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To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird  

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  1. 1. Does "To Kill A Mockingbird" belong on the AFI list?

    • Yes 🐦
      12
    • No 💀
      4

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  • Poll closed on 05/24/19 at 07:00 AM

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Amy & Paul cross-examine 1962’s Southern drama To Kill A Mockingbird! They compare the slice-of-life storytelling to later filmmakers like Richard Linklater, reveal Brock Peters’ on-set nickname, and ask whether the film can be considered separately from the book. Plus: author and professor Wayne Flynt talks about his friendship with Harper Lee in her later years.

For Vertigo week, what other mental disorders could be the title of a Hitchcock film? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

This episode is brought to you by Turo (www.turo.com code: UNSPOOLED) and Ooni Wood Fired Pizza Oven (www.ooni.com code: UNSPOOLED).

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I agree that it belongs on the list.  Somehow I grew up not having read the book nor having seen the film.  Like Paul and Amy, I always looked at it as a "homework movie".  What a delightful film!  That's why I like this podcast.  It gives me the excuse to watch many of these films that I've missed.

Regarding their discussion on the accents:
I live in Boston and have family in the Georgia and Texas.  In all of those places I have several close people to me who have fought and trained themselves to get rid of their childhood/cultural accents in order to distance themselves from the stereotype associated with those accents.  So, for me, it's not unrealistic that Atticus Finch might have worked to have a more polished accent in , say, law school or something.

My favorite example is Jonathan Harris who payed Doctor Smith on the original Lost in Space.  He was born and raised in The Bronx, NY.  When asked about how he got rid of his accent he replied in that Doctor Smith voice, "I worked very hard at it, my dear boy."

 

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You talk about George R. R. Martin leaving the writing of the tv show Game of Thrones to others, but he wrote an episode for each of the first four seasons.

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45 minutes ago, FictionIsntReal said:

You talk about George R. R. Martin leaving the writing of the tv show Game of Thrones to others, but he wrote an episode for each of the first four seasons.

Yes, and Paul's other example is even worse, as J.K. Rowling had an enormous amount of creative control over the Harry Potter films, and she has written the screenplay for each Fantastic Beasts film.  But Paul's point still stands, in that Harper Lee did not have much of anything to do with the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, nor do most authors of adapted novels.  And that's what makes this adaptation feel so anomalous, because it manages to capture the spirit of the novel so well while still making the changes necessary to translate it to a new medium.  I feel like screenwriters who adapt major works of literature don't get enough credit, because turning a 280-300 page novel into a 120-130 page screenplay while still respecting the plot, themes, and character arcs can be a major task.  (Case in point: Although I still enjoy One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, we talked a lot that episode about how fans of Kesey's novel, and Kesey himself, were majorly disappointed by choices made in the film.  And don't get me started again on Tom Bombadil.)  Horton Foote's screenplay, as well as Robert Mulligan's direction and the many solid performances, including a career-defining performance by Gregory Peck, ensure that this film is more than just "the movie version" of a beloved piece of literature.  It's a wonderful film in its own right, and deserves a place on the AFI list.

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I never understood the attachment to Tom Bombadil! He's not that big of a deal, is he?

I am still torn though on Mockingbird, not on how much I love it because I do, but on how much it really adds/changes from the book. Most of the positives I heard Paul and Amy mention are straight up from the book. Paul said the direction was sort of 'avant garde' and I'm not so sure I agree, it feels fairly straightforward and simple to me. I mean, obviously, not screwing up a very popular book is not an easy thing to do, so credit there. But as a top-100 film of all-time? What does this film do cinematically that's all so special?

For example, I think the Lord of the Rings should be on there as an adaption, because it adapts such a complicated work of fantasy history and it pushed computer effects much further than just about anything before it. But I'm a little less sure about Mockingbird, which I'm having a hard time seeing on its own separate from the book. I'm leaning to the acting (by Peck and the kids and everyone!) as being enough to push it there, but I'm still a tiny bit torn.

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7 hours ago, JeffreyMcDonald said:

Regarding their discussion on the accents:
I live in Boston and have family in the Georgia and Texas.  In all of those places I have several close people to me who have fought and trained themselves to get rid of their childhood/cultural accents in order to distance themselves from the stereotype associated with those accents.  So, for me, it's not unrealistic that Atticus Finch might have worked to have a more polished accent in , say, law school or something.

I haven't listened to the episode yet so I'm not sure of the context, but I will say that I moved to Georgia several years ago and I would say that 85% of the people I've encountered have little to no accent. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of one person who does. And while I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions, I feel like to have a southern accent is almost an affectation at this point.  

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15 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

I haven't listened to the episode yet so I'm not sure of the context, but I will say that I moved to Georgia several years ago and I would say that 85% of the people I've encountered have little to no accent. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of one person who does. And while I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions, I feel like to have a southern accent is almost an affectation at this point.  

Was that in a larger city, though? I wonder if people in small towns (like in the movie) are more likely to have strong accents.

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32 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

Was that in a larger city, though? I wonder if people in small towns (like in the movie) are more likely to have strong accents.

I traveled a lot when I first moved here - small, medium, big towns. It’s all over Georgia.

Now, to be fair, it could be a education/class thing. There are certainly MORE people with accents in podunk towns, but not enough to assume that everybody just has one. I imagine it’s like a New York City accent. Paul’s from New York and doesn’t have a New York accent. Jason Mantzoukas is from the Boston area and doesn’t have a Boston accent. I feel like the assumption is just stereotyping.

