I went to see Spielberg’s latest film “Lincoln” today. That was three hours of my life I’ll never get back. I admit that I’m not a fan of Steven Spielberg or of historical dramas, so maybe my judgment isn’t worth that much; but I’m going to write about it anyway. I am a fan of Daniel Day Lewis, and I suppose he was the best thing about the movie. The second best thing was that Tom Hanks wasn’t in it.
Spielberg’s film covers the last four months of Lincoln’s life and is centered on the fight for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Certainly, the subject had the potential for a gripping drama, but instead Spielberg managed to turn a thrilling story into a movie that I found boring, pretentious, and depressing.
What bothered me most as I watched the film was how dark and grim it was–scene after scene after scene of men wearing dark clothing and talking incessantly. But as the endless scenes wore on, I couldn’t keep my own present-day irritations from affecting my reactions. I was incredibly annoyed to watching important national decisions being made solely by white men–most of whom were old and not very pleasant to look at–without any input from women or African Americans.
The make-up seemed designed to emphasize wrinkles, bags under the eyes, and unattractive facial hair in microscopic detail. Tommy Lee Jones was never handsome, but in his role as Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens he was made to look almost monstrous, with deep wrinkles, sagging jowls and giant pouch-like bags under his eyes.
But back to my growing irritation. After the misogyny and racism we have seen in this country over the past four years, I found the domination of “Lincoln” by white males to be incredibly annoying. And my irritation only grew as time went on. Surely there must have been black people who fought to pass the amendment–where were they?
The talk of “equality” of the races and the evils of treating “men” as property really rubbed me the wrong way, considering that women and children were to continue being treated as property for at least another hundred years after the passage of the Thirteen Amendment and that black men even in 2012 are still very far from being treated equally. Even our black President isn’t immune from the patronizing and bigoted attitudes of many Americans.
Admittedly, it’s unfair of me to judge the movie based on my present-day anger. Still, I think part of that feeling did arise from the fact that the movie–I think wrongly–ignored the thoughts and feelings of women and black people.
Only two women are shown having any kind of role in events: Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. Mary Todd Lincoln is shown interpreting her husband’s dreams, trying to prevent her eldest son from enlisting in the Union Army, and supporting her husband’s policies. Her closest companion was Keckley, a black women who had purchased freedom for herself and her son, and become a seamstress. She was eventually introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln and went with her to the White House. Keckley wrote an autobiography, Behind the Scenes: Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. But none of this was spelled out in the movie.
As for black characters, there is a sort of butler who says he was born a free man, a couple of black Union soldiers and anonymous black audience members who file in to the House gallery to watch the final vote on emancipation. I later learned that the “butler” was William Slade, who along with Elizabeth Keckley, was active in the abolition movement. Toward the end of the film, Thaddeus Stevens is shown getting into bed with a black woman whom I later learned was Stevens’ housekeeper Lydia Hamilton Smith. The two were lovers for 23 years, so why didn’t Spielberg emphasize her influence on Stevens’ attitudes about racial equality? Why was she included in the film almost as an afterthought?
At least one reviewer, historian Kate Masur, expressed a similar reaction to mine–except that hers was based on actual historical knowledge. Masur writes:
[I]t’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them. For some 30 years, historians have been demonstrating that slaves were crucial agents in their emancipation; however imperfectly, Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary “The Civil War” brought aspects of that interpretation to the American public. Yet Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.
This is not mere nit-picking. Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation. While the film largely avoids the noxious stereotypes of subservient African-Americans for which movies like “Gone With the Wind” have become notorious, it reinforces, even if inadvertently, the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.
I’m no historian–or movie reviewer–so I was relieved to learn that I’m not the only person who was deeply disappointed in “Lincoln,” despite fine performances by many of the white cast members. According to Masur,
In fact, the capital was also home to an organized and highly politicized community of free African-Americans, in which the White House servants Elizabeth Keckley and William Slade were leaders. Keckley, who published a memoir in 1868, organized other black women to raise money and donations of clothing and food for the fugitives who’d sought refuge in Washington. Slade was a leader in the Social, Civil and Statistical Association, a black organization that tried to advance arguments for freedom and civil rights by collecting data on black economic and social successes. The film conveys none of this, opting instead for generic, archetypal characters.
