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Looking for Lincoln
Looking for Lincoln
Genres: Educational, Documentary
NR     2009     2hr 0min

The series will dissect the myths that have grown up around Abraham Lincoln, and in doing so, will address outstanding questions surrounding him - questions about race, equality, religion, depression, and sexuality - by ca...  more »


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Movie Details

Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, History
Studio: PBS
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 04/07/2009
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 2hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Looking for our own personal Lincoln
Matt Inglima | California | 04/13/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The PBS documentary "Looking for Lincoln" which aired on the eve of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday is a thoughtful look into the legend of our 16th president. As another reviewer stated this documentary is not a typical biography about Lincoln's life and career, rather it is an examination of how his life and career has been shaped into the secular American icon in the years after his assassination in 1865. Hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. we are shown interviews with Lincoln scholars, civil rights activists, politicians and every day Americans who give us their own personal interpretations of a man deeply shrouded in myth.

While the documentary is somewhat delicate in its interpretation of Lincoln it does not shy away from describing him as a man firmly rooted in the prejudices of his era. His early beliefs about the inferiority of African Americans in no way gels with the Great Emancipator image that grew up around him. But a man renowned for his great resolve in restoring the Union proved he could adapt his views. It is in his authorship of the Emancipation Proclamation (which has been argued was more political than practical) to his support of the 13th Amendment where the light of greatness begins to shine in him. Frederick Douglass an early critic of Lincoln who once described him as "the white man's president," would later write in his memoirs that, "Mr. Lincoln was not only a great president, but a great man - too great to be small in anything."

The best thing I can say about "Looking for Lincoln" is that it stimulates discussion about Lincoln's legacy. One of the reasons I believe Lincoln is so popular in our culture is that he came from humble origins and rose up through hard work and ambition to attain the pinnacle of power. And through all that he still indulged in the whims of his children and loved a good joke. In that view we can see ourselves mirrored in the image of Lincoln. Love him or hate him this documentary is worth a couple hours of your time. It may not change the way you feel about him but it may help you understand WHY you feel the way you do."
Honoring Him.
Howard S. Gay Jr. | San Diego CA USA | 04/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I love this uplifting sketch, an enjoyable armchair tour of all things Lincoln, the legends, artifacts and input from scholars and peers such as William Herndon, Frederick Douglas, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, titled Looking for Lincoln, a most enigmatic President! So much so that at least 14,000 books were written about him. A normal man but highly intelligent. Rugged looking, somber and tall, thin but willing to wear suits and have portraits made. Just to know of the profound tragedies he suffered, endears him to me. One can almost feel his pain which is apparent in his face. It reveals compassion, a kind and gentle soul, dignity, selflessness, humbleness and honesty with the patience of Job. It is thought that the very unfortunate experiences in his earlier life prepared him for the great perseverance needed to accomplish his goals as President. Here is a fitting 200th Birthday Tribute."
An interesting exploration of the ways that we have perpetua
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 01/03/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)

"First, when I place "myth" in my review title, it is not meant as denigrating. It is simply a fact that Lincoln has been crafted into an image that often differs from the facts. For instance, while he was passionately opposed all his adult life to slavery, his views on abolition were more complex. It was only well into his presidency that, fueled by conversations with a Presbyterian minister, Lincoln came to feel that slavery had to end. On the other hand, you get people willing to go to the extreme of tearing down much of what we think we know about Lincoln, such as the claim (not well substantiated) that he had a long-term homosexual relationship. There are a number of things in the show that I personally disagree with. For instance, I find claims of Lincoln as being perhaps bipolar to be poorly founded. Joshua Wolf Shenks (who is interviewed on the show) and others place great stress on his depression, but this is simply not supported by the facts of his life. There is a massive difference between being depressed with definite causes and depression that had no cause. The times in which Lincoln was depressed were virtually always in response to concrete tragedy, such as the death of Ann Rutledge or the death of his son Willie. But there is little support for the claim that Lincoln suffered from depression during the normal course of his life. In fact, the periods of depression of which we are aware are generally quite understandable. There would have been something odd about Lincoln if he had not been depressed.

Skip Gates certainly wants to present as many viewpoints as possible. If you have read much about Lincoln there won't be much new here. There are some extremists who are included, including the utterly asinine Lerone Bennett, who detests Lincoln for his moderate views on the slavery issue. But this is valid only if you impose an artificial criterion of judging Lincoln, and that is only one aspect of his presidency. The documentary does an extremely poor job of talking about or analyzing his absolutely astonishing moral leadership, which, as Doris Kearns Goodwin states early on, Lincoln the real person is more impressive than the myth. His moral depth is unequaled by any American president and I was frankly upset at the failure of the students in the Walter Payton High School in Chicago (and by the way, it was creepy looking at the shots of the halls of it, my daughter having attended Northside College Prep [which is one of the few Chicago schools whose students outperform Walter Payton) were apparently uninformed about his capacity as a moral leader. Also, Lincoln's extraordinary political abilities received short shrift. This is all in keeping to punch holes in the myth, which I agree with. But the series doesn't do a good enough job at getting at the "real" Lincoln that Goodwin referred to.

Some absolutely first rate historians take place in this documentary. One of my favorite Lincoln historians, Allen Guelzo helps analyze Gettysburg. Harold Holzer contributes many insights and Doris Kearns Goodwin is as articulate as ever.

I do want to offer a voice in staunch disagreement with the southern nuts who had nothing good to say about Abraham Lincoln. I'm a Southerner and I consider Lincoln to be the greatest American, without any serious competition. A lot of people want to pretend that the Civil War was about something other than slavery, but you can only hold that by ignoring 99% of the debate leading up to the Civil War. A lot of people want to say that the War was in fact about states' rights, but the only right that really came up was that of slavery. And the great conflicts of the decades leading up to the war were entirely over whether new states were to be free or slave. My fellow Southerners who want to turn the Civil War into something other than a war to defend the enslavement of blacks engage in anachronistic thinking; they want to impose a regionalism from today on a period of time in which the South was engaged in the greatest moral disgrace in our nation's history. As Lincoln correctly stated, "If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong."

In short, this is a decent documentary. I think it is a bit stronger on the myth busting side of things, and pretty weak at explaining precisely what it was that made Lincoln such a great -- indeed, along with FDR our greatest -- president. His thought is not really presented with any degree of insight. Still, I am glad that I saw it. If, like me, you love Lincoln, there is no such thing as too much Lincoln.

By the way, there is one mildly creepy aspect to the show. Gates hosts a few Lincoln scholars at his house for dinner. This is the house in which he was notoriously arrested after berating a police officer who saw him breaking into his own house when he did not have his keys on him. The incident was, of course, a huge national incident, eventually resulting in Gates and the police officer coming to the White House as part of a conciliatory dinner with Barack Obama. Numerous people that I know who know Gates well tell me that while Gates is a likable person, he has a temper and the encounter with the police officer did not seem at all out of character. In other words, he is testy. (I briefly met Gates, helping him carry his baggage in from a cab upon his arrival in New Haven, CT, upon he coming to teach at Yale)."