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Posted On: Oct. 31, 2017
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Final Film Critique An Analysis of “To Kill a Mocking Bird” Student’s name Course name and number Instructor’s name Date submitted Introduction Films do reflect reality and the society’s changing attitudes towards beliefs. A classic example is that of movie “To Kill a Mockingbird “. Americans started living as a segregated society at the beginning of the 20th century. The racial issue was raising its ugly head around the time in the country. Therefore, it is no wonder that the films produced in this era do reflect the society’s changing attitudes towards it. Race has always remained a controversial topic since ages. It is definitely a sensitive issue but the priorities and feelings as well as attitudes have been changing with accompanying gains and losses. Talking about racial issues is still a taboo as it has remained a controversial issue till date and people definitely feel uncomfortable talking about it openly. Films are still a place where racial issues keep cropping up repeatedly. To analyze further, one can say that films reflect reality and depict the society’s changing attitudes towards beliefs. Racism has been a matter of concern in the United States since quite some time. Its origin is from the colonial era. In this era, racism had a legal sanctity, which resulted into a heavy financial burden on Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latin Americans and more particularly on African Americans. European Americans, especially Anglo Americans enjoyed a special privilege in terms of literacy, immigration, voting rights and citizenship land acquisition and criminal procedure over periods of time which extended from early 17th century and as late as the 1960s. Man other non English European immigration groups also suffered due to this discrimination and other forms of racial discrimination in the American society. These included reservations for Native Americans, segregation and residential schools for Native Americans as well. By mid 20th century, formal racial discrimination was officially banned as it was seen as a socially unacceptable and also morally repugnant (Newman 1968).However, the sad part is that historical racism continues to be reflected in socio-economic inequality and can be seen in employment, housing, education, lending and even government. Prejudice against other races, is one phenomenon, which still continues in the U.S. To Kill a Mocking Bird is a movie which is true reflection of the times .The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize – winning autobiographical novel written by Harper Lee and was translated into a film in 1962 by Horton Foote and the producer/director team of Robert Mulligan and Alan J. Paula. The setting of the movie is in a small Alabama town in the 1930s and the story focuses on conscientiously honest, highly respected lawyer Atticus Finch, which was magnificently personified by famous actor, Gregory Peck. Finch puts his career on the guillotine when he agrees to represent Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man accused of rape of a white woman. The trial and the events surrounding it are seen through the eyes of Finch's six-year-old daughter Scout (Mary Badham). While Robinson's trial gives the film its momentum, there are plenty of anecdotal occurrences before and after the court date for example:- Scout's ever-strengthening bond with older brother Jem (Philip Alford), her friendship with precocious young Dill Harris (a character based on Lee's childhood buddy Truman Capote and played by John Megan), her father's no-nonsense reactions to such life-and-death crises as a rampaging mad dog, and especially Scout's reactions to, and relationship with, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall in his movie debut), the reclusive "village idiot" who turns out to be her salvation when she is attacked by a venomous racist. To Kill a Mockingbird won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Art Direction. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi "To Kill a Mockingbird" can be called a time capsule which preserves the hopes and sentiments from a kinder, gentler, more naive America. It was released in December 1962, the last month of the last year of the gratification of the postwar years. Its irony can be felt now when we go back to the history as the following November, John F. Kennedy would be assassinated. One cannot deny the truth of what has happened as nothing would ever be the same again -- not after the deaths of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, not after the war in Vietnam, certainly not after September 11, 2001. The most hopeful development during that period for America was the civil rights movement, which dealt a series of legal and moral blows to racism. But "To Kill a Mockingbird," set in Maycomb, Alabama, in 1932, uses the realities of its time only as a backdrop