Before taking my nephew to the movie “Red Tails” earlier this year, I hadn’t been to a movie theater for a show since 1997. Then it was “Titanic.” No comments, please. I don’t think I missed much in 15 years away — except, maybe, crazy movie-theater inflation?! Really, a proper day at the movies for a family of, say, four is almost third of our weekly grocery budget. Gah!
But we pulled our pennies together and went to the movies last week. This time my husband and I and our two oldest children, ages 9 and 6, saw “Lincoln,” a Steven Spielberg film about the last four months in the life of 16th U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, and his passing of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
If you don’t know much about Lincoln or the 13th Amendment, here’s the gist of it: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Slavery. Outlawed. Big, historic issue.
Permanent emancipation was, in fact, the hallmark of the Abraham Lincoln presidency, the presidency that spanned the gruesome U.S. Civil War, and the lasting accomplishment of the man Lincoln himself.
The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the 13th amendment in January 1865, the process of which forms the movie’s plot. Three months later, the Civil War effectively ended with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Five days after Lee’s surrender, Lincoln was shot by a Southern sympathizer assassin while attending a play in Washington, D.C., and died early the next morning.
That’s a lot of history to cover in 209 minutes, but the movie did it. And well.
BACK IN THE 1900s, when I was in school, movie day was — usually — a treat. The teacher would roll in a machine with big wheels of film — yes, film! — pull down the rolled-up white screen from the ceiling, dim the lights and admonish us to stay at our desks. Once she managed to thread the film correctly, she would let the reels roll, and the rhythmic ticking would carry us to wherever the movie was headed.
Suddenly, places about which we had only read or talked included images, recorded pictures. The ideas in our heads, the ones we formed by reading books usually, were calibrated, then, to actual landscapes, faces or scenes if we were watching documentaries. If we watched an actual MOVIE, like Franko Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of “Romeo & Juliet,” which I watched in high school on a theater screen, then we saw an artist’s conceptions of what we had read.
As a parent and educator, I’m ambivalent about movies and learning. When they include actual footage, like in documentaries, movies confirm the accuracy of events or concepts, and I definitely want my children to learn the FACTS of any given matter.
Yet I want them to READ and not to become dependent on images shown them rather than the ones formed in their minds as they process words. Further, I’m not excited about creating a precedent of “I must be entertained to learn.”