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Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
Young Mr. Lincoln the framing of the American Christ
John Fords Young Mister Lincoln it must be stated is a wonderful film from a purely spectators standpoint it is a minor masterpiece. The framing to the character acting the whole way down to the make up job that transforms Henry Fonda into 'honest Abe'. The symbolism and mythical nature of the storytelling is representative of the Christ like status Abraham Lincoln had for a generation of Americans.
What becomes clear is the Lincoln is the everyday man a man of the people from the opening speech to his willingness to give strangers store credit he is at once the every man and much more than that. The parallels between Fords representation of Lincoln and the life of Christ don't just encompass this morality and giving code expressed by Lincoln. Also in actions such as the above mentioned store credit scene or much more clear is stopping the mob from murdering the two boys using a rift on the he who has not sinned cast the first stone.
It is how Ford frames all this within the cinematic space. Surely one of the shots that must go down in Cinema history is of young Lincoln standing in the doorway of the high society party. Not the place for a man of the people. Ford shows us this through a shot of Lincoln center framed in the background. Dancers forward frame flowing through the scene our eyes are in the background with Lincoln and not with the foregrounded party. It is with great skill that Ford at once includes us in the social affair but let's us know where true morality and truth stands.
Of course the film shows that nature is absolute and a man who loves nature is truly American he and the landscape are one intertwined we see this in the recurring motif of Abe using parts of trees as headrest. It is interesting to see him read the law book here also use nature as his way of deciding his future. If the branch had not chosen the right route there would be no Abe Lincoln so a duality formed between Abe the every man, nature and the law (That is modern America).
Also of particular interest is the triptych of images the opening credits. Played as a gravestone the striking similarity between this and the image of his mothers grave even down to the shadows of branches and finally the Lincoln memorial the icon of honest America. It is as if Ford is showing us the link between death and greatness. All the iconography that comes with it again pulling us back into the Christ motif.
In Fords eyes Lincoln is all good there is no badness to him and we see this in one of the final scenes after the court case. Lincoln is justified and accepted both as a lawyer and as a part of upper society. It is here that a door opens off-screen and we see Lincoln stand into the light the polar opposite of Fords iconic image of John Wayne from The Searchers if Ethan Edwards is a dark soul then Lincoln is the light.
The music also adds to the mythical quality of Ford's Picture. Every scene is filled with it when there is no dialogue there is music. It is an ode to the mythical status of Lincoln in Fords eyes it as if Lincoln cannot be unaccompanied he is to important to just be.
The final word I have to say on the film is I am interested in the symbolism of Lincoln always putting his feet up the rest. Is this just a framing technique ford used as he did in many of his pictures. Is it something more, a way of telling the viewer that this man is a hard- working man. When he rest he puts his feet up because he has been on them all day.
A must see picture. As is often quoted when Orson Welles was asked who the three greatest film directors are he responded John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.
Waste of time
Rian Johnson fiction film (as it contains no science) Looper should be the line in the sand to say enough. Cinema going has turned into such a trite state that a film like this could be critically acclaimed and mass released. In the day and age of no heart films, torture porn and saccharine dramas we again have to endure the waste of time, resources and column space that a films like this garners. At a time when other worthwhile films slip into obscurity of small openings and DVD bargain bins.
Looper commits the most atrocious of cinematic crimes it abuses the viewers trust in a way that even Von Trier would be embarrassed by in all his emotion manipulation. Looper's first thirty minutes run by smoothly. It appears self-assured, paced confidently and even though the science and exposition is at best first grader and a worst lazy film- making we can forgive all of this and just go with it. Taking in the sub-standard portrayal of the future with none of the background social commentary of other genre films. Apart from some lazy shorthand referencing Doretha Lang's depression photograph of Mother With Seven Children replaced with future vagrant mother and child leaving behind any social cause and effect.
Then as Bruce Willis Old Joe meets Joseph Gordon Levitt's Young Joe the prosthetics take on a comically feel (recalling Pachino's villain in Dick Tracy). We feel we are getting to the meat of the story instead we find derivative shoot-outs, chases and uncompelling dialogue. At this point it all falls apart and the film runs into the dangerous space that modern cinema is not only touching on but beginning to permanently occupy.
The portrayal of females in the film is typical of the misogynistic movement in modern America's cinema. Women are passive objects to be both lusted and tortured. In Lopper all the women portrayed are Whores or Junkies or have a perverse struggle with motherhood.
Emily Blunt's character is given a back-story from a daytime drama. She shown to have no motivation apart from giving into compulsion. Any chance at positive female representation is at utter loss when she makes an-out-of nowhere unconvincing booty call with her child's adapted frog toy to Young Joe. This scene is complete with ridiculously out of place romantic piano score. One gets the feeling the film-makers have misogynist issues that should have been worked out in therapy and not in celluloid.
Before all of this trite we get Bruce Willis's terrible act of killing a child an act in cinema that Hitchcock in his conversations with Truffaut remarked is a guaranteed way to lose an audience. It has been done with a level of respect in films such as Afflecks Gone Baby Gone. In Looper it is unforgivable not only because of the act, but also in the way Johnson manipulates the audience and scenario for maximum effect (making him parallel with pushers of Torture Porn).
We are asked to believe that a child straight off a Disney set walks into the wrong film and towards a pretty suburb home, which is unguarded, in this state of societal collapse and mass crime. All this is for effect so when Old Joe shoots him we are more shocked, more horrified It is one of the more distasteful and undoubtedly manipulative scenes in recent cinema.
At the midway point the films personality splits, and it turns into a horror film about telekinetic abilities? In what seems like a pinned on sub-plot brought to the fore because they didn't know how to end the film. The ending of self-sacrifice was a laughable attempt at catharsis.
This infantile film should be laughed off the screens, especially given the sub-standard performances, Emily Blunts failure at acting 101 in the miming smoking scene comes to mind, .
Critics drawing positive attention even with the quip that it entertains should be ashamed. The role of the critic should be to enlighten. To shine a light towards the possibly unseen both within popular entertainment films and the unseen films that push the art form forwards.