Buck dancing is not easy to categorize—it is simple, involving neither choreography nor costume, yet it is complex, with no set routines or rules. When you are buck dancing, though it is to someone else’s music, you are guided by your own sense of rhythm, in a manner encouraged in the mid-nineteenth century by Henry David Thoreau: "If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."
There is a natural ending to this film, however. As Lincoln readies himself for his fatal date night at Ford’s Theatre, he remarks “it’s time to go, but I’d rather stay.” Leaving the White House, his form gradually becomes a silhouette, one that’s already casting a long shadow across history. It’s the moment in which the man returns to being a legend.
In the wake of last summer’s drought and this fall’s Superstorm Sandy, Ken Burns’s harrowingly absorbing new two-part, four-hour documentary, The Dust Bowl, which airs this Sunday, November 18, on PBS, feels particularly urgent.
Something about this particular variety of period piece—American exceptionalism, stovepipe hats, sun-drenched Capitol Dome windows—dials us back into a schoolroom stance, where we accept, and perhaps even encourage, an over-simplified view of our past. Stay in your desk, watch the movie, this is how it went. And yet it’s a Lincoln film that might be the least accurate and, arguably, most manipulative of all that somehow speaks the clearest.