for the portrait of a brave white liberal. The movie has remained the favorite of many people and more significantly the movie and the Harper Lee novel on which it is based have innumerable number of admirers. While the book is beautifully written and film, it should be noted that it is not a record of how things were at that period of time but, of how we once liked to think of them. The movie focuses on the coming of age of three young children, especially the tomboy Scout, gains strength from her point of view: It sees the good and evil of the world through the eyes of a six-year-old child. The movie shifts the emphasis to the character of her father, Atticus Finch, but from this new point of view doesn't see as much as an adult in that time and place should see. Maycomb is portrayed by director Robert Mulligan as a "tired old town" of dirt roads, picket fences, climbing vines, front porches held up by pillars of brick, rocking chairs, and Panama hats. Scout (Mary Badham) and her 10-year-old brother Jem (Philip Alford) live with their widowed father Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) and their black housekeeper Calpurnia (Estelle Evans). They make friends with a new neighbor named "Dill" Harris (John Megna), who wears glasses, speaks with an expanded vocabulary, is small for his age, and is said to be inspired by Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote. Atticus goes off every morning to his law office downtown, and the children play through lazy hot days. Their imagination is much engaged by the Radley house, which is located right down the street, which seems always dark, shaded and closed. Jem tells Dill that Mr. Radley keeps his son Boo chained to a bed in the house, and describes Boo breathlessly: "Judging from his tracks, he's about six and a half feet tall. He eats raw squirrels and all the cats he can catch. There's a long, jagged scar that runs all the way across his face. His teeth are yellow and rotten. His eyes are popped. And he drools most of the time." Of course the first detail reveals Jem has never seen Boo. Into this peaceful calm atmosphere, drops a thunderbolt. Atticus is asked by the town judge to defend a black man named Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), who has been accused of raping a poor white girl named Mayella Violet Ewell (Collin Wilcox). White opinion is of course presumably, much against the black man, who is recognized as guilty, and Mayelle's father Bob (James Anderson) pays a threatening call on Atticus, indirectly threatening his children. The children are also taunted at school, and get in fights; Atticus explains to them why he is defending a Negro, and warns them against using the word "nigger." The courtroom scenes are the most celebrated in the movie; they make it perfectly clear that Tom Robinson is innocent, that no rape occurred, that Maybelle came on to Robinson, that he tried to flee, that Bob Ewell beat his own daughter, and she lied about it out of shame for feeling attracted to a black man. Atticus' summing up to the jury is one of Gregory Peck's great scenes, but of course , as expected , the all-white jury finds Tom Robinson guilty anyway. The verdict is greeted by an eerie quiet: No shouts of triumph from Bob Ewell, no cries of protests by the blacks in the courtroom gallery. The whites file out quickly, but the blacks remain and stand silently in honor of Atticus as he walks out a little later. Scout and her brother sat up with the blacks throughout the trial, and now a minister tells her: "Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your father's passin'." The flaw of the movie here is that the conviction of Tom Robinson is not the point of the scene, which looks right past him to focus on the nobility of Atticus Finch (( Bloom 2007).One also wonders at the general lack of emotion in the courtroom, and the movie only grows more baffling by what happens in the next scene. Atticus is told by the sheriff that while Tom Robinson was being taken for safekeeping to nearby Abbottsville, he broke loose and tried to run away. As Atticus repeats the story, “The deputy called out to him to stop. Tom didn't stop. He shot at him to wound him and missed his aim. Killed him. The deputy says Tom just ran like a crazy man." Scout’s belief in what happened is understandable. However what is incredible is that Atticus Finch, an adult liberal resident of the Deep South in 1932, has no questions about this version (Slawson 1992). In 1962 it is possible that some (white) audiences would believe that Tom Robinson was accidentally killed while trying to escape, but in the current times, such stories are met with a weary cynicism. The construction of the following scene is highly improbable. Atticus drives out to Tom Robinson's house to break the sad news to his widow, Helen. She is played by Kim Hamilton (who is not credited, and indeed has no speaking lines in a film that finds time for dialog by two superfluous white neighbors of the Finches). On