Thursday, March 28, 2013

To Kill a Mockingbird (film)

To Kill a Mockingbird is a movie adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The movie covers one year in the life of two children, Jem and Scout, who live in a small town in Alabama in the 1930's. Their father is a lawyer and is defending a black man against the charge of rape. (My review of the book is here.)

There are differences between the book and the movie. One is fairly minor. The book covers three years; Scout is six and Jem, her older brother, is ten at the beginning of the novel. Both she and Jem mature throughout the book and Jem has moved into puberty at the end, which changes their relationship. The other is that Aunt Alexandra does not appear in the movie. In the book, Aunt Alexandra moves in with Atticus and the children to provide a strong female influence on Scout. She  introduces the emphasis in the South on living within the constrictions of the social mores and one's station in life.

This does not detract from the movie. It just means that the movie looks more at the racial aspects of the South and less at other areas of Southern life. The trial and the build up to the trial are the focus of the movie. I can understand why this decision was made. You can't always include every element of a book and still have a good movie.


I think I would have enjoyed the movie more if I had put more distance between it and reading the book. I kept making direct comparisons and noting differences that would not have occurred to me otherwise.

Nevertheless, I preferred the movie. This was because of my personal reaction to the book and the way the happenings in the book resonated with my own childhood and my personal experiences in that environment, and is no reflection on the quality of the book. The movie presented some of the same ideas, but did not impact me in the same way.

The book concentrated more on racism and its side effects for all involved, and the trial that threatened to tear apart the community. The story in the book focuses more on Scout's thoughts and interior life, her problems with school and having to deal with the concern for appearances in the South.

Neither of the two young actors who played Scout and Jem had had previous roles in movies. They were both from Birmingham, Alabama. I preferred the actor who played Jem (Phillip Alford), although it seems that the role of Scout (Mary Badham) gets more attention. Gregory Peck was, of course, perfect as Atticus Finch.

The DVD set I have includes a feature-length documentary on the making of the film, titled Fearful Symmetry. It was filmed in the late 1990's and provides interesting information. Several actors discuss their experience of working on this film. The screenwriter, Horton Foote, also shares insights about his process of adapting the book to the screen.

In the documentary, residents of the town where Harper Lee grew up reminisce about life in the town (and how much things have changed). The town in the book and the movie is called Maycomb and is based on Harper Lee's hometown, Monroeville, Alabama. The movie was filmed on the Universal backlot in Hollywood because Monroeville in 1962 no longer looked like a Southern town from the 1930's. The Monroe County Courthouse has become a museum. The interior of courthouse used in the film was recreated to look much like that building.



18 comments:

  1. Tracy - I thought the film was very well-done too. I agree with you that it takes a slightly different perspective to the book. But that didn't bother me. The way I saw it, the book is a wider look at that time, in that place, among that community. The film focuses more on a few events, if that makes sense. But I do think the film is faithful if I can put it this way to the spirit of the book.

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    1. Margot, I agree, the movie is faithful to the book, just more focused.

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  2. This will always be my favorite movie of all time. I have it seen several times and I never tire of it. Soon I will be able to quote the entire screenplay from memory. Why does no one ever talk about the relationship between the two kids and Boo Radley? This is what makes the film so special to me. It's almost mystical.

    Mary Badham attempted to have a career after this movie but she seemed to tire of it. She was never as intersting as Scout in anythign else she did. Philip Alford, who I agree is the more interesting actor of the two, had only a few more roles mostly in TV shows. I wonder if he would have been successful if he had decided to stick with acting?

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    1. John, it is great that you are so passionate about this film. I am sure I will be watching it again, and I will pay more attention to the Boo Radley relationship with Jem and Scout. I agree, it has mystical elements. Even more so in the book, I think.

      I did wonder why neither Phillip Alford or Mary Badham were not more successful in an acting career. Especially Alford seemed like he had talent.

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  3. Such a wonderful film! I remember reading this book in English class in secondary school. Our teacher never showed us any movies based on books we were reading because she thought they were never as good, but she made an exception for this one. It was one of the only books I was made to read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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    1. It is an exceptional film and I am glad I watched it finally. We had had the DVD for a while, and kept putting it off.

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  4. Great review TracyK and I think you are right to point to the documentary on the DVD as I think it's a superb piece of work by Charles Kiselyak, originally made for the Laser Disc edition (which I have - gosh, it's been 15 years since I got that - yikes!)

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    1. I did wonder why it was made at that particular point in time. We have not watched a laser disc in so long. We should go through our collection and see which ones actually work now.

      It is a great documentary, with lots of depth and variety. I lot of the Southern people interviewed reminded me of relatives, in both good and bad ways.

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  5. I've never seen the movie Tracy although I studied the book for my 'o' level (the exams we take in the UK when we're 16). I absolutely loved it and I must catch up with the film sometime.

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    1. The movie is definitely worth watching and enough different from the book to be interesting. Not greatly different, just a different approach.

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  6. I love the book and the film and have read and watched them numerous times, the whole idea of the race problem was not anything that I had any experience of, so it seemed very strange. I also like the realtionship beteween the children and Boo. I've always been amazed that Dill grew up to be Truman Capote. http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/28/home/capote-obit.html

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    1. The race problem was part of my experience, and actually much worse than illustrated in this movie.

      I had meant to mention that the portrayal of Dill reminded me strongly of some of my younger relatives in the South. Very eerie.

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  7. I've just finished reading The Help for the Southern Lit challenge so your post resonated very strongly with me. I've seen the movie of To Kill a Mockingbird but many, many years ago. I haven't read the book but know I really should. I'm trying to read books from every state of the USA so this would fit Alabama perfectly and help me understand the subject of civil rights and segregation a bit better. Very nice post.

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    1. Thanks, Cath. To Kill a Mockingbird is definitely a perfect book for Alabama.

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  8. I'll have to check out the documentary sometime since I really like the book as well as the movie. Atticus Finch has been my favorite character since I read this in high school!

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    1. Rebecca, the documentary is very good. Hope you get to watch it sometime.

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  9. I read and watched this for an English class and thought both the book and the movie were very well done. I definitely agree with you and Margot that the movie preserved the feel of the book, which is what I think is most important :) Thanks for sharing your review!

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    1. DoingDewey, Thanks for hosting the book to movie challenge. It has been a challenge for me, talking about films. Books are much easier. I am watching (and reviewing) Devil in a Blue Dress soon for the challenge.

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