Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trailer Released for Spielberg's "Lincoln"

Earlier this evening, the official trailer for Steven Spielberg's long-awaited "Lincoln" premiered online (with a special online event featuring the director and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Robert Lincoln in the film).

Overall, it certainly looks impressive (and sounds impressive, with that sweeping music playing underneath).  I was pleasantly surprised at the scope implied by the trailer.  Previous films about Lincoln (with much smaller casts) always had a pretty quaint feel, but this is evidently an epic where dozens of important people will surround the president at the center of the storm.

Among the locations/events I could identify in the trailer, aside from scenes of Lincoln in the White House: Lincoln with the troops (probably in late March 1865), the fall of Richmond and Lincoln's subsequent visit, the Hampton Roads conference (led by Lincoln and Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens), debate (over the 13th Amendment?) in the House of Representatives, the Second Inaugural Address, the surrender of Robert E. Lee (at which Robert Lincoln was present), and the War Department Telegraph Office.

Only one thing bothers me in the trailer -- but it is a big thing.  I'm not convinced that Daniel Day-Lewis has gotten Lincoln's voice right.  The descriptions of it that survive imply that Lincoln had a rather high-pitched voice and that he never really lost his Kentucky -- or frontier -- twang.  While the actor is certainly speaking in a higher range, I hear very little twang and very little of the slightly shrill quality sometimes ascribed to it.  (One newspaper report famously had Lincoln beginning a speech, "Meester Cheerman.")  Daniel Day-Lewis' approach sounds to me like a flat Hoosier accent, which does not match any of the contemporary descriptions of Lincoln's voice.  Hopefully this is too short a sample of dialogue in the trailer, but it concerns me because I had high hopes that the notoriously precise actor would offer a definitive performance.

[You can read more about Lincoln's speaking voice from Harold Holzer here.  He compares the description of Lincoln's voice to Kathryn Hepburn, which seems very a propos to me.]

Aside from this, though, I am pleasantly surprised by the trailer, which suggests that the project is more ambitious than I had imagined.  More than this, the focus on race implies that screenwriter Tony Kushner has perhaps crafted a narrative arc from the debate over the 13th Amendment to Lincoln's April 11 speech, in which he suggests granting voting rights to African-Americans who have served in the Union army and navy, which would offer a new perspective on the more often-told Lincoln stories.  I'm sure there will be a few more clues before the film is released in two months.