Sunday, February 27, 2000

Kill a Mockingbird review

A Northern Mockingbird is noted for its beautiful songs. It is the Mockingbird that sings for you. “It is a sin to kill the Mockingbird”. This quote, is not only found in the novel,” To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee; but also has been quoted from the dialogue in a great American film “To Kill a Mockingbird”. This American classic was actually based on the novel. For the purpose of this paper, I will be critiquing the 1962 film, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I will also evaluate the components of the plot, cinematography, relationships of the characters, major social conflicts, and conclusion in the following paragraphs. ("Kill A Mockingbird C.E ", DVD, 2006 ) ("To Kill A Mockingbird.", pg 94, 2002)

This culturally significant film portrays a widowed Southern lawyer who defends an African-American of rape of a Caucasian woman during the early 1930s. The film exposes a racial atmosphere while at the same time deals with children’s innocence being exposed to the darker side of reality. This film also promotes a basic human foundation for integrity, which also creates principle and strong personal character. ("Kill A Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006 ) (Art of Being Human., pp 320-21, 2009)

The time setting occurs in a small southern town in the early 1930s during the Great Depression era. Poverty has taken its impact on the town’s people; however, the dominance of being prejudiced takes its toll on the people in it. The viewer establishes another element of the movie which is the 'fear of the unknown'. This applies to one of the characters named Boo Radley who appears to be the town’s enigma because not much is known about him. Many stories had been whispered among the adults and children regarding the evils done by this reclusive young man. ("Kill A Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006 )

Another prominent character which is exposed from the movie is a man named Atticus, who faces the day to day events, raising his children with his maid Calpurnia. Atticus, a single parent attorney, who holds his principles as the highest standard regardless of consequences. He also promotes well-being and education for his children. One can easily see Atticus’s relationship between he and his children, Scout and Jem, is based upon a love with a guiding and steady hand. Tom Robinson, the accused, had the reputation of being an upright, honest, family man in his black community. Bob Ewell, another important character, took poverty to the negative side of the spectrum. He exposes his prejudice and ill fate. In contrast to Mr. Robinson, Bob Ewell was a town’s drunk, unbeliever in education and acted out his hate and despise through his daughter Mayella. Mayella, another character, is trapped in poverty and experiences a world without love. ("Kill A Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006)

Figuratively speaking, the south was brought to Hollywood. Director Robert Mulligan and Producer Alan Pakula had staff research the south for a perfect setting for the movie. After doing a lot of research in the South as far as staging, the staging director decided it was more cost worthy to salvage bungalows from a Southern town that were marked to be torn down for a Los Angeles freeway. The cost of the movie was approximately $250,000. The movie setting was actually constructed in 15 acre back lot of Universal Studios. The set contained 30 buildings divided in two sections. Downtown area was one section that included the court house, surrounding stores, and main street. The other section included family homes and residential streets. Another interesting fact is the two men who constructed town, bought the houses from Monroevilla; home of Harper Lee, and moved them to Hollywood to be a replica of it. The cost to the studio was $25,000 vs. $125,000 if they had to build it from scrap. ("Kill A Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006 ) ("Production Notes", DVD, 2006)

The film was done in black and white which had a great impact in narrowing down the era of which the movie was supposed to take place. Like a photograph from a camera, black and white film produced characters and scenery with vividness. With black and white film, one was able to see the pattern contrast of shadow more vividly in some scenes that promoted a certain mood that the film maker wanted to establish. In some scenes, it accelerated the mood. An example of this is when Atticus was sitting outside the jailhouse for the Sherriff, while protecting Robinson from the Mob. The viewer had an intense image of the situation. Another example, would be the ghostly shadow that was reflected on Boo's house. Both of these scenes would have been obscured if the film was done in color. ("Kill A Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006 ) (Art of Being Human, pg 300, 2009) ("Production Notes", DVD, 2006)

The film's introduction music had a child-like theme. The film starts out with a child humming without accompaniment and a watch ticking. It is not until a marble rolling and hits another marble that the introduction music fades in. In order to continue this child-like flavor in the music, the composer wanted to establish the simplicity of a lone piano and coordinate it as if a child was playing it. The music in the rest of the movie was sparse; however, the impact that the music created was very affective. A good example of this was a scene of Boo's house. The music was mysterious and ghostly; thereby, created a mysterious mood for the viewer. ("Kill A Mockingbird CE", DVD, 2006 ) (Production notes, DVD, 2006)

