1. We provide a critical exegesis of the Cahiers article in Rushton and Bettinson (2010) What is Film Theory: An Introduction to Contemporary Debates, Chapter 1. [return to essay]

2. This position echoes Abe’s campaign speech, largely historically accurate, in John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), in which Lincoln makes reference to a hypothetical black woman: “In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others” (quoted in Foner 2010: 97).

3. Spielberg refrains from depicting Lincoln’s physical superiority, which in D. W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln (1930) and Abe Lincoln in Illinois complements his intellectual superiority.

4. In Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Lincoln’s alleged indecisiveness is perceived by even his fellow Republicans as a weakness to be manipulated and exploited.

5. And these forces are, ultimately for the Cahiers editors, not natural ones at all. Rather, they are forces of Capitalist ideology, clothed in Republican Party rhetoric, and naturalized by Young Mr. Lincoln’s narrative strategies. At the end of the film, Lincoln himself becomes something akin to a ghostly conveyor of this capitalist force; he is, for the Cahiers editors, “an intolerable figure.”

6. See Rushton and Bettinson 2010: 24.

7. If Spielberg’s Lincoln is castigated by his detractors as a “dictator,” Griffith’s Lincoln invites the same charge around his pro-Union ardor. In Griffith’s cradle-to-the-grave talkie, Lincoln’s assertion that “the union will be preserved” congeals into a mantra, recited with the glassy-eyed fervor of a zealot.

8. Though its surprise disclosure is effective, this latter scene is problematic. An African
American reads aloud the official bill, but Spielberg’s camera gradually excludes her. As black, female, and peripheral to the plot, the woman emerges as a socially marginalized and dramatically marginal figure. Such scenes fuel the charge that Lincoln presents black emancipation as a white victory.

9. Pledged to historical authenticity, Spielberg and Kushner take care to anchor these devices in historical fact; for instance, the eleventh hour call for the vote’s deferment derives from true events (see Kearns Goodwin 2013: 688).

10. For intensified continuity, see David Bordwell 2006.

11. Pioneered by Barry Salt, the concept of average shot length has been developed most extensively by David Bordwell. By Bordwell’s estimation, classical Hollywood movies from the period 1930-1960 have an ASL of 8-11 seconds. By the turn of the century, the ASL of a typical Hollywood feature was between 3 and 6 seconds, with some films averaging at around 2 or 3 seconds per shot (Bordwell 2006: 121-123).

12. Buckland 2006. For further discussion, see Bettinson 2009.

13. See Rushton 2012: 124.

Works cited

Bettinson, Gary (2009) “Reappraising Always.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 7:1, 33-49.

Bordwell, David (2006) The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Buckland, Warren (2006) Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York & London: Continuum.

Editors of Cahiers du cinéma (1976) “John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln,” in B. Nichols, Movies and Methods Volume I, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 493-529.

Foner, Eric (2010) The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company.

Kearns Goodwin, D. (2012) Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. London: Penguin.

Kushner, Tony (2012) Lincoln: The Screenplay. New York: Theatre Communications Group.

Rubel, David and Laurent Bouzereau (2012) Lincoln: A Cinematic and Historical Companion. New York: Disney Editions.

Rushton, Richard (2012) Cinema After Deleuze. London & New York: Continuum.

Rushton, Richard and Gary Bettinson (2010) What is Film Theory? An Introduction to Contemporary Debates. Berkshire & New York: Open University Press.

Sternberg, Meir (1978) Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

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