Filming Honest Abe

“Hey, Ben Stiller, you hack: Why mock “Hey, Ben Stiller, you hack: Why mock me like you do?”me like you do?”

“Hey, Ben Stiller, you hack: Why mock “Hey, Ben Stiller, you hack: Why mock me like you do?”me like you do?”

Abraham Lincoln has been curiously absent from American movies.

The Great Emancipator was a staple of silent and early sound Hollywood, when the Civil War was recent enough to have living veterans, but removed enough to feel mythical. Many of the masters of American historical fantasy featured Lincoln in their films, including Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford and D.W. Griffith, who filmed his assassination twice (in Birth of a Nation and 1930’s Abraham Lincoln).

Today, Lincoln is a perpetual joke—the three most vivid onscreen portrayals of Lincoln in the last 50 years have been Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the sequels to Night at the Museum and National Treasure.

That should change next year with Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, starring Robin Wright Penn as Mary Surratt, the first woman put to death by the American government. She was charged as a conspirator in Lincoln’s murder on flimsy evidence, and swiftly convicted in a bloodthirsty, post-assassination atmosphere.

It’s a great story, equal parts history lesson, courtroom drama, and relevant allegory for the ways that ideological divides corrupt justice. What those Hollywood muckety-mucks don’t know is that one Rocklin couple got to it first.

Writing and producing partners Chris and Heather King (Chris also directs and edits) made the 24-minute short The Killing of Mary Surratt under their Watermark Films banner. The mix of documentary and dreamlike biopic is sometimes awkward, but the visual style is fluid and confident, and the story is told well enough to make you wonder how Redford will screw it up (step No 1: cast Justin Long). It’s definitely worth a look.

The Killing of Mary Surratt will be screening for free in the west meeting room at the Central branch of the Sacramento Public Library this Sunday at 2 p.m., followed by a lecture from the filmmakers.