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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.


10 comments:

David Coull said...

Quite. There was a fair amount of people telling each other the plot, but they didn't tell each other the bits that all Americans would have learned in school, but which we in Britain would not know unless we'd read the book or studied the period. Prime point: 'Appomattox' - no explanation required in the US, but here 'Eh?'. Possibly the most boring film I've ever seen. Ron Chernow's excellent biography of Washington IS being made into a tv series.

Paps said...

I agree. In fact, this is what tweeted after seeing it yesterday too.

'V heavy going and unsurprisingly 99.9% dialogue. Not my cup of tea. Better as HBO six part series.'

Julian said...

My 18 year old son was captivated, notwithstanding his usual disinterest in history and non fantasy drama. And it prompted him to look up the backgound he didn't know know or understand.

Richard Young said...

Interestingly, the Review Show looked at the Netflix version of House of Cards last week and Paul Morley made precisely this point. The music industry is still struggling to get its head around albums - given that the length and format was dictated by an obsolete medium (12" vinyl). Looks like the film industry is also struggling to realise that with big, HD screens in a majority of homes, PVRs and DVD box-sets, the existing 90-240 minute movie in a theatre with noisy neighbours is something of a forced and outdated format.

John Medd said...

They could have done it Deadwood style; where good narrative, plot and funny whiskers were the order of the day. And the highest FPM counter ever shown on syndicated TV.

Anna Maria said...
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Andy Brim said...

I think that the Oscar winning 'Ray' was just one long TVM. Nothing cinematic about it at all.

Saeed Zia said...
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Ian M said...

Well, it might have been a tv series, but would it have been any better? I thought it was just a bad film, straining every sinew to be worthy and portentous, resulting in an excruciatingly dull, un-filmlike experience. If a film about the Iraq war had been composed of committee meetings in Westminster, sub-clauses and amendments to bills, would we be throwing our hats in the air for a great drama? I think not. It may well be close the historical record of what happened in Washington at the time, but it doesn't make for an insightful or engrossing film. Tarantino's film, for all its hyperbole, is actually much more on the button about slavery, especially in the central scene at Di Caprio's mansion. And much more entertaining.

Grant said...

Lincoln, The Social Network and Ray - not everything that ever happened should be made into a film.

Lincoln should have definitely stayed as a book.