Masur was offended by the
brief cameo of Lydia Smith…housekeeper and supposed lover of the Pennsylvania congressman and Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens… Stevens’s relationship with his “mulatto” housekeeper is the subject of notoriously racist scenes in D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation.” Though Mr. Spielberg’s film looks upon the pair with far more sympathy, the sudden revelation of their relationship — Stevens literally hands the official copy of the 13th Amendment to Smith, before the two head into bed together — reveals, once again, the film’s determination to see emancipation as a gift from white people to black people, not as a social transformation in which African-Americans themselves played a role.
And why was Frederick Douglass left out of the film entirely? Masur notes that he was invited to the White House after Lincoln was inaugurated for the second time. According to Lincoln biographer Ronald C. White,
what the audience doesn’t fully understand, in the final scene – almost the final scene – where suddenly African-Americans arrive in the balcony as the final vote is to be taken, that one of those is Charles Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass. Charles had fought in the famous Massachusetts 54th; he will write to his father after that climactic vote: ‘Oh, Father, how wonderful it is. People were cheering, they were crying tears of joy.’ So that had the potential for more black agency, but it doesn’t come to full fruition in the film.”
To add insult to injury, Lincoln is far too long at 2-1/2 hours (plus ads and previews). It could easily have been edited to 2 hours or less, especially since Spielberg chose to ignore the historical roles of African Americans and women in the events the film depicts.
I’m writing this late on Monday night. I’m a little burned out on the news, and I haven’t been feeling so great today, so I thought I’d skip politics and devote my Tuesday morning post to noting the 50th anniversary of the day we lost Marilyn Monroe, August 5, 1962. We can talk about the news in the comments though!
LA Weekly has a report of the memorial. The main speaker was Professor Lois Banner, the author of a new biography of Monroe.
Lois Banner certainly must be considered one of the Marilyn religion’s rising gospel writers. Banner, a professor of women’s history at USC, is the author of Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, her well-received, scrupulously researched and ten-years-in-the-writing biography, whose release was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary.
Banner’s book, which attempts to demolish any lingering image of Marilyn as a dumb blonde and merely the sexual object of male fantasy, asserts that the star was shaped by a complicated and deeply conflicted personality. Marilyn was marked by an intense intellectual curiosity but also by emotional and sexual abuse as child that would develop into full-blown sexual addiction and her ultimately tragic substance abuse.
Outside the memorial, the 73-year-old writer briefly spoke about Marilyn’s status as an “icon of the American character” and the key to her enduring fascination. The answer, according to Banner, is complex but begins with her tragically early death. Dying at the height of her beauty instantly made the star what Banner calls “the Aphrodite of the national imagination — the woman who represents our sexual desires and dreams.”
To that she adds the aura of mystery contributed by Marilyn’s involvement with the Kennedys and the conspiracy theories surrounding her death. Then there are the photographs. Marilyn was probably the most photographed woman of the 20th century, Banner says, “and the famous images of her literally run into the thousands. She realized herself in front of the camera, and many have said the camera was her real lover.”
Here are two Huffpo links to some lovely photos of Marilyn:
Marilyn Monroe Photos: Candid Shots Of The Woman Behind The Starlet
Between inventing pin-up photography, earning the nickname “Bernard of Hollywood” and discovering Marilyn Monroe, Bruno Bernard may just be the world’s most famous photographer.
In her new book “Marilyn: Intimate Exposures,” Bernard’s daughter, former Playboy Playmate Susan Bernard, has released a collection of her father’s most famous photographs of the one and only Marilyn Monroe–including 40 never-before-seen shots.
In the collection are the first professional photographs ever taken of Monroe (then named Norma Jean Dougherty), intimate backstage shots throughout her career, original negatives, Bernard’s work notes and letters from Monroe to Bernard, including one reading, “Remember Bernie, you started it all.”
Bernard is presenting the collection at the San Francisco Art Exchange for its United States premiere during the 50th anniversary commemoration of Monroe’s death.
The photos at both links are wonderful. I really enjoyed looking at them.
The LA Times reports on another exhibit of Marilyn photos.
One of the many disappointments to befall the actress’ tragic life was her struggle to have a child, having suffered multiple miscarriages. Very few images of a pregnant Monroe exist but famed celebrity photograper Phil Stern found himself at the right place at the right time during her last pregnancy with third husband, playwright Arthur Miller.
