February is upon us, and the industry insiders at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will soon deign to inform us all which movie we ought to have liked best in 2011. Oscars, schmoscars; in the court of public opinion and word-of-mouth advertising, it’s fairly clear that the most discussed and appreciated film of the year was The Help. That makes this the perfect time for a reappraisal of a cinematic classic that too many of us haven’t seen for far too long – maybe even since it first came out in 1962: To Kill a Mockingbird.
It should be instructive to be able to compare and contrast these two beloved films, old and new, dealing with the issue of racism in the America South in the mid-20th century. Both have been accused, through the lenses of their own eras, of trivializing their black characters or treating them as passive victims; but both have also been widely lauded for their salutary consciousness-raising effects on white audiences.
Directed by Robert Mulligan and produced by Mulligan and Alan J. Pakula, with a screenplay by Horton Foote adapted from Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prizewinning 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird depicts personal battles against intolerance in the fictional small town of Maycomb, Alabama, as seen through the eyes of a scrappy, tomboyish young girl called Scout Finch. Scout, her older brother Jem and their friend Dill (based on Lee’s childhood pal Truman Capote) at first both fear and ridicule, and then later learn to accept and appreciate, the strange neighborhood recluse Boo Radley. Meanwhile, the children witness the principled but doomed efforts of Scout and Jem’s father, attorney Atticus Finch, to exonerate a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman in the town.
Atticus Finch was the role of a lifetime for Gregory Peck, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal and is reported to have identified closely with the character for the rest of his days. In 2003, Atticus Finch won the first-place spot on the American Film Institute (AFI)’s list of Greatest Movie Heroes of the 20th century; many practicing attorneys are said to have cited the character as strongly influencing their choice of law as a profession. Young Mary Badham garnered a Best Supporting Actress nomination as Scout, and Robert Duvall launched a major onscreen career in the role of Boo. Inspiring laughter, tears and idealism in equal measure, the film itself was ranked 25th on AFI’s tenth-anniversary list of the Greatest American Movies of All Time.
One can always rent or download a classic flick like To Kill a Mockingbird for the small screen, but a chance to see it in its full cinematic glory in a beautiful old theatre like the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston is too rare to be missed. It’s being shown this Friday, February 3 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the 2011/12 Friday Film Series at UPAC. General admission seats only cost $5, and children aged 12 and under get in for free with an adult.
Tickets are available at the UPAC box office, located at 602 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; the Bardavon box office, located at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; or via TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com. For more information visit www.bardavon.org.