The camera movement was very controlled and very specific very effectively. In this film, a lot of stills were produced instead of panning. A lot of the camera shots were directed from a child point-of-view. One scene especially accented this view of thought. The camera focused on Boo’s house allowing the viewer to observe an unoccupied swing gently move back and forth from the night’s gentle breeze; thereby, creating an eeriness of the scene. The total ghostly amplification of this scene was accented with music and sounds of the night such as the owl’s hoot. This highlighted the effect of the moment. A subtle zooming-in was another aspect of camera usage. This kind of usage of the camera was used to create an atmospheric view of the town. The camera usage of close-ups was used for enormous power and impact. This was a prominent camera technique that was used in the film. One good example of close-up was portrayed in Atticus reading the book to Scout while at bed time. This scene was highlighted with a still camera. The shape and design of the court-house was constructed in such a way in order for the camera to maintain focus on the children and the segregation of the townspeople during the court scene. ("Kill the Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006)(Art of Being Human, pp 299-303, 2009)

The rhythm of the plot moved at a southern pace without a lot of melodrama. The film's Southern flavor was also amplified though the narration in the film. This was created by using a mature female, with a Southern accent, telling the story of her childhood. I thought this was cleverly done as well as informative. I believe the producer not only wanted the impact that the narration provided for the viewer, but also formulated the plot better. ("Kill the Mockingbird", DVD, 2K6)("Production Notes", DVD, 2K6)

The characters who were chosen in this film were unknown Broadway actors. The producer wanted to arouse the ‘sense of discovery’ to the viewer. The only exceptions were Gregory Peck who played Atticus, James Anderson who played Bob Ewell, and Paul Fix who played Judge Taylor. Robert Duvall was not an established actor at the time of the film. The children of Atticus Finch, Scout, and Jem were unknown, and non-professionals to the public. The young girl Mary Boldham who played Scout had done no acting at all, and the young child, Phillip Alcord, who played Jem acted only in an amateur stage production in his home town. The children in the film were encouraged to be themselves and received minimal directions from the director. The director gave them free reigns in order to accomplish the children's natural effect. There was no over-dramatization of the characters in the movie. To show the vulnerability of this film at the time of the release, one actor, Jimmy Stewart refused the major role of Atticus, because it was too liberal for him. Either Jimmy Stewart or Gregory Peck would have been a good pick for Atticus in my opinion, but Mr. Peck won out and reaped an Oscar for his “impeccable” star performance. Another interesting fact about the characters was James Anderson who played Bob Ewell actually played the part with hardly acting. In real life, he was a drunk and a very aggressive mean man; however, in this film he promised the director that he would behave himself on and off the set while filming. ("Kill A Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006 )("Cast and Filmmakers", DVD, 2006)

The major social conflicts were very prominent in this film. The segregation of black and white in the town was very prominent. The individual who possessed a different view was discriminated against for not giving into the norm. Two examples, I would like to highlight with this statement is Atticus view about people, regardless of race, is that “you do not know what another man is thinking until you walk in his skin” Atticus was a man of his word and honor and he believed everyone deserved respect and understanding. The second example, is even though Atticus proved that Tom Robinson was not guilty, the townspeople rejected that fact, because in their view the blacks were always guilty. Another element this film accomplished was the ‘fear of the unknown’ as I mentioned earlier. This was especially evident in how the town’s people treated Boo Radley. They foolishly made wild assumptions about him and tagged him as an enigma in the town. At the end, it took a child to prove them wrong. Thirdly, Robinson, who was wrongly accused and lost his life was essentially due to racism. Here is a righteous man, who did not commit a crime and because he was born with the wrong skin color; the jury and the community believed a town’s drunk and ill-spirited young lady of the accusations. The real crime here was Bob Ewell’s covering his guilt and the town’s people promoting their prejudices. ("Kill a Mockingbird", DVD, 2006)

Scout's and Jem's views also changed throughout the story from a child's innocence to the growing reality of society. There are several events that I think evolve change in the children. Their exposure to the angry towns people in front of the jail house; their father's perseverance to justice and dignity, the injustice done to Robinson during the trial and afterwards; the actions of Bob Ewell to their father and to themselves; their acquaintance with their new worldly child friend and finally the reality of Boo who ended up to be the savior to the children. Scout's nonjudgmental, child's compassion towards Boo at the end of the story made a big impact on how the children had changed. ("Kill A Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006)

The racial undertones of the story were active in the 1930s to the 1960s. It was a time where Klu Klux Klan had a heavy hand on society in the South. Racial inequality was very much a commonplace. Even today there remains some racial prejudice in our society. A second lesson from this film might be concluded on how acts of integrity and strong principles can promote strong personal character. Thirdly, we cannot hide wrong doings of others from our children, but we can encourage wisdom and moral values. Lastly, the film “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a story in itself. It is a story of an imperfect life that produces hope for the future. As quoted earlier “to kill a mockingbird is a sin”, another way one might view these words is as a philosophical advice for one to maintain an open mind in order to promote the decency in all of us. ("Kill A Mockingbird Collector's Edition", DVD, 2006)

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