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To Kill A Mocking Bird - Robert Mulligan - 1962


Good film. Old and cronky and American. I was afraid it would be a bit holy and painfully allegorical, but actually I really enjoyed it. The sound was poor on the dvd I watched, but listenable. The childrens' acting was excellent - always a sign of good direction...


Just saw it again. Same old cronky DVD, same moving story.

The American South. I don't know where the story's exactly set, but it could be set in the same kind of environment as the book I'm reading just now, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou. Can't say much about the book because I'm half way through, but it's gripping for sure. That's probably why I decided to watch the film again tonight.

That whole American black/white thing - well it's existed in other places too, and sure in Britain we've had our share of racism, but our version of that severe 'apartheid' would be the class system, back when the surfs were seen as lower forms of life. In fact, there was a time when the gentry were an average of 6 inches taller than the peasants, and indeed a time when the gentry were predominantly French speaking Normans and the British peasants spoke English. We forget sometimes that Britain was conquered by the Normans in 1066, and those conquerors never went home. Present day English is a kind of amalgamation of the two languages, which is partly why English has twice as many words as most other languages.

(It's an interesting question for a British person: do we say, "We were conquered by the Normans in 1066," or do we say, "In 1066, we conquered the British"? Myself, I feel that both are true. I don't believe that after a thousand years anyone here really bothers about it much, which gives some hope for those more recently invaded countries like Tibet or Palestine. Maybe in 1000 years from now, no one will care much in those countries either.)

And then there's the whole British Empire colonial experience, where whites would lord it over the natives, but it never got imported back to Britain in the same form. So for me, the Deep South is an alien, exotic set-up that I find it challenging to get my head around.

Dramatically, it's a rich seam to mine, the bad old days of the Deep South. Tension and conflict are inherent there, even before things started to change. Well, when were they not changing? The times they were a-changin' right from the abolition of slavery, whenever that was, and they've bin a-changin' ever since.

The film shows the normality of fear in that community. A shot rings out in the night and people come out of their house in alarm. "Oh, it's just Mr Radley shooting at a prowler he saw in his collard patch." Right, so that's normal is it? You see someone in your vegetable garden and you reckon the best thing to do is shoot them, and all your neighbours agree. That's a bit mad isn't it? And yet it seems to be taken as quite normal. Where I was brought up, the guy firing off his gun into the night would be arrested as a dangerous lunatic.

That world was full of dangers, for both 'negroes' and 'whitefolks' alike, and both communities were just as trapped in their roles. Children would have to be educated into the Southern Code as they grew.

(A long time ago I read a very moving account of how it was to grow up white in Virginia in a book called 'The Desegregated Heart' by Sarah Patton Boyle (1963). I don't know if it's still in print - I doubt it somehow.)

I just noticed it seems there was another version of the film made in 1997. Don't really know much about it. I'd like to read the original novel by Harper Lee sometime.

Copyright 2004 Paul Mackilligin