Tim Murphy‘s New York magazine interview with Tony Kushner, who’s been working on the script of Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln movie, which is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s “Team of Rivals,” has inspired a thought.

Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama

Given Kushner’s observations about the parallels between Lincoln and Barack Obama (which, by the sights of certain wise HE talkbackers, automatically makes Kushner a rank sentimentalist who’s clearly lacking in seasoned judgment) and what Goodwin said about this topic to Tim Russert on TV this morning, doing a Lincoln movie would obviously be perceived on some level as a kind of Obama back-pat gesture. Which conceivably could be giving Spielberg, a Hillary Clinton supporter, a certain pause.
The Obama-Lincoln links are real, says Kushner. Two Illinois politicians. One a former president, one an aspiring one. Both skilled at reducing discord and inspiring people to find common ground. Asked what two books he would take with him in the Oval Office, Obama has named (according to Russert) the Bible and Team of Rivals. Is it that much of a stretch to wonder if Spielberg’s Clinton support may have affected his thinking about the Lincoln movie? Could he be saying to himself (and perhaps to others), “Well, let’s see what happens with the election and then we’ll pull the trigger…or not”?
Spielberg is just enough of dilettante on political matters (having to be prodded by Mia Farrow before bailing out of the Beijing Olympic Games, hemming and hawing about Aaron Sorkin‘s Chicago 7 script) and just enough of a flabby- minded side-stepper to respond this way to the Lincoln project. Why doesn’t he just walk away and wash his hands? Everything I know about him says he’s the wrong guy to make this film. He’s shown questionable aesthetic judgment when it comes his historical/political subjects (excepting movies about World War II and fighting the evil Nazis), and he has no real balls. Wouldn’t it be better all around let it go and bring in someone who’s up to the task to direct it?
If it’s not the Obama echoes, I would love it if Kushner or someone close to the project would help me to understand what Spielberg’s avoidance issues are with this thing. What is the man’s problem?
I spoke twice to Liam Neeson about this movie almost three years ago (summer of ’05), and Neeson was very, very excited. It would happen soon, he believed. Within the year or by early next, he said. But of course, Amistad and Spielberg’s (temporary) bailing out of the Chicago 7 movie taught us Spielberg is not to be trusted with historical/political films. One way or another, Spielberg’s uncontrollable sentimentality engulfs or compromises or leaves a stain. On top of which the odds are he’ll smother and artificially stylize the 1860s with that awful milky-white Janusz Kaminski light.
Note to HE trashtalkers: Yes, I just got into this topic a day or two ago but Kushner’s New York interview got me going again. If you don’t like it, tough. It’s Sunday, a catch-up day, and I’m just banging away on this and that.

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