Notes of a Reporter at Large • 12-13-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 13 December 2012 16:05

Lincoln, the Movie

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

At grammar school graduation my assignment was to recite Edwin Markham’s poem, “Lincoln, Man of the People.”  As I stepped toward the lectern, every word of the eulogy engraved in my heart, I stood still. The room, full of family and friends, had broken into waves of laughter. Mr. Taylor, the principal, shot up from his chair, put a hand on my shoulder, and administered a scolding before the audience fell silent and I could go on.

When I was a boy I stood  six-four in my stocking feet and came in for a lot of kidding. When I learned that Lincoln, too, was six-four he became my role model.

I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for the Great Emancipator. Maybe the highest compliment I can pay to the new movie, “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Tony Kushner, is that the portrayal of our sixteenth president strikes one who has spent years reading about Lincoln and reading Lincoln as  just right. Daniel Day-Lewis’ reedy, slow manner of speaking gives Lincoln an authentic voice as a teller of parables, tall tales and bawdy jokes, and a writer lit with the wit, intelligence, knowledge and melancholy to compose some of the most glorious prose in the English language.

The war is always near, but the focus in the movie is on politics. “Lincoln” is about a president hustling for votes to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery passed in the House of Representatives after winning approval in the Senate, a less daunting task. The time is April 1864 with the tide of war turning in favor of the union. The opposition Democrats are not the problem. The problem is Lincoln’s fellow Republicans.

An irreconcilable abolitionist, Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is at the center of the drama. The Thirteenth Amendment doesn’t go far enough. He is not merely demanding a law outlawing slavery but is demanding legislation outlawing racial inequality. On the other hand conservative Republicans are less interested in ending slavery than in working out a peace with the Confederacy.

To secure ratification for a Constitutional Amendment that Lincoln believes is both right and necessary, he  has to stand up to the critics in his own party and stoop to do business for votes among a handful of lame duck Democratic congressman.

“Lincoln” is the story of a master politician who stooped to conquer and who grows ever taller in time.

No one should miss it.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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