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Tom Tangney

It wasn't their Civil War: Explaining 'Lincoln' to international audiences

Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Sally Field are currently on a publicity tour that has them talking up the film in Spain, Italy, France, Ireland and the U.K. (AP Photo/DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, David James)

This weekend, "Lincoln" took to new screens, testing the American film success in front of international audiences.

By just about any measure, Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" has been a great box office success. The $60 million film has already grossed $150 million here in the United States, with no end im sight.

But it faces a big test when it begins a worldwide rollout. First to Europe, and then on to Asia and South America.

It's a tricky enough proposition to sell any movie about a 19th century American president overseas but this particular movie is especially tricky because it's not a "Great Man" biopic about Abraham Lincoln. Instead it's a behind-the-scenes look at how a specific piece of legislation got pushed through the House of Representatives. Sure, it's historic legislation - an amendment abolishing slavery - but it's mostly about the "sausage-making" side of politics. Like I said, a tough sell abroad.

But hey, we're Americans, so let the selling begin.

The poster is being tweaked, for instance, adding a a battle scene of a city on fire to the silhouette of Lincoln.

And Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Sally Field are currently on a publicity tour that has them talking up the film in Spain, Italy, France, Ireland and the U.K.

Most significantly, instead of opening with a Civil War battle scene, the overseas version of the film starts off with a series of black and white photos from the time period (the 1860's) and a minute-long scroll of messages that bring historical context to the Civil War. This montage is accompanied by John Williams' score.

When the film opens in Japan, there will be something that even precedes that - Spielberg will actually appear on the screen reciting a little preamble.

Finally, the studio has also created country-specific promotional shorts. They star political figures from the individual markets discussing the larger context of Lincoln's agenda. So far, they've corralled a cabinet member in the United Kingdom, the first female President of Chile, a leader of the Czech revolution in the Czech Republic.

Abraham Lincoln wasn't known much for his foreign policy, but his cinematic handlers sure have a strong one.

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

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About the Author


Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.

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