Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Lincoln" and Bringing History to Life

The new movie about Abraham Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field is being released this Friday. Yes, I plan to see it, as do a number of my reenacting friends. And, yes, we are planning to wear our period clothing. Okay, so we're a little off. But that's what we like to do - I guess it just kind of adds to the entire experience of historical movie watching. Sort of like "you are there."
Like I said, we're  little bit off.
I've been hearing and reading about this movie quite a bit, and by all accounts the reviewers give it two thumbs up. The clips I have seen look pretty amazing as well.

But there is one bit of information I read that really made me stand up and take notice: it had to do with the sound effects. To make this movie come alive, the film makers actually used original sounds to give it that note of accuracy. For instance, the pocket watch Mr. Lewis (as Lincoln) has is a prop. But the sound you hear coming from it is not. That's because the sound man, Ben Burtt, recorded the ticking of one of the real time pieces Abraham Lincoln owned.
But that's not all...
The ringing of the steeple bell from St. John's Episcopal Church, of which our 16th President attended often, is heard as well, along with the sound of the church floor boards - the very same that Lincoln walked upon 150 years ago. The sound techs went as far as to even record the sound the his pew made as he sat down and got up.
But there's still more:
In the executive office of the White House, there is a clock that's been there since the time of Andrew Jackson, and the sound of that clock is used in many office scenes. Other sound effects from the White House includes door latches and the opening and closing and the knocking upon those doors - the very same doors when Lincoln was there.
But the capper may be having the opportunity to hear the squeaks from the springs of the original carriage that took the President and his wife to the Ford Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865.
Logan County Courthouse from 1840 where Lincoln once practiced law
It's these little sound-effect kind of details that bring history to life for me, whether in a movie or while at a museum. I have been lucky enough to have heard sounds that Lincoln heard as well; inside of Greenfield Village is an original courthouse where Mr. Lincoln practiced law in the 1840's. Wanting a building that was associated with our 16th President, Henry Ford found a forgotten and dilapidated structure that was, in 1929, being used as a private residence.
Research showed that when he was a young attorney Abraham Lincoln once practiced law in this walnut clapboard building, which was built in Postville (now Lincoln), Illinois in 1840. Being a circuit-riding lawyer, Mr. Lincoln would travel upon his horse to the tiny country towns within a certain perimeter - Lincoln and the other handful of circuit riding lawyer companions with him covered the Eighth Judicial Circuit which covered around 11,000 square miles - and they would follow Judge David Davis to the courthouses of the towns.
Court was in session only twice a year, and could be a raucous affair in the first three quarters of the 19th century. It was quite entertaining for the folks sitting on the hard wood benches or peeking through the windows (which were usually opened due to the heat from all of the bodies inside). In fact, it was quite the "to do" for the country townsfolk, for this was about the only time a small town could have some real big-time excitement. People from all around the neighboring communities would travel to the court building to be enthralled by the legal battles at hand; I liken it to a modern-day court-room television drama that are always so popular today. Of course, the local businesses always had red-letter days during the time the court was in session as well.
Inside the 1840 Logan County Courthouse. Notice the clock and cabinet: they once belonged to Lincoln
Some of the furnishings in this building are original Lincoln associated pieces: the John Birge wall clock, the empire chairs, and the swivel-top card table with brass paw feet are from Lincoln's Springfield home. Also, the walnut corner cupboard was made by Abraham and his father.
The resonance of my period shoe wear as I stepped on the very same floorboards as Lincoln inside this courthouse has always intrigued me. I have sat on the bench and stared at the historic items inside this building, imagining - almost hearing and seeing - the above-mentioned 19th century courtroom scenario.
Can you just see (and hear) Mr. Lincoln as a lawyer in this room, stepping heavily upon the boards? I can...
Yes, the wearing of period clothing truly does accent one's museum experience. So, I suppose, in this way I understand the importance of the sounds of history. By the way, I try to pay attention to this sort of thing no matter what historical place I'm in.
And that's why I became so excited upon hearing of the attention in sound - this small, seemingly insignificant detail - that Spielberg included in his "Lincoln" movie.
The wearing of period clothing while watching it will only accent the experience, as it almost always does.


1 comment:

GinaBVictorian said...

Hi Ken! I am so excited about seeing the Lincoln movie. I meant to check our theaters before getting on my blog and forgot. Thanks for sharing what you know about the sound effects. That's great and I think dressing in your period clothing to see the movie sounds like so much fun! I'm sure you all will get the looks but have fun anyway! :)