JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

Thanks for all of the listening and advising go to Susan McLeland, Deborah Wuliger, Peter Staiger, Julian Hanich and the very attentive and helpful audience at the University of Groningen in January 2013, the University of Texas Film Faculty group, and Jump Cut, especially Chuck Kleinhans.

1. Actually, given that it is a film, several historians have indicated that its creators have done a fairly decent job in representing the politics of passing the thirteenth amendment. See National Public Radio, "We Ask a Historian: Just How Accurate Is 'Lincoln'," National Public Radio Morning Edition, 22 November 2012, http://news.wpr.org/post/we-ask-historian-just-how-accurate-lincoln, accessed online 27 November 2012; Doug Robinson, "Movie Mostly Accurate, Lincoln Expert Claims," Desert Morning News, 26 November 2012, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765616476/New-Spielberg-movie-Lincoln-mostly-accurate-Lincoln-expert-claims.html?pg=all, accessed online 27 November 2012; David Bromwich, "How Close to Lincoln?" The New York of Books, 10 January 2013, pp. 8 and 10. As I shall discuss below, criticism has primarily been about its lack of portrayal of African American actions during the Civil War to eliminate slavery; see, for instance, "Lincoln's Use of Politics for Noble Ends," New York Times, 27 November 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/27/opinion/lincolns-use-of-politics-for-noble-ends.html?_r=0, accessed online 27 November 2012, and Jon Wiener, "The Nation's Blogs [webname]," "The Trouble with Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln,'" www.thenation.com/blogs, 27 November 2012, http://www.thenation.com/blog/171461/trouble-steven-spielbergs-lincoln#axzz2WlifRWJW, accessed online 27 November 2012.

2. For background on the distinction between meaning and significance see: Janet Staiger, Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 24.

3. "Social issue" films may be based on real events or be completely created stories. They overlap in part historical dramas, docudramas, and documentaries which may or may not be functioning to emphasize social problems and moral outcomes. In the cases studied so far, I have been considering documentaries and docudramas (historical dramas). Janet Staiger, "'Not about a Conspiracy to Run the World': Political Films and Everyday Interpretation," Unpublished paper, 2006; Janet Staiger, "'Based on the True Story of': Political Filmmaking and Analogical Thinking," Recherches sémiotiques/Semiotic Inquiry (forthcoming).

4. J. T. Kapper, The Effects of Mass Communication (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1960); D. J. Paletz, J. Koon, E. Whitehead, and R. B. Hagens, "Selective Exposure: The Potential Boomerang Effect," Journal of Communication 22, no. 1 (March 1972): 48-53; and N. J. Stroud, Niche News: The Politics of News Choice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

5. Staiger, "'Based on the True Story'." See Paletz et al.,"Selective Exposure," 52 and, for a recent example, Staiger, "'Not about a Conspiracy to Run the World'."

6. Staiger, "'Based on the True Story'." See Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” [1964] in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books 1967): 3-40; Staiger, "'Not about a Conspiracy'."

7. Staiger, "'Not about a Conspiracy',"

8. Staiger, "'Based on the True Story'."

9. See, for instance, Janet Staiger, “Cinematic Shots: The Narration of Violence,” in The Persistence of History, ed. Vivian Sobchack (New York: Routledge/American Film Institute Readers 1996), pp. 39-54.

10. Robert Stam, “Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation," in Film Adaptation, ed. James Naremore (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), p. 64.

11. Staiger, "'Based on the True Story'."

12. George F, Custen, Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992), pp. 149-50. On trials as climaxes, see pp. 186-92. Other important elements are described; see pp. 51-76. An argument could easily be made that this film is not a biopic but a political thriller. See, for instance, the comment to this effect by A. O. Scott in "A President Engaged in a Great Civil War," New York Times, 9 November 2012, p. C10. Spielberg also indicates he was thinking of the film as a political thriller; see below. However, I would argue that most biopics display symptoms of other genres. Young Mr. Lincoln could also be called a detective film. At least temporarily I would simply bracket this nomenclature and categorization question.

13. Editors of Cahiers du cinéma, "John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln," Cahiers du cinéma, no. 223 (1970), rpt. in Movies and Methods, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 493-529.

14. The magical element is also a motif in the film, as Lincoln literally pulls proofs out of his top hat; see below. Apparently the real Lincoln also carried notes in his hat so the act has a basis in reality.

15. This film is very much directed toward an U.S. audience. As I shall note about the representation of Lincoln, the film assumes cultural knowledges which other national groups do not have. Examining the non-U.S. reception of the film in comparison would be valuable but not something this essay is able to do.

16. Note the parallel feminization of the beneficiaries of Lincoln's acts.

17. The Euclid device has a historical basis in terms of Lincoln's ways of thinking, if not a literal one for the specific political situation. See Ravi Chaudhary, "Steven Spielberg's Lincoln Unveils the 'Mathematics' of Breaking Gridlock in Washington," Politics Daily, 21 November 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ravi-chaudhary/steven-spielbergs-lincoln_b_2155859.html, accessed online 27 November 2012.