the porch, one sees several male friends and relatives. Suddenly , Bob Ewell, the contemptible father who beat his girl into lying, lurches out of the shadows and says to one of them, "Boy, go in the house and bring out Atticus Finch." One of the men does so, Ewell spits in Atticus's face, and Atticus stares him down and drives away. The black people in this scene are not treated as characters, but as props, and kept entirely in long shot. The close-ups are reserved for the white hero and villain. This is what makes the scene incredulous and hard to believe. One can give a benefit of doubt to the director with the assumption that in 1932 the situation was such in Alabama that this white man, who the people on that porch had seen lie to convict Tom Robinson, could walk up to them alone after they had just learned he had been killed, call one of them "boy," and not be touched. If black fear of whites was that deep in those days, then the rest of the movie exists in a dream and make believe world. The upbeat payoff involves Ewell's cowardly attack on Scout and Jem, and the sudden appearance of the mysterious Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his first screen performance), to save them. Ewell is found dead with a knife under his ribs. Boo materializes inside the Finch house, is identified by Scout as her savior, and they're soon sitting side by side on the front porch swing. The sheriff decides that no good would be served by accusing Boo of the death of Ewell. That would be like "killing a mockingbird," and we know from earlier in the film that you can shoot all the bluejays you want, but not mockingbirds -- because all they do is sing to bring music to the garden. Not exactly a description of the silent Boo Radley, but we get the satirical intention of the writer. The trickiest part of the story is to know that it brings Boo Radley in literally from the wings as a distraction from the facts: An innocent black man was framed for a crime that never took place, he was convicted by a white jury in the face of overwhelming evidence, and he was shot dead in problematic circumstances. Now we are expected to feel good because the events got Boo out of the house. That Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell may be justice, but it is not parity. The sheriff says, "There's a black man dead for no reason, and now the man responsible for it is dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time." But it is doubtful if either Tom Robinson or Bob Ewell would want to be buried by the other. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is, as said earlier, a time capsule. It expresses the liberal pieties of a more innocent time, the early 1960s, and it goes very easy on the realities of small-town Alabama in the 1930s. One of the most dramatic scenes shows a lynch mob facing Atticus, who is all by himself on the jailhouse steps the night before Tom Robinson's trial. The mob is armed and prepared to break in and hang Robinson, but Scout bursts onto the scene, recognizes a poor farmer who has been befriended by her father, and shames him (and all the other men) into leaving. Her speech is a calculated strategic exercise, masked as the innocent words of a child; one shot of her eyes shows she realizes exactly what she's doing. Could a child turn away a lynch mob at that time, in that place? It is a nice feeling if one is allowed to think that way. To Kill a Mocking Bird is an astonishing motion picture by any standards. Unfortunately it failed to win the Best Picture Oscar award as it had to compete with the then running Lawrence of Arabia. Some of the unassuming might call this a "courtroom drama", but that would be setting the film short in so many areas: scope, tone, and thematic content, to name a few. It is a fact that To Kill a Mockingbird features a lengthy courtroom sequence, but, while that action may be at the heart of the film's storyline, it is only one of dozens of moments that, taken in consideration, make this the film unique in its own way. Initially there were no takers of the novel as To Kill a Mockingbird was not the focus of a studio bidding war because it lacked many of the "accepted" staples of successful motion pictures - there is no action, no love story, and the villain doesn't get a flashy retribution. Nevertheless, producer Alan Pakula and director Robert Mulligan were convinced that there was a great story to be told, and, when they shared their vision of the movie with Gregory Peck, Peck agreed to headline the cast. Horton Foote was initially reluctant to write the screenplay because he revered the novel and was afraid of not doing it justice - a concern easily dismissed as unfounded based upon the finished product. While there are plenty of Civil Rights injustices to be found in the news headlines today, these are minimal compared to what was occurring when To Kill a Mockingbird went into production. The early '60s were a powder keg, with acts of bigotry and racial hatred peppering