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Griffith's "Abraham Lincoln"


skimpole
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Did anyone see D.W. Griffith's penultimate film Abraham Lincoln earlier this week, which I believed played Thursday morning? I only saw the first few minutes. It actually starts with a slave ship and some poor unfortunate being thrown overboard, and I think the slaves are actually played by black people. It seems to provide a nice counterview to The Birth of a Nation. But then we get one of Griffith's trademark historical idiocies, like the confused understanding of Danton and Robespierre in Orphans of the Storm or the Bablyonian Empire as a model for religious civility in Intolerance. In Abraham Lincoln we see some Virginians complaining in 1809 (when, of course, Lincoln was born) about the recent ban of the foreign slave trade. They mutter darkly about how the union formed by the great Virginian Washington is being undermined. Again, a nice counter to Birth, but it makes no sense. After all, in 1809 the President was Thomas Jefferson, and he was about to be succeeded by James Madison. Both of them, of course, were Virginians, as was Madison's successor. So Virginians would hardly think of secessionist thoughts for measures passed by Virginian leaders. And as it happens, Virginians weren't all that upset about the banning of the foreign slave trade. Virginia made a lot of money selling its "excess" slaves down further South and further West. As it happens reopening the foreign slave trade would only bring down the price of slaves.

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I recorded it, but have not watched it all yet. I did see the first couple of minutes or so, and I don't recall seeing the prologue before. My laser disc copy does not have it. It's a shame that the sound discs are missing for some of that segment. As for the secessionist issues, I would agree that Virginia was not "ground zero" for that movement, South Carolina gets that distinction.

As with most biopics, this one plays fast and loose with events and facts in order to move that narrative along. As I recall, the pace of ABRAHAM LINCOLN is a bit slow, and it's a bit episodic as well. Walter Huston does give a good performance though as Mr. Lincoln.

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This film is interesting as a curiosity. Huston is perfectly cast. But it's pretty primitive. Consists largely of Huston delivering quotes. So, Abe, what do you think about slavery? "Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature. Opposition to it is in his love of justice." Thanks a lot, buddy!

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