Cultural literacy

Apparently, I’ve never gone to a movie on the day after Thanksgiving, or else I’d forgotten that it is really busy then.  At any rate, I went to go see Lincoln with my mom yesterday.  We got there just as the show was supposed to start, and then there was a big line outside the theater, plus it wound around a few times inside.  We did get in just as the show was starting, but it was completely packed and we had to sit separately.  Oh well, going to the movies with someone is really the two of you doing something by yourself at the same time, right?  It’s not like we would be sitting there discussing it as we went along.

Anyway, I was wishing my son, Jesse, was with me because he is such a history buff.  I’ll take him to see it at Christmas if he hasn’t seen it by then (he went with two siblings to see Red Dawn – obviously not as good, but they’d been waiting for it).

At one point, if I were with Jesse, I would have said, “Is that Thaddeus Stevens?”  He would have been impressed with my historical prowess (although, ahem, it did say on the wall, “The office of Thaddeus Stevens,” but maybe he would have missed that).

I imagine Thaddeus Stevens was scarier in real life.

But!  People!  In one of the final scenes of the movie, there’s a view of a courthouse building, with the words, “Appomattox Courthouse, April 9, 1865” on the bottom of the screen.  Here comes a man atop a white horse, dressed in Rebel Gray, who has a white moustache and beard.  Here, he looks remarkably like this:

Yes, Virginia, that is Robert E. Lee.

And two adults within earshot, in different parties, said, “Is that Lee?”  I mean, my god, who else would it be?  Do the filmmakers have to tell us exactly who every.single.person in the film is?  Can we not expect that people who are educated enough to want to go to a historical movie like Lincoln would know by sight the greatest military mind ever born in the U.S., especially when given context clue after context clue after stinking context clue?  SHEESH!!!!!! 


So, that brings me to the idea of cultural literacy.  Even in this age of Wikipedia (which I love, donate to, and use every single day), when you can look every date and name that you come across, let’s have a foundation of knowledge that does in fact include recognizing some characters of history.  There simply are things that one must know to be an informed citizen. 

I have the What Your ____ Grader Needs to Know series in the library, thanks to my years as a homeschooling mom.  I need to figure out a methodical way of working my way through the most important tidbits in those books with classes as they come to the library.  Do you have any ideas?

Movie review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

On opening day, we went to see the new movie, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  It’s definitely our family’s most anticipated movie of the summer.

(That’s the movie poster.  Me, I prefer the hardcover image below.)

Pretty much my whole family has read this book, a historical fiction mash-up.  (I’m currently re-reading it.)  The book is actually very historically accurate – I mean, if you take out the whole vampire angle.  But for instance, I never knew that Stephen Douglas had wooed Mary Todd, and that really is an important backstory to the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  There are a lot of other instances like that in the book that shows Seth Grahame-Smith, the author, had really done his homework.  The book is written in a literary nonfiction style, where friendly vampire Henry gives Lincoln’s journals to a modern-day struggling author, and this book is his work.  It’s understandable that all of that made the cutting room floor for the movie, though (the screenplay was also written by Grahame-Smith).

Because the screenplay was written by the author, it’s disappointing to those of us who loved the book that the movie is so different.  I mean, I read reviews that complain about the ridiculous premise of the movie and I want to say, “Did you even read the book?”  The premise is silly on its face, sure, but the book really brings you in and makes you a believer.  But as someone who loved the book, I, too, am disappointed.  It’s like Grahame-Smith took the very basic outline of his book – 19th century America was overrun by vampires, and Abraham Lincoln was determined to stop them – and wrote a completely different story.  

I understand that movies are different than the books they are based on.  But I don’t see why he couldn’t have had the beginning be the same.  Thomas Lincoln makes a deal with the devil (specifically, Jack Barts) that he couldn’t fulfill, and Barts takes Nancy Lincoln’s life in payment.  Abe knows nothing of this, but years later, Thomas finally tells him.  Abe lures Barts to their homestead, where he is waiting.  Abe kills Barts:

  Thomas stood aghast.  “Look what you’ve done,” he said after a sickened silence.  “You’ve killed us.”
  “On the contrary . . . I’ve killed him.”
  “More will come.”
  Abe had already begun to walk away.
  “Then I shall need more stakes.”

How could you not write the entire movie around that perfect scene?

After I got over the disappointment at the movie being completely different than the book, I was able to enjoy the movie.  A bit gory – I don’t usually watch rated R movies – but it was enjoyable and I liked the plot twists.  

And really – when is a movie better than (or even as good as) the book?