the evening news as the Civil Rights movement gained momentum. For a film as clear-eyed and unflinching as this one to arrive in theaters during such a turbulent period is nothing short of astounding. To Kill a Mockingbird confronts prejudice head-on, and illustrates that justice is not always color-blind. This is one instance when right does not triumph, and everyone in the audience is aware of it. Today, one wonders if a story like this could be told, or if the tide of political correctness and audience disinclination to appreciate anything with a downbeat resolution would force a change. To Kill a Mockingbird presents its story through the eyes of children, and one child in particular - Scout (who is the stand-in for writer Lee). Director Robert Mulligan is unwavering throughout the course of this movie to ensure that the point-of-view remains constant. The actions of all the characters are filtered through the eyes of Jem and Scout. We see Atticus as both a noble lawyer and a loving father. Bob Ewell is a monster. Tom Robinson is a tragic figure. And Boo Radley is the Bogeyman - the personification of mystery that hangs thick in the air on summer nights. A collateral aspect of this approach allows the filmmakers to examine the difference between how children and adults perceive danger. During one scene, an angry mob advances upon Atticus as he stands watch outside the jail where Tom is being held. From an objective vantage point, this would be viewed as a highly unstable situation, yet Jem and Scout are unafraid. After all, Atticus is there and they are simply standing by his side. Nevertheless, in their encounters with Boo, limited though they may be, the children are frightened witless (even though, as we learn later, Boo is a gentle man, and one of his actions transforms him from Bogeyman to Savior in Scout's eyes). For the most part, Mulligan's style is subdued. He avoids grandstanding and allows the emotional power of the story to work without overt manipulation. The strongest piece of evidence of this arises in the aftermath of the court scene. Atticus has lost, but has fought valiantly, and, as he gathers his paper and leaves the building, the black observers rise and silently salute him. There is no clapping and the music score does not intrusively demand that we understand that this is an important moment in what it says about justice and race relations (Wieviorka 1995). One of To Kill a Mockingbird's strengths is the powerful sense of time and place it develops. Ironically, for a movie that so forcefully evokes a setting, this was not filmed on-location. Before To Kill a Mockingbird went into production, Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula took a team to Lee's hometown of Monroeville, but found it unsuitable for filming. Modernization had crowed out the quaintness of 30 years prior, rending the town unable to represent itself in the 1930s. So, Mulligan and Pakula had a "replica" of Monroeville constructed on a Universal Pictures backlot. The children's world - a simple street lined by several houses - is the result of movie-making magic. And, when Lee saw it, she commented upon how perfect the illusion was. Russell Harlan's black-and-white cinematography is evocative, transporting us to the depression-era Deep South. We don't just observe Maycomb from a distance. We feel it. We are there. The opening voiceover monologue establishes the time and place in a tangible manner that the film never loses. And the immediacy of the setting enhances the believability of the characters. It is with these words that To Kill a Mockingbird begins: "Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932, when I first knew it. Somehow, it was hotter then. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was 24 hours long, but seemed longer. There's no hurry, for there's nowhere to go and nothing to buy, and no money to buy it with, although Maycomb County has recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself. That summer, I was six years old." Those words alone cast a spell. Coupled with the images, they function as a time machine. Two well-known names appear in the cast list of To Kill a Mockingbird. The "big" star is Gregory Peck, who, at the time, was in the prime of his career. During the previous three years, he had appeared in a number of high-profile productions, including How the West Was Won, Cape Fear, The Guns of Navarone, and On the Beach. For the role of Atticus, which earned him his only Best Actor Oscar, Peck toned down his approach and gave a contained performance that illustrated Atticus’ control while hinting at his great passion for justice and his children? The second easily recognized name belongs to Robert Duvall. In 1962, Duvall was an unknown. To Kill a Mockingbird was his first role, but his performances as the silent, sensitive Boo brought him to the notice of directors around Hollywood. For Duvall, the role is a challenge, since he is required to convey the essence of Boo through body