I am very happy to announce the release of A Companion to Steven Spielberg, featuring a chapter co-authored with Robert Burgoyne titled "Violence and Memory in Spielberg's Lincoln." At the moment, the book is available for pre-order in hardcover through Wiley-Blackwell and through Amazon.
“In this chapter, we consider how violence – and the memory of violence – is woven through the text of Lincoln. Moreover, the memory and imagery of violence, we argue, is expressed in forms that echo the aesthetic genres and languages that emerged during the Civil War period. Like the black-and‐white cinematography of Schindler’s List, the muted color and semi‐documentary look of the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, and the bleached palette of The Pacific, Lincoln remediates the memory of violence preserved in the artifacts and media forms of the Civil War past, placing it in implicit dialogue with the present.” – Trafton and Burgoyne, 2017
Steven Spielberg's Lincoln was released during an interesting time in my life. I had just completed my PhD and was turning my attention towards a book project that would look at the ways that art and literary forms that were used to depict the Civil War--photography, panorama paintings, and the written testimonials of soldiers, slaves, and others affected by the conflict--anticipated the rise of motion picture story-telling technology. There is a moment in the film where Lincoln views photographs of slave children, on loan from Alexander Gardener's studio. He holds them up in front of the fire, illuminating the images that have given his son Tad bad dreams. In this moment, it became clear to me that the film was drawing on the emotional language of Civil War photography and presenting America's Civil War past as a haunted site whose ghosts still stalk the present, a common feature of war cinema. Spielberg's film uses iconic Civil War images throughout the film as crucial props that that directly acknowledge their ability to "render the traumatic experiences of the past palpable" and tap into an audience familiarity of the conflict that had largely been propped up by a familiarity with the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War (1990) and previous cycles of Civil War cinema.
Prior to Lincoln's release, I had collaborated with Robert Burgoyne on several projects and speaking events on the ways that conflict have been represented in cinema and media (films like The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and the World War II films of Clint Eastwood, for example). Both of our work is keenly interested in the ways that emotions are orchestrated in war cinema, and we were both struck by the way that Lincoln builds on Spielberg's approach to violence and historical memory in his earlier films. Robert had also written about Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List in The Hollywood Historical Film, so a collaborative chapter on Lincoln seemed like a fascinating project to us, as it represented an intersection for our work.
The resulting project was first introduced as a 2015 article for a special edition of Rethinking History on Abraham Lincoln's legacy, one-hundred-and-fifty years after his assassination. I am happy to announce that the project has come to a glorious end as a chapter in A Companion to Steven Spielberg, the latest in Wiley-Blackwell's Companion to Directors series. This book will be released on January 17th, 2017, with our chapter titled: "Violence and Memory in Lincoln." The book was edited by Nigel Morris of the University of Lincoln, and it was a great pleasure to work with him. Thank you Nigel and thank you Robert for this wonderful journey.
"Lincoln does not simply project the spectator into the past. Rather, the film can be read as bringing a haunted past to the present." - (Burgoyne and Trafton 2017, 385)