By Edward Epstein
January 21, 2022
The Lincoln Group is getting into the movie business, and is starting out at the top by teaming up with the prestigious American Film Institute to show a series of little-seen silent gems about the life of Abraham Lincoln.
The series of short films, produced in 1917, will be shown at the AFI's Silver Spring, Maryland, theater on two appropriate days: Lincoln's Birthday on Saturday, Feb. 12 and President's Day on Monday, Feb. 21. The screenings in the large theater at the AFI complex -- widely praised as the best place in the Washington area to watch movies on a big screen -- will start at 2 p.m. both days. Admission is $13.
The films are known as The Lincoln Cycle or The Son of Democracy. The star is Benjamin Chapin, an actor who in the early 20th century carved out a career as a Lincoln re-enactor. The director is John M. Stahl, who went to a long career in Hollywood. Fans of Turner Classic Movies on cable TV will know Stahl as the director of such classic 1930s tearjerkers as Imitation of Life and Magnificent Obsession, which were both remade in the 1950s.
Here is the AFI's description of the films: "Restored by the Library of Congress and unveiled at the 2018 Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy as part of an extensive John M. Stahl silent series, The Lincoln Cycle (aka The Son of Democracy) comprises the surviving eight two-reel episodes of producer and star Benjamin Chapin's 1917 series on the life of Abraham Lincoln. While Chapin gave himself screen credit for writing, producing and directing the films and portraying the 16th President (as well as Lincoln's father Thomas and grandfather, also named Abe), Stahl credibly claimed to have been the series' actual director, and the quality of the films' structure and performances would seem to bear that out. Episodes from Lincoln's youth are dramatized with vigor and sensitivity, and the portrayals by Charles Jackson as young Abe and Madelyn Clare as his mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln are revelatory. Black and white, 215 min. total (Part 1 approx. 106 min; Part 2 approx. 111 min). Silent with English intertitles."
There will be live accompaniment on the AFI's theater organ. Part 1 will screen on February 12 and Part 2 on the 21st.
Parking is free on Saturdays and holidays in Silver Spring at three public garages within two or three blocks of the AFI. Proof of COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test, along with an ID card, are required for admission. The theater is large, so social distancing should not be a problem.
The AFI, at 8633 Colesville Rd., is two blocks east of the Silver Spring Red Line Metro station.