18. The Cahiers' analysis derives from Louis Althusser's structural Marxism and the literary application by Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production [1966], trans. Geoffrey Wall (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978). It is indicative of the shift in textual analysis culture although I would certainly not want to claim that it is unique and causal for everything else that was occurring in the late 1960s and early 1970s in film studies.

19. Cahiers du cinéma, "Young Mr. Lincoln," p. 496.

20. The election of a Republican in the 1940 Presidential election. This literal political-agenda thesis has been the most roundly disparaged aspect of the argument.

21. Spielberg quoted in Bert Osborne, "Spielberg's Towering Epic," The Atlantic Journal-Constitution, 16 November 2012, LexisNexis search, accessed online 27 November 2012. Spielberg repeated that story in early February 2013; see Melena Ryzik, "It Took a Village to Film 'Lincoln'," New York Times, 7 February 2013, pp. C1 and C3. [return to page 2]

22. Sean P. Means, "'Lincoln' Offers a Singular Portrait of a President in Crisis," The Salt Lake Tribune, 17 November 2012, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment2/55245134-223/lincoln-lewis-spielberg-president.html.csp, accessed online 27 November 2012.

23. Kate Masur, "In Spielberg's 'Lincoln,' Passive Black Characters Historian Kate Masur Says Movie Disappoints in the Way It Portrays African-Americans," States News Service, 19 November 2012, http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-309231393.html, accessed online 27 November 2012.

24. "Lincoln's Use of Politics for Noble Ends," New York Times, 27 November 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/27/opinion/lincolns-use-of-politics-for-noble-ends.html?_r=0, accessed online 27 November 2012.

25. Jon Wiener, "The Nation's Blogs [webname]," "The Trouble with Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln,'" www.thenation.com/blogs, 27 November 2012, http://www.thenation.com/blog/171461/trouble-steven-spielbergs-lincoln#axzz2WlifRWJW, accessed online 27 November 2012.

26. They are not just historical errors or omissions without consequence.

27. Lincoln's fathering abilities are emphasized as well through several scenes with Lincoln spending time with the youngest son, Tad.

28. Ta-Nehisi Coates, series of entries on Lincoln, The Atlantic, www.theatlantic.com, 29 November 2012-6 December 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/11/some-quick-thoughts-on-lincoln/265760/,  accessed online 13 December 2012. Quotation from 4 December 2012.

29. The writers speculate that Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained may also participate in such a revision.

30. I did not actually shed tears but a lump in the throat and water in the eyes is my equivalent for a "tear-jerker" scene.

31. Ta-Nehisis Coates, "Some Quick Thoughts on 'Lincoln'," The Atlantic, www.theatlantic.com, 29 November 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/11/some-quick-thoughts-on-lincoln/265760/,  accessed online 13 December 2012.

32. A. O. Scott, "A President Engaged in a Great Civil War," New York Times, 9 November 2012, p. C1.

33. David Edelstein," The Spielberg Address; Lincoln Preserves the Union between Drama and History Lesson," New York Magazine, 12 November 2012, http://nymag.com/movies/reviews/edelstein-lincoln-skyfall-2012-11/, accessed online 27 November 2012.

34. Various versions of the text exist. This is the dialogue from the film.

35. Psychoanalytical theory is only one way to approach this phenomenon. An excellent review of both psychological and sociological theory is in Tom Lutz, Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears (New York: Norton, 1999), pp. 115-92.

36. Janet Staiger, "'The First Bond Who Bleeds, Literally and Metaphorically': Gendered Spectatorship for 'Pretty Boy' Action Movies," in Feminism at the Movies: Understanding Gender in Contemporary Popular Cinema, ed. Hilary Radner and Rebecca Stringer (New York: Routledge, 2011), pp. 13-24.

37. Lutz, Crying, pp. 19-21. Ed S. H. Tan and Nico H. Frijda focus on loss of control; see their "Sentiment in Film Viewing," in Passionate Views: Film, Cognition and Emotion, ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith (Baltimore Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), pp. 49, 53-54..

38. Robyn R. Warhol argues for a third gender, the "effeminate," when having a "good cry." She is considering mostly sentimental literature. Having a Good Cry: Effeminate Feelings and Pop-Culture Forms (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2003.

39. Anonymous, Man: A Paper for Ennobling the Species [1755], quoted in Lutz, Crying, p. 31.

40. Lutz, Crying, p. 64.

41. Tan and Frijda, "Sentiment," p. 58.

42. Tan and Frijda, "Sentiment," p. 54.

43. Nadja Zadorina points out to me that what is likely at stake in these crying responses to Lincoln is "moral" emotions as much as political ones. Indeed, these should be separated out as distinct although likely one builds on the other. Email from Nadja Zadorina to Janet Staiger, 23 January 2013. Analysis of moral emotions is developing. Murray Smith points out that

"cognitive judgments integral to emotions have an ethical character"; moreover, in distinguishing between alignment and allegiance with characters, how a "film elicits responses of sympathy and antipathy toward characters, responses [are] triggered—if not wholly determined—by the moral structure of the film." "Gangsters, Cannibals, Aesthetics, or Apparently Perverse Allegiances," in Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion, ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), pp. 218 and 220, emphasis in original.

