by Gino Cerruti
The accurate portrayal of historical events in films today seems to have been replaced with fictional interpretations, such as this year’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The audience for this kind of entertainment is growing steadily and it’s worth noting that Ooligan Press has a few books of this melding of fantasy and history in its backlist. Coincidentally, they focus on Abraham Lincoln. The “Lincoln Trilogy,” described by Ursula Le Guin as “a poignant, pixilated tale of the past turning to the future and the future to the past,” details the life of our 16th president as he travels through time. The trilogy’s author, Portland State University professor Tony Wolk, guides the reader on a wild ride through 19th century and 20th century America with Lincoln’s personality and influence taking effect in a multitude of unique ways. While the stories within each book contain a fantastical perspective on the history of Lincoln, Walk preserves his legacy by keeping intact who he really was as a public figure. It’s quite an interesting take on Lincoln, and it’s one that both history buffs and fantasy buffs will enjoy.
These books may be particularly relevant today, as Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Lincoln, opened in theaters last month and, unsurprisingly, garnered much critical praise. This had as much to do with the fact that Spielberg is a master at historical drama, as with his laundry list of cinematic achievements. He is known particularly for his attention to detail, which is evident in Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Amistad. Perhaps this was the reason he decided on Daniel Day-Lewis, an actor well known for his dedication to detail-oriented method acting, for the eponymous role.
I saw Lincoln a few days ago and what stuck in my mind most vividly was the concentration on carrying a story from one point in history to the next. It wasn’t a biographical piece on Lincoln nor was it a synopsis of his life’s accomplishments, but rather a focus on a specific section of American history and how the country was affected by significant figures at the time. Lincoln was, of course, the main significant figure of the film, but it was clear that Spielberg (and writer Tony Kushner) took a snapshot of history instead of a snapshot of Lincoln. The attempt wasn’t to put 19th century America in the background and weave in a story full of 21st century special effects and Hollywood aesthetics. The acting, costume design, and cinematography emphasize the role of the American government in 1865, rather than some kind of symbolism or motif.
It is a testament to Spielberg’s attempt to take a chunk of history out of the books and showcase it on the screen for the viewing public. This is obviously not the first time that a film has stayed true to actual events, but it’s one of the few that I can remember that has come out in theaters in recent years and left an impression.
It’s got nothing on a time-traveling Lincoln, though.
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