language and expressions. And Duvall's screen time is limited. Boo is not seen until the end of the film, after Bob Ewell has attacked Scout and Jem. It is in defense of Boo (who saved his children) that Atticus is forced to set aside one of his most cherished principles. According to Erin Collazo Miller (who reviewed the movie), the two most important members of the cast are Mary Badham and Phillip Alford, who play Scout and Jem. Despite being non-professionals with no previous experience, these two are excellent and unaffected in their performances. There is none of the awkwardness that is often associated with younger actors (especially those who are being exposed for the first time to movie cameras). The film's success rests in large part upon their effectiveness and ability to identify with their characters. To Kill a Mockingbird has only one human bad guy (considering, of course, that the pervasive bigotry infecting the South during the '30s is the chief villain) - the racist Bob Ewell, who is portrayed with chilling malevolence by James Anderson, an actor who lobbied for the job, claiming that he understood the character. By all accounts, Anderson had the reputation of being difficult to work with and did not always get along with his co-stars, but his performance speaks loudly. Regardless of how much of Ewell is in Anderson, it's a memorable example of acting. By contrast, Brock Peters plays Tom Robinson with quiet nobility. The script demands that we never question Tom's innocence, and Peters ensures that this is the case. During the past nine decades of the existence of films, blacks were mostly invisible in films except when being portrayed as a funny character. They were not to be seen in any major roles as such. It was only when the studios realized the business potential of a sizable black community, who were willing to pay to watch themselves on screen that films showing blacks in different shades of reality started getting made. To Kill a Mockingbird directed by Robert Mulligan, based on the novel of the same name written by Harper Lee won a Pulitzer Prize and is still loved as masterpiece in the art of storytelling. The character of Atticus Finch, a lawyer in a small southern town of Maycomb, Alabama was played by Gregory Peck. He won an Academy award for a successful and impressive portrayal of this character. Finch unsuccessfully defends his client Tom Robinson, who is accused of assaulting a white woman. Finch’s arguments, especially in the closing scene are highly appreciated by the audience, even though he loses the case in front of the all – white jury. Robinson is shot dead by unknown people in mysterious circumstances. Critics are of the opinion that this movie, even though adjudged as the 25th best movie of its time, is only a reflection of what was prevalent at that time period. Some others believe that it is a portrait of a brave white liberal which is depicted against the backdrop of the realities existing at that period of time. In contrast another film Do the Right Thing shows the miseries of blacks as a race with depiction of striking images and funny frames. These capture the imagination of the viewers and catapult them into a thought provoking mood to understand the reasons for racism and make them realize their own responsibility towards this menace. Conclusion The movie To Kill a Mockingbird created a sense of ambiguity in the minds of the audience. This in turn made people think and condemn the racial violence, while to others it looked as if it is promoting racial violence. The depiction of society’s current attitude to its problems cannot be denied. In fact this is what is to be appreciated. To Kill a Mockingbird is a faithful adaptation of one of the 20th century's most important American works of literature. It is also a masterpiece in its own right. This is one of those rare productions where everything is in place - a superior script, a perfect cast, and a director who has a clear vision and achieves what he sets out to do. To Kill a Mockingbird is universally recognized as a classic, and the label is well deserved. References Bloom H. (2007) Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird Infobase Publishing Newman J. (1968) Race; migration and integration Helicon Wieviorka M. (1995) The arena of racism SAGE Erin Collazo Miller To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Book Review accessed on December 12th 2011. Slawson J. (1992) Robert Duvall St. Martin's Press Important hallmarks of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird Released on: 1962/12/25 Running length 2:09 MPAA classification: NR (Mature Themes, Violence) Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, James Anderson, Robert Duvall, Brock Peters, Estelle Evans, Collin Wilcox, William Windom, John Megna Director: Robert Mulligan Screenplay: Horton Foote, based on the novel by Harper Lee Cinematography: Russell Harlan Music: Elmer Bernstein U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures