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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why is Lincoln a film and not a TV series?

I saw "Lincoln" yesterday. It would have been so much better as a TV film, which is not a thought I've ever entertained before.

I couldn't follow half of what went on in it and it's not long since I read the book it's based on. As if conscious of the byzantine complexity of the plot, which is acted out in the smoke-filled rooms of Washington in 1865, Spielberg's film is topped and tailed by a prologue and epilogue which seem to have been parachuted in from children's TV to make up for the fact that the audience is historically illiterate.

As a three-part HBO series it would have been able to introduce the main characters, explain a bit about the party political background, convey some idea of the agony of the civil war they were in the midst of and paint in a bit of the path that had got Lincoln to that point. An episodic framework would, most importantly, have given the viewer the vital opportunity to consult with a fellow viewer and ask "remind me, who's the guy with the funny whiskers?"

In recent years, in shows like "The Wire" and "The Killing", TV has shown it can handle complexity. On the other hand the only feature film I've seen that did it was "The Social Network", and that was dealing with events that had happened very recently.

There are times these days when I wonder why feature films are still around.