 1865 [1864? - AA]

In the final four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency, the full measure of the man—his passion and his humanity—came to bear on his defining battle: to plot a forward path for a shattered nation, against overwhelming odds and extreme public and personal pressure.

Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” provides an intimate immersion into the American leader’s most perilous and revealing moments, at a time when the dark shadow of slavery lifts and a country torn by war must be made whole.

A rich human drama plays out as Lincoln doubles down to end the devastating Civil War not merely by ending the war but by fighting to pass the 13th Amendment, permanently abolishing slavery. It will be an act of true national daring. He will have to call upon all the skill, courage and moral fortitude for which he’ll become legend. He will grapple with the impact of his actions on the world and on those he loves. But what lies in the balance is what always mattered most to Lincoln: to compel the American people, and those in his government of opposite persuasions, to alter course and aim higher, toward a greater good for all mankind.

Brought to life via a layered screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner, Spielberg’s starkly human storytelling and the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis leading an accomplished cast, the film invites audiences directly into the heart and soul of Lincoln’s final achievements. The Lincoln who emerges is a man of raw paradoxes: funny and solemn, a playful storyteller and fierce power broker, a shrewd commander and a vulnerable father. But in his nation’s darkest hour, when the times demand the very best of people, he reaches from within himself for something powerful and everlasting.

Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks Pictures present in association with Participant Media “Lincoln,” a film directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay written by Tony Kushner, based in part on the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The film’s cast is headed by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones. The producers are Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy and the executive producers are Daniel Lupi, Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King.

Spielberg joins with his long-trusted team behind the camera: director of photography Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter, costume designer Joanna Johnston, editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams—whose talents combine to make the war-torn world that Lincoln irrevocably changed in 1865 a visceral, contemporary experience. (The introduction to the production notes).

FROM THE PRODUCTION NOTES: ON GOODWIN'S BOOK

"When it was released, the rousing reaction to Goodwin’s book revealed that she had hit upon a part of Lincoln that people were hungry to know more about right now: how he made profound national changes for the better in such fiercely divided times. The “team of rivals” in the title refers to the three opponents Lincoln vied against in the 1860 presidential election—only to invite each bitterly defeated competitor into his cabinet. This bold move would embody Lincoln’s most outstanding qualities: his talent for getting along with his opponents, his political genius and his steady compass always pointing to the universal truths of justice and civil rights and a more perfect union."

"It would also lie at the heart of perhaps his most singular accomplishment: moving the nation to support “the new birth of freedom” and end the unconscionable practice of slavery at the conclusion of the Civil War—not just symbolically but via a constitutional amendment that would make abolition a permanent foundation of the law of the land."

"How did he do it? Goodwin says he was driven by understanding the unthinkable consequences of not succeeding. “I think it was key for Lincoln to get the 13th Amendment passed, because if it was part of our Constitution—and he so revered the U.S. Constitution—then he knew slavery would be undone in this country forever and ever. So he put all of his political skills, every bit of his human relationships, every bit of his ability to work his inner circle, into passing the 13th Amendment passing. Then, and only then, could he know that slavery had finally ended.”"

"She adds: “I think it came down to the belief he always had about this country—that it could be, as he often said, a beacon of hope around the world.”"

THE PRODUCTION NOTES ON THE CINEMATOGRAPHY

"Kaminski wanted a stripped-back sensibility, but also a texture and a palette that would transport audiences—not into something that feels historical but into scenes that could be happening right now. Observes Kathleen Kennedy: “Steven and Janusz discussed at length the use of color and light in ‘Lincoln.’ Steven didn’t want to make a black-and-white or sepia-toned film; rather, they used a rich saturation of color that has some qualities of black and white. We also have over 145 speaking roles in this film, so it was important to frame each scene so the characters are taking you to the next beat in the story and not necessarily the camera. That was a bit different for Steven.”"

"Though he and Spielberg pored through a plethora of historical paintings and photographs for reference, once on set, they keyed into a more instinctual approach. It became about finding the stark power in quieter moments—Lincoln and Grant talking on the porch while ghostly soldiers ride towards unknown fates; Lincoln standing in the hazy light of the window as he realizes the 13th Amendment has just ended slavery in America. “Steven is never afraid of strong imagery,” Kaminski comments. “He is very willing to use transcendent moments like these in his storytelling.”"

"Some of Kaminski’s favorite scenes came inside the chaotic House of Representatives. “Those scenes are all about the performances and the debate of ideas. There are some interesting dolly moves characteristic of Steven’s visual sensibility, but it is all very understated,” he explains."