For a review of the literature and development of the relation between bodily responses "such as tears, goose bumps, a warmth or opening up of the chest, and a lump in the throat" (p. 362) and moral emotions within the uses-and-gratifications approach, see Mary Beth Oliver, Tilo Hartmann, and Julia K. Wodley, "Elevation in Response to Entertainment Portrayals of Moral Virtue," Human Communication Research 38 (2012), 360-378.

44. Richard A. Friedman, "Primal Emotions Come to Fore in Politics," New York Times, 13 November 2012, p. D6.

45. Friedman, "Primal Emotions," p. D6. [return to page 3]

46. In either U.S. or European football.

47. For a review of the argumentation for both literature and film, see Staiger, Interpreting Films, pp. 1-97.

48. Liam Lacey, "The Spielberg Presidency," The Globe and Mail (Canada), 2 November 2012, LexisNexis search, accessed online 27 November 2012.

49. Ann Hornaday, "'Lincoln' Premiere a Reminder that in Heat of Campaign, Political Films Walk a Fine Line," WashingtonPost.com, 5 November 2012, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-11-04/entertainment/35503251_1_lincoln-16th-president-political-films, accessed online 27 November 2012. Hornaday was correct; see below.

50. Tony Kushner, the screenplay author, worked on the script for six years; Jessica Winter, "Tony Kushner on His Lincoln Screenplay, Séances and the Greatest Political Speech of All Time," Time.com, 25 October 2012, http://entertainment.time.com/2012/10/25/tony-kushner-on-his-lincoln-screenplay/, accessed 4 December 2012.

51. For an explicit articulation of this context, see Jason Bailey, "If Only Obama's and Chris Christie's Critics Could Watch 'Lincoln'," The Atlantic, 2 November 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/11/if-only-obamas-and-chris-christies-critics-could-watch-lincoln/264482/, accessed online 20 June 2013.

52. Kushner quoted in Winter, "Tony Kushner."

53. Richard Corless, "Lincoln: Spielberg's Urgent Civics Lesson," Time, 8 November 2012, http://entertainment.time.com/2012/11/08/lincoln-spielbergs-urgent-civics-lesson/, accessed online 4 December 2012. Also see his list of comparisons and contrasts between the two Presidents.

54. Tierney Sneed, "Lincoln Review: Steven Spielberg Teaches Lessons in Leadership," USNews.com, 8 November 2012, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/11/08/lincoln-review-steven-spielberg-teaches-lessons-in-leadership, accessed online 27 November 2012. Also see Lacey, "The Spielberg Presidency."

55. Edelstein, "Spielberg Address."

56. Michael Hogan, "Is 'Lincoln' A Memo to Obama from Liberal Hollywood?" Politics Daily, 12 November 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-hogan/is-lincoln-a-memo-to-obam_b_2118022.html, accessed online 27 November 2012.

57. "The Business Leader [webname]," "Obama Should Watch 'Lincoln' to Learn How to be President," www.businessinsider.com, 18 November 2012, http://www.audacityofhypocrisy.com/2012/11/18/obama-should-watch-lincoln-to-learn-how-to-be-a-better-president/, accessed online 27 November 2012. I repeat the term "Lincolnesque" because it appeared repeated in the reception, as if that concept is universally understood.

58. "A Hollywood Republican [webname]," "Abe Lincoln--A Real President," www.hollywoodrepublican.net, 17 November 2012, http://www.hollywoodrepublican.net/2012/11/abe-lincoln-a-real-president/, accessed online 27 November 2012. Other articulations of these sorts of political lessons to be learned—although not always politically negative as is this one—are in Bailey, "What Steven Spilberg's "Lincoln'"; John Dickerson, "Can Obama Learn to Handle Congress By Watching 'Lincoln'?" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 21 November 2012, Lexis Nexis search, accessed online 27 November 2012; "Chicagoist [webname],"Obama, Lincoln, and the Misuses of History, Lexis Nexis search, accessed online 27 November 2012; Ravi Chaudhary, "Steven Spielberg's Lincoln Unveils the 'Mathematics' of Breaking Gridlock in Washington," Politics Daily, 21 November 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ravi-chaudhary/steven-spielbergs-lincoln_b_2155859.html, accessed online 27 November 2012; David Brooks, "'Lincoln' Shows Challenge and Greatness of Politics," New York Times, 23 November 2012, rpt. in Austin American-Statesman, 27 November 2012, p. A9; Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, "Beltway Stop in the Oscar Race," New York Times, 22 December 2012, pp. C1 and C7;

59. Ken Burns quoted in "Meet the Press," "'Meet the Press' Panelist Ken Burns Denounces Tea Party: 'Vitriol' Motivated by Racism," newsbusters.org, 26 November 2012, http://www.mrc.org/biasalerts/meet-press-panelist-ken-burns-pbs-denounces-tea-party-vitriol-motivated-racism, accessed online 27 November 2012.

60. Scott, "A President Engaged," p. C10.

61. Scott, "A President Engaged," p. C10.

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