Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hey Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill A Mockingbird

Release Date: 2010
Director: Mary Murphy
Run time: 82 minutes
Seen on: Netflix DVD, Netflix Instantly, PBS' "American Masters"
Recommended: Yes, this makes me want to read the book all over again and buy the documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%

This documentary was recommended to me by my Facebook feed. Since I 'Liked' "To Kill A Mockingbird," I get updates and information periodically on my feed. I added it to my list immediately after. This was required reading in high school and has been one of my favorite books ever since.
This documentary explores Harper Lee and the origins of the book. Harper Lee has not granted any interviews since 1964, so the documentary relies on archival interviews and interviews with her friends and family. It also interviews influential celebrities and authors such as Tom Brokaw, Oprah Winfrey, James McBride, and James Patterson.
I had always loved "Mockingbird" since I read it in high school. It became my go-to travel book. I know the story so well that I can read passages from it and be satisfied. It is so well written that one chapter is sufficient to be satisfied and stop. However, I had not fully realized the extent of the book's impact on generations of readers. The doc becomes a fly on the wall and enters classroom discussions. One teacher asks students to talk about the passages that will stick with them. As one student speaks about Tom Robinson's trial, imprisonment, and violent death he says what all of us think, "I keep thinking about it. I think it will stay with me for a long time." Over ten years later, this book has stayed with me "for a long time" too.
The documentary also focuses on the basis for main characters. Atticus was the original focus of the book. The original title of "Mockingbird" was "Atticus." After many years of writing and editing, the book came to be the creation that we know and love today. Nelle Harper Lee's father was a lawyer in Alabama. He was described as being the only person they had ever know that had absolutely no ego. Although Atticus is his own person, shadows of her father are seen in his description. One cannot believe that there is a real person as just and good as Atticus, but as one writer describes, it does not mean that we should not strive to be like him.
This documentary also gives us a greater understanding of the depth of the characters. It shows how Harper Lee's life in Alabama gave a richness and depth of characters. Besides Atticus, one learns the reality of Maycomb, the inspiration for Dill, and the Lee's personal similarities to both Scout and Boo. The doc reminded me of some of my favorite female characters: Scout Finch, Anne Shirley, and Jo March.
Most importantly, the doc shows the impact of the book on celebrities, authors, and school students. It shows how both the book and the movie changed how people thought about racism, their upbringing, and Southern life. One of the most powerful elements of the doc include the reading of select passages. Even these short excerpts remind me of why I love this book.
To prevent myself from rambling about my favorite book, I will leave you with the opening paragraph. If you have not read it, I hope this inspires you to read it for the first time. If you have read it, I hope you will take the time to read it again.
"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn't have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt. "
This excerpt doesn't even mention the overall theme of racism in the South, yet it has everything to do with the story. A masterpiece of the innocence of youth with the wisdom of justice.

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