“Lincoln” director Steven Spielberg was featured tonight on CBS’ “60 Minutes” tonight, and the segment pretty much put the guy on the couch, digging into his family life and history in order to find a defining thread connecting all of his legendary films.
The thing they settle on is a portfolio about the outsider, with Spielberg noting everything from his long-time denial of his Judaism to a 15-year time of estrangement from a father he finally reconciled with nearly 20 years ago. They also get his parents to sit down and discuss the impact Spielberg’s early life has had on him and the impressions left, etc., but keep coming back to a sense of shattered ties ultimately informing a lot of his work over the years, right up to and including his latest.
“I saw a paternal father figure, someone who was stubbornly committed to his ideals,” he said of Abraham Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the film. “He was living with two agendas, both of which had to do with healing: to abolish slavery/end the war, but he also had his personal life, and I think there’s darkness there.”
He also mentioned that action filmmaking no longer attracts him and that his work as of late — films like “War Horse” and “Lincoln” — is very much about the good that has come out of reconnecting with his father and his sense that those 15 years were wasted.
Is “Lincoln,” therefore, one of his more personal films in a while? I think on some level, it is. But I’m looking forward to more people getting a look at the film so the discussion can take off. I imagine there are those with the knives out, and I’ve already found that I’m defending Spielberg’s sense of restraint to those who found the production too stagey. But I like it more the further I spin away from it. It’s not some dense thing to be unpacked, but it feels like a different shade of the director, and I like that.
Day-Lewis was interviewed for a segment featured exclusively online. “I’d never felt that depth of love for another human being that I had never met,” he said of his character, “and I think that’s probably the effect Lincoln has on most people who take the time to discover him.”
Composer John Williams was also featured in this bit, playing the famous “Jaws” theme on the piano and talking about the “mechanism of the melody” that made that score resonate so much. It’s an interesting one to discuss since that score is so notable for its simplicity, and the same can be said of his work on “Lincoln.” As I mentioned in my thoughts on the film last week, the work is incredibly restrained and judiciously used.
“John and I made a very conscious decision not to compete with the voice of Lincoln,” Spielberg said. “So I think both of us pulled back a bit and almost stood in Lincoln’s shadow.”
And there’s discussion of the authenticity of the film, as well, such as getting the Oval Office as close to its 1860s look as possible, wallpaper, books and all. But Spielberg and his sound team went a sep farther: The watch that Lincoln carries on him throughout the film, that you hear ticking sometimes, the National Museum of American History allowed the film’s sound designer to record the actual ticking of the actual watch. “So whenever you hear the ticketing, that’s the same ticking that Lincoln heard 150 years ago,” Spielberg says.
There’s more so you can read the transcript of the interview at CBS if you like, or watch the exclusive online bit via the embed below.
“Lincoln” opens in limited release on November 9.