Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 in Film: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

There is something to be said about a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter when the critical consensus seems to have been, roughly, “it wasn’t ironic enough.” For a film that should have been one massive winking shitfest, and a profoundly racist one at that, what we got instead was just a racist shitfest with some killer style (and good lord to I hate to say that about a movie to which Tim Burton’s name is attached) and a couple of moments of honest-to-god awe at the toys that it had to put in front of you.

There really is nothing for the contemporary vampire film to do but to recognize that it is nothing but a toybox for the viewer to enjoy, and in its best moments Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the best movie I’ve ever seen at doing this. Better even, in its way, than Let The Right One In was about its Coen Brothers action figures, or Let Me In was about its Hitchcock doll. The beautiful shamelessness with which the pocket watch got punched into Adam, or the awkward reverence of the longshot of the burning trestle, or the deadly earnest with which Abe wielded his stupid, silly weapon; or even the gooey, dripping melodrama of the scenes between Abe and Mary Todd or when Willy dies, or the sociopathic glee with which the film depicts the death of Barts. There is, in all these moments, the gleeful greediness of rifling through a just-opened toychest, the pleasure of being able to snatch up and discard in quick succession whole generations worth of entertainment, and I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you if the fact that it isn’t grinning in your face the entire time it does this somehow pisses you off.

It’s probably worth noting, too, that, at least based on what I’ve heard of the other one, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter managed to be the less racist of the two movies about Lincoln that came out this year. Given that, y’know, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter at least acknowledged that black people did things, and didn’t just stand politely offscreen while the white saviour got down to business. Which isn’t to say that this movie didn’t do the same goddamn thing, only that it at least didn’t do it as bad as a Spielberg movie did, allegedly. So congratulations on that one, y’all.

But honestly, honestly, why am I trying to do this, when all there is to say is my god, the toys. The fucking toys. The scene on the trestle is such a masterpiece in its incredibly limited way, so deeply in love with its ability to show off just how to play with a toy it has never seen before, so good at knowing that the pretenses it contrived to get us there can be joyfully suspended for the duration without anyone giving the slightest fuck. And then, when they have exhausted the playful bit, they contrive a plot point that reinforces the fact that what you just watched had no bearing on the plot whatsoever; the silver wasn’t even on the train to begin with, it was just a ploy for a neat fight scene, and nothing whatsoever hangs in the balance.

I’ve been sort of agonizing over the fact that I don’t have enough to say about this movie, wanting to be able to better defend it, to offer a way of reading it that cuts through the shit, that acknowledges the problems with all their weight along with the shit that’s done right, and to do so with aplomb. But fuck it; you open the toychest or you don’t. It’s not like its fucking locked.

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