In 1958, Look magazine assigned Stern to capture what studio mogul Sam Goldwyn saw through his office window. Perched high and out of sight from the people below, he spotted Monroe walking across the lot during a break from filming “Some Like it Hot,” and snapped the photo just as the wind blew open her kimono, revealing her pregnant belly.
This photo is just one of many that Stern took of Monroe during an illustrious career that spanned six decades. Twenty-three images from his collection will be on view at The Phil Stern Gallery opening Sunday on the 50th anniversary of her untimely death. The exhibition continues through Nov 1.
You can view some of the photos at the link.
On Sunday night, 60 Minutes ran a 1987 interview with Playwright Arthur Miller by Mike Wallace.
During their relationship, Miller wrote the screenplay for “The Misfits,” with the lead role played by Monroe. She played a wounded young woman, who falls in love with a much older man. It would be her last film.
Despite the success of 1961′s “The Misfits,” Miller’s marriage to Monroe had been struggling for months, and the couple ultimately separated. In addition to drug and alcohol dependency, Monroe had endured several miscarriages and was battling depression.
“I guess to be frank about it, I was taking care of her. I was trying to keep her afloat,” Miller told Wallace. “She was a super-sensitive instrument, and that’s exciting to be around until it starts to self-destruct.”
When Wallace asked Miller if he knew Monroe’s life was destined for disaster, he said, “I didn’t know it was doomed, but I certainly felt it had a good chance to be.” Less than two years later, Monroe was found dead at the age of 36 in her California home.
There are some more lovely photos in this NY Daily News article: Marilyn Monroe, famed blond bombshell, yearned to retire to Brooklyn in her twilight years
The blond bombshell, who lived in New York City on and off for several years before dying in Los Angeles in 1962, called Brooklyn her “favorite place in the world” in a radio interview with NBC’s Dave Garroway.
“When I retire I’m going to retire to Brooklyn,” Monroe told the late “Today” show host. “That’s my favorite place in the world, so far, that I’ve seen.”
Monroe, then 31-years-old and inbetween her marriages to New York Yankees Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller, admitted she hadn’t “travelled much, but I don’t think I’ll find anything to replace Brooklyn.”
When asked what it was about Brooklyn she loved, Monroe’s answer was simple: “Almost everything.”
“I just like walking around,” she said in her soft, whispy tone.
Monroe said one highlight was the view of Manhattan which can only be seen from Brooklyn, but stressed her affection for the borough was more than that.
“It isn’t only the view, it’s the people,” Monroe said. “The people and the streets and the atmosphere, I just like it.”
On Weekend Edition, NPR ran a piece on Marilyn Monroe As An ‘All-Around’ Comedian.
I love just about all of Marilyn’s movies, but I guess my favorite is The Seven Year Itch.
The Rachmaninoff fantasy scene:
And the famous subway scene:
It’s hard to believe it was all so long ago. Sorry this post is so short, I should be back to my regular self in the morning. Now it’s your turn to fill me in on the real news of the day. I’ll pitch in some links too, of course.
Well, for Memorial Day we are going to make this an Open Thread. The news is so depressing…so just for today check out these fun links. Since we have a music thread going on here, I thought we would have a movie thread this evening.
So be sure to post some of you favorite War and Summer movies!
I am going to post some funny ones, cause I just don’t feel like bringing the post down…
My first choice, No Time for Sergeants (1958) – IMDb
Will Stockdale is a country bumpkin drafted into the Air Force and too dumb to realize he’s driving everyone around him crazy — no one more than Sgt. King.
This next one is my son’s favorite movie…he is 13 so go figure.
When two escaping American World War II prisoners are killed, the German POW camp barracks black marketeer, J.J. Sefton, is suspected of being an informer
Billy Wilder directed this great movie…and what a cast. William Holden, Otto Preminger, Peter Graves and Robert Strauss.
And this next one…Kelly’s Heroes (1970) – IMDb
It is full of anti-war sentiment and a whole lot of hippie references.
For my Summer choices…one of the best movies that kick off summer: Jaws (1975) – IMDb
When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
Anyway, lets have your favorite War and Summer flicks…
And if you want to get caught up on the news…Google News
I’ll be sure to go back to our regular format tomorrow. Happy Memorial Day!