"These scenes also electrified Kathleen Kennedy. “The camera never moves in these scenes unless it’s in the service of the narrative. Steven wanted to show the human intricacies of how a democratic government works, so it was never about cutting from one talking head to the next but about really giving the audience a sense of how the arguments were progressing,” she says. “More than anything, Steven wanted to capture the volatility of what was going on in this political battle.

Throughout the film, Kaminski aimed for period naturalism in the lighting. “It’s 1860, so Lincoln’s world would be lit with gas and oil lamps,” he notes. “We used a lot of existing light sources, light coming through windows, light from lamps, but we also created light sources to better serve the storytelling. Smoke was also utilized to give the film a moody patina and because Lincoln’s environs would have been filled with it. There were constantly people smoking pipes, smoking cigars and there was no ventilation, so rooms all had that smoky atmosphere.”"

Recommended for history buffs: a historical drama of high quality.

Steven Spielberg's film is deeply and personally felt, and while it focuses intelligently on a crucial moment in Lincoln's life it has also a feeling of contemporary relevance.

The 40 single-spaced pages of the production notes are interesting to read. They confirm the personal nature of the film and the fact that it was Spielberg's idea to focus on a single month, January 1865, the last month of the Civil War.

The web discussions on the historical accuracy of Lincoln are exciting to read. I am not an expert and cannot comment on these matters. Reading the production notes it becomes clear that the film-makers, especially Spielberg, were very well versed in history. In a dramatization it is never possible to project the full complexity of what happened.  I think the makers of Lincoln have come a long way in dramatizing the contradictions and intricacies of politics.

Tony Kushner has done a great job, inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin, in creating this screenplay. But of the Kushner-Spielberg collaborations, I prefer Munich, my favourite of Spielberg's historical films.

The narrative of the Lincoln film is a unique race to the rescue: the Thirteenth Amendment on formally abolishing slavery must be passed before the war ends. Not quite "by any means necessary" but the means are sometimes far from noble.

I would want to like this film more, and I look forward to seeing it again. There is nothing wrong in any of the contributions of the artists; they are superb. The project is personal, yet it feels a bit too academic and polished, although the character of Lincoln is not idealized and although he is portrayed as a man of contradictions.

Daniel Day-Lewis rises to the occasion and his is now one of the best Lincoln performances. Yet I still slightly prefer Walter Huston and Henry Fonda.

Visually Lincoln is excellent, and the warmth of the photochemical 35 mm cinematography has been conveyed in the 4K digital intermediate very well.

FILMING LOCATIONS (IMDb):

Appomattox Iron Works, Petersburg, Virginia, USA
    (scene of Seward talking with his operatives)

State Farm, Powhatan, Virginia, USA
    (battlefield scenes)

Morson's Row - 219-223 Governor Street, Richmond, Virginia, USA
    (Thaddeus Stevens' home)

Executive Mansion, Capitol Square - Ninth & Grace Streets, Richmond Virginia, USA
    (White House interiors)

Laburnum House - 1300 Westwood Avenue, Richmond, Virginia, USA
    (cabinet member's office)

9th Street Office Building - 202 N. 9th Street, Richmond, Virginia, USA
    (White House telegraph office)

Union Station - 103 River Street, Petersburg, Virginia, USA
    (Lincoln's flag-raising speech)

407 Cockade Alley, Petersburg, Virginia, USA
    (scene of argument leading to gunfire)

Maymont - 2201 Shields Lake Drive, Richmond, Virginia, USA
    (Appomattox scenes; President and First Lady's carriage ride)

State Capitol, Capitol Square - Ninth & Grace Streets, Richmond, Virginia, USA
    (U.S. Capitol scenes)

Old Towne Petersburg Farmer's Market - River Street, Petersburg, Virginia, USA
    (Grant's Headquarters interiors)

South Side Railroad Depot - Rock and River Streets, Petersburg, Virginia, USA
    (hospital and restaurant interiors)

Old Street, Petersburg, Virginia, USA
    (carriage ride scenes)

McIlwaine House - 425 Cockade Alley, Petersburg, Virginia, USA
    (Lincoln's talk to Congressman)

AMF Headquarters, 8100 AMF Drive, Mechanicsville, Mechanicsville, Virginia, USA
    (White House interiors)

Virginia Rep Center - 114 W. Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia, USA
    (theater scenes)

New Millennium Studios - One New Millennium Drive, Petersburg, Virginia, USA

Petersburg, Virginia, USA

Richmond, Virginia, USA

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