Immersed in Blu-ray: Lincoln

Lincoln was my favorite movie of last year. It fulfilled all of my expectations and then some as a psychological study and political procedural. I would argue that Steven Spielberg came of age with Schindler’s List but achieved a new profundity with Lincoln about the fight to save the soul of this country. The Blu-ray is out this week from Fox Home Ent., which provides an opportunity to revisit this magnificent movie. It looks and sounds as rich and beautiful as it first appeared theatrically, only now you’ll be able to hear every hushed line of dialogue by screenwriter Tony Kushner and even better appreciate Daniel Day-Lewis’ commanding, Oscar-winning performance.

Lincoln is Spielberg’s Citizen Kane, not only because of the chiaroscuro lighting and stripped down, theatrical compositions (there’s even a reflection of Lincoln and Mary in a mirror during the retelling of his dream right out of Kane), but also because of its multi-layered, humanizing approach myth making. Spielberg, Kushner, and Day-Lewis cleverly demystify Lincoln before reintroducing a sense of mythology at the end, exploring his inner and outer worlds and his public and private lives.

Most of Spielberg’s movies are about the disruptive breakup of the family (especially as a result of the absent father), and he seems to have found its ultimate expression in Lincoln. The tug of war for freedom is personal and political, intimate and epic, with the 16th President serving as the ultimate paternal symbol. With his folksy charm and penchant for dirty jokes and funny anecdotes, Lincoln is the great political persuader and a sagacious storyteller.

Oscar-winning production designer Rick Carter was able to help explore Lincoln from the inside out, using the interior of the White House as a visual metaphor for his mindscape.

“Production design lends itself to being reflective and, for me, I like having the latitude to come and go, and be specific and right in the moment, and then pull back and analyze,” Carter suggests.”You get moments that you have never seen before about Lincoln’s intimate life with Mary and his sons and his cabinet meetings and the machinations of the Congress itself, let alone the vote getting for the 13th Amendment. It actually weaves a bigger mystery.”

Carter says the interior of the White House was an extremely personal and often a psychological space. It was inhabited by Lincoln’s family and staff, his team of rivals, and visitors, but essentially it was traversed by this man and his consciousness. “Knowing that I was going to do it from the inside out and how deep that imagery was going to be inside of his head, is a very different way of designing,” he continues. “It’s more than just adding the historically correct physical details: it lends itself to being photographed in a way that’s intimate and still having the things that Steven and [cinematographer] Janusz [Kaminski] always require, which is a way of creating foreground, middle ground, and background mostly with lighting. And they had different types of lighting to work with: the exterior lighting, the artificial gas lighting, and then magical lighting that illuminates the eyes or creates silhouettes.”

Kaminski was able to light with an intimacy and restraint that’s unique in his celebrated collaboration with Spielberg. “Right from the beginning, Daniel was so amazing that you didn’t have to do anything special with the camera to allow the audience to be transported to that period,” Kaminski recalls. “But the lighting part was cool because I had the chance to create a semi-realistic world of what it must’ve been like to be there with great freedom and license because I suspect it was not as light in the rooms as I created it. The idea was to follow the logic of the light where the lamps are, where the windows are, to create some kind of a sense of reality and place for the viewer.”

You can learn more about the making of Lincoln from the excellent array of bonus features, including “In the Company of Character,” “Crafting the Past,” “Living with Lincoln,” and “In Lincoln’s Footsteps.”

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Clips, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX

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