Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Lincoln," The Movie (& Robert Portner, the brewer)

There's a scene in Steven Spielberg's new film, Lincoln, that, among many, caught my attention.

The year is 1865; Abraham Lincoln has been re-elected President, and the Civil War is nearing conclusion. James Spader —in a hilarious turn as a sleazy political operative — is hatching tactics with his fellows over beers in a Washington, D.C. tavern. (The more things change ...!) His character although fictional as portrayed is historically believable.

The beers they are drinking are served in glass. They are golden; they look like lagers. I'd like to believe that they had been brewed by the Robert Portner Brewing Company, located just over the Potomac River, in Alexandria, Virginia. Unfortunately, that's not so. Portner —which would eventually grow to become the preeminent brewery of the U.S. southeast (at least until the ignoble experiment of Prohibition)— would not be founded by its namesake until 1869.

Portner Brewhouse logo

The great-great grand-daughters of Robert Portner —Catherine & Margaret Portner— have set out to re-launch the brewery as Portner Brewhouse, a combination brewpub, breweriana museum, and craft beer test kitchen, and in Alexandria. They are seeking 'crowd funding' of $30,000 via IndieGoGo.
This crowd funding campaign is a piece of a larger funding puzzle. The total amount required to truly launch this concept will be $1.3 million – daunting but very possible. The remaining funds will be supplied by personal savings, outside investors, and commercial debt. Some 75% of the total raised will be used for developing the property and purchasing all of the equipment for the brewery restaurant. The remaining funds will be put to use securing staff, implementing technology, marketing, and, artifact preservation.

The film Lincoln is based, in part, on a book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Adapting it to the screen, Spielberg has done his expected mixing of bathos and pathos, of hagiography and foibled humanity. Rather than trying to be inclusively unwieldy, Spielberg tells the story of the fight to ratify the 13th Amendment, which codified the end to slavery.

Daniel Day Lewis is spectacularly convincing as Lincoln, and Sally Fields and Tommy Lee Jones are excellent in supporting roles (although Spielberg adds a gratuitous scene with Jones near the film's conclusion). James Spader, as mentioned above, is hilarious.

Writer Tony Kushner deserves an award for the script. He seems to be channeling Lincoln through Lewis. Watching, you can believe that the words are indeed Lincoln's own: from him telling a scatological story about a portrait of George Washington in a British loo, to the President looming, in terrifying fashion, over his Cabinet comprising politically powerful men who seem to be cowering from his countenance: "I am the President of the United States of America, clothed in awesome powers."

Spoiler alert: Lincoln is assassinated at the end of the movie, his work unfinished. Spielberg depicts the tragedy compassionately, non-literally. At movie's end, I heard a lot of sniffles in the theater, including those from my seat.


  1. Actually W. N. Bilbo was a political operative for the 13th Ammendment. He was a lawyer from Tennessee who was friends with Seward.

  2. I'm curious why you felt the scene at the end with Tommy Lee Jones (I think we're both thinking of the same thing; the one where he walks home and gets in bed, right?) was gratuitous.
    I thought it was a neat little insight to the personal life of Thaddeus Stevens that offered another facet to the political battle he had just won.

  3. GSP: because a subtle brush says more than a paint roller. Often, what is implied can be more powerful than that which is literally displayed. The scene of Lincoln talking with Mrs Lincoln's chambermaid is a much more powerful depiction of grappling with race relations.


Comment here ...