Originally published 02/11/2013
"Lincoln does not have the phallus; he is the phallus," proclaimed the editors of Cahiers du Cinéma in 1970, in a group-written polemic on the ideological superstructure of Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), John Ford's moody paean to the salad days of the Great Emancipator. The piece is a doozy of a performance, a high-wire act exemplifying the airy delights of the high renaissance of French-accented film theory. Alternately enlightening and maddening, the essay ends on a declaration that few Americans could ever abide: that in Ford's film, Lincoln emerges finally as a figure of “monstrous dimensions.” A monster? Not Abe, never Abe -- he is our guardian angel, secular saint, and -- virtually since the birth of American cinema -- celluloid hero.