When my take on something differs with Brooks Simpson’s take, I immediately ask myself where I went wrong. Of course, no two people will agree on everything, but I greatly respect Brooks’ knowledge and judgment, and if I’m going to disagree with him, even slightly, then I’m going to take a second, third, or perhaps even a fourth look beforehand.
In a (as usual) informative and thought-provoking post, Brooks gently suggests I and a couple of blogging colleagues rethink our support for the position taken by Hari Jones in his response to Kate Masur’s critique of Spielberg’s Lincoln. I understand and accept his view of Jones’ tone. In fact, I agree with him on that now that he’s called my attention to it. When I read both pieces originally I was focused on the arguments being made, not how they were being made, and I think it’s fair to take into account Jones’ tone.
That being said, I still think Jones’ argument, putting aside the tone for the moment, was an effective counter to Masur’s critique. I still believe Masur, like several other academics who have taken the film to task, had in mind a film she wanted to see made instead of the film that was actually made.
I said originally that I thought it would have been nice if Frederick Douglass had made an appearance. I still think so, but I’m not an award-winning director. Including more depth on William Slade would have been nice, too. Perhaps that movie will be made some day. But I think Jones is right that including Douglass would have been an artifice. Of course, the movie is a work of fiction, and so artistic license would allow the artifice. But again, it’s a choice made by the director. Masur disagrees with that choice, Jones agrees with it.
While the movie did go up to April 14, 1865, that was only a closing gesture for the movie in my opinion. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural was the metaphorical cherry on the top of the film. I don’t think their inclusion means that Jones’ critique of Masur is any less effective (again, discounting the tone of Jones’ article).
As I said, I think Brooks’ comment about Jones’ tone is very valid, and he’s right that the tone itself went too far. Looking back on it, I have to admit it detracts from Jones’ position.
At the end of his post, Brooks makes a very thought-provoking statement. How might we have made the film incorporating Masur’s objections? I’m going to chicken out. I don’t know anything about making an award-winning movie. Maybe such a movie would be more historically accurate, but would it have been as successful? The purpose of making the movie, after all, is to entertain and to make money. It’s not made to educate us. Any education that happens is purely happenstance. The movie that was made has been phenomenally successful. I wouldn’t want to mess with that. After all, it’s a movie, not a history book. I don’t believe filmmakers have moral obligations to make their films visual history books.
As an aside, here is Matthew Pinsker’s “Unofficial Teacher’s Guide to Spielberg’s Lincoln.”
What do you think of the Masur/Jones/Spielberg issue?