Monday, February 20, 2012
Abraham Lincoln - 1930
“Abraham Lincoln” (1930) plays out like fragmented memory, in this case the collective memory of a nation’s lore -- but with the unmistakable imprint of its director, D.W. Griffith. As is the case with most movies dealing with history, this film tells us as much or more about the era in which it was filmed rather than the era it depicts.
We celebrate Presidents Day with a look at a figure so wrapped up in folklore that his true nature, thoughts, accomplishments and legacy have been so long diminished in the bright glare of his legend. President Abraham Lincoln, and D. W. Griffith, both.
This is Stephen Vincent Benet, the poet who only the year before, in 1929, won the Pulitzer Prize for his epic poem “John Brown’s Body”. Mr. Griffith was careful to add literary legitimacy to the movie, which was to be his first sound film.
Most interesting about “Abraham Lincoln” is not its subject matter or artistic cache, but that it is filmed like a silent movie. In view of this, it’s even more ironic that, due to scenes or sound tracks being missing, in the new restoration of this film, the opening scene has no sound. The restoration team added subtitles to give us the dialogue. There are a couple of other scenes in the movie where this also occurs. Therefore, when the film starts, we are on familiar ground with D.W. Griffith, settling into his usual brand of storytelling. When the restored sound finally begins some minutes into the film, it comes almost as a jolt.
As much of a jolt as the sound era was to prove to Mr. Griffith’s artistic sensibilities and his career.
Una Merkel's hometown tribute, have a look at this previous post.
"The Prince of Players".
These days we are more apt to pay less attention to great men of history in favor of the average fellow, who may not have made history but certainly got in the way. Perhaps this makes us uneasy these days producing films about historic figures, to the point where so-called revisionist history endeavors to bury old folklore. Neither method of biography is perfect, but the pendulum swings back and forth in fashion, as it will.
This is not to say that all his historical facts in this movie are always right on the button; they’re not. They’re not too hard to pick out, either, so I won’t bother.
Mr. Griffith was evidently not able to take one step forward without taking two steps back.
D. W. Griffith made only one more movie after this, a financial flop, and then he retired from filmmaking still only in his mid-fifties. Hollywood had finished with him. One can see why the great stories of ages past appealed to Mr. Griffith. They brought comfort to him, and do to many for whom the present is an even greater struggle.
“Abraham Lincoln” is now in the public domain. You can see the movie here in its entirety on YouTube.