Special Report

Mr. Lincoln Goes to Hollywood

Steven Spielberg, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tony Kushner talk about what it takes to wrestle an epic presidency into a feature film

A still from Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. (Photo: David James, SMPSP © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved)
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That is the kind of purity we “bare, forked animals” can demand of political leaders today, assuming they’re good enough at it.

Of course, Lincoln got shot for it (I won’t spoil for you the movie’s masterstroke, its handling of the assassination), and with that erasure of Lincoln’s genuine adherence to “malice toward none,” Stevens and the other radical Republicans helped make Reconstruction as humiliating as possible for the white South. For instance, Kushner notes, a true-north Congress declined to give Southern burial societies any assistance in finding or identifying remains of the Confederate dead, thereby contributing to a swamp in which equality even before the law bogged down for a century, until nonviolent tricksters worthy of Lincoln provoked President Johnson, nearly as good a politician as Lincoln, to push through the civil rights acts of the 1960s.

How about the present? Goodwin points out that the 13th Amendment was passed during a post-election rump session of Congress, when a number of representatives, knowing they weren't coming back anyway, could be prevailed upon to vote their consciences. "We have a rump session coming up now," she observes.

Lincoln the movie shows how Abraham Lincoln went about avoiding swamps and reaching people's hearts. (Illustration by René Milot)
A still from Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. (Photo: David James, SMPSP © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved)
Spielberg didn't want to make a movie about a monument. He wanted the audience to get into the working process of the president. (Joe Pugliese / August)
Lincoln is partly based off Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, shown here as a guest on Meet The Press. (William B. Plowman / NBC / Getty Images)
Lincoln was photographed in Mathew Brady's studio during the winter of 1864, from the National Portrait Gallery collection. On the right, Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (Mathew Brady Studio / NPG, SI (left); Photo: David James, SMPSP © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved)
"Three times I started, got to a hundred or so pages, and never got farther than January 1864. You could make a very long miniseries out of any week Lincoln occupied the White House." - Tony Kushner, Lincoln screenwriter (Joan Marcus)
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