Again, I haven’t listened to the episode so I don’t know the context, but if it’s just “lives in small Southern town, why doesn’t he sound like Foghorn Leghorn” then that’s ridiculous.

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25 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

Again, I haven’t listened to the episode so I don’t know the context, but if it’s just “lives in small Southern town, why doesn’t he sound like Foghorn Leghorn” then that’s ridiculous.

A bit, but they also note that Atticus is supposed to come off as an educated guy, someone who is set apart from the rest of the town in that way, so it kind of makes sense.

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15 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

I haven't listened to the episode yet so I'm not sure of the context, but I will say that I moved to Georgia several years ago and I would say that 85% of the people I've encountered have little to no accent. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of one person who does. And while I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions, I feel like to have a southern accent is almost an affectation at this point.  

I'm sorry to break it to you, but if you can't hear the accent, it means you have the accent too. 😜

In all seriousness though, I was surprised by the prevalence of the southern accent when I moved to West Virginia (as far as urban vs. rural, there's really no such thing as urban West Virginia), although the farther north in the state you go, the more the accent sounds like a mix of the Pittsburgh/western PA accent and a southern accent, but the southernness definitely wins out (the "yinz" to "y'all" ratio is pretty minuscule).  So there are plenty of variations of southern accents, not just in different states but in different regions of the same state, so I could buy the idea that the Georgia accents are milder in some way than those of other areas.

As far as Gregory Peck's accent, I also found it believable that a well-educated, well-read, and well-spoken man in Alabama could sound like that, which is to say there is just the slightest hint of a southern accent.  I'd love to hear what a linguist has to say about how what factors determine the gaining or losing of an accent though.

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21 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I never understood the attachment to Tom Bombadil! He's not that big of a deal, is he?

I am still torn though on Mockingbird, not on how much I love it because I do, but on how much it really adds/changes from the book. Most of the positives I heard Paul and Amy mention are straight up from the book. Paul said the direction was sort of 'avant garde' and I'm not so sure I agree, it feels fairly straightforward and simple to me. I mean, obviously, not screwing up a very popular book is not an easy thing to do, so credit there. But as a top-100 film of all-time? What does this film do cinematically that's all so special?

For example, I think the Lord of the Rings should be on there as an adaption, because it adapts such a complicated work of fantasy history and it pushed computer effects much further than just about anything before it. But I'm a little less sure about Mockingbird, which I'm having a hard time seeing on its own separate from the book. I'm leaning to the acting (by Peck and the kids and everyone!) as being enough to push it there, but I'm still a tiny bit torn.

I agree. I'm not sure I've watched the whole thing from start to finish, so I'm watching that tomorrow. I don't know if I'll be able to completely divorce it from the book. And, aside from maybe being a faithful adaptation of a novel, I'm not sue it belongs on the AFI 100. But maybe at the time it was more revolutionary, and it's certainly earned its place in pop culture. It always pops up as one of the top legal films, and Atticus Finch always pops up as one of the most inspiring fictional lawyers, but I'm not sure I agree. Personally, I'd rather see My Cousin Vinny on the list.

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23 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Paul said the direction was sort of 'avant garde' and I'm not so sure I agree, it feels fairly straightforward and simple to me.

I'm only 1/2 hour into this revisit (last time was probably 10th grade, so 25 years).  In terms of camera work, I remembered the opening credits were supposed to be interesting (at least to high school students) - and that actually held up.  That was interesting (visually).  If Paul had no expectations going in, maybe that really stuck in his mind.

I'm at the night time visit to the Radley place; the camera work has appropriately shifted to feel a bit like a horror movie - and the shadow of Radley on the wall seems like a direct allusion to Murnau's Nosferatu - which seems appropriate.  I don't think that's that avante garde (if the rest of the film felt like the opening credits - which it doesn't so far, and in my memory, it doesn't - I could see that label a bit more).

I'll post anything else that sticks out to me, but I don't think there's much.

 

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That was my favorite part which stood out on this watch - the scary fear vibes that kept creeping in throughout. I really enjoyed how much of that there was in this.

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As a native to Central Texas, I have to align with Amy regarding mocking birds. It was always great to see some badass cat pull one of those little dive bombers out of the air. 

Until I actually read the book, I couldn’t fathom that title alluded to anything but to kill a mocking bird being a good thing. 

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On 5/17/2019 at 9:28 PM, AlmostAGhost said:

That was my favorite part which stood out on this watch - the scary fear vibes that kept creeping in throughout. I really enjoyed how much of that there was in this.

And when we see Ewell shadowed in darkness, clawing at their car, we learn the real horror movie isn't the scary monster trapped in the neighbors basement but the Native American genocide.  I mean, the racism lying beneath the small southern town's picture of hospitality.  (/was also going to work in a Blue Velvet reference there).

Though, and I'd have to revisit the episode, when Paul said arthouse film, I think the referenced Italian neo-realism, which isn't a flashy style (more subject matter and keeping things no-frills.  The commonly cited practice of using non-professional actors). But this was too polished as a drama to be that either, I feel.  And neo-realism films are mostly focused on the challenges and situations of the common citizenry of post-war Italy (or a specific demographic for neo-realist styled films - e.g. African American population in Killer of Sheep). And while there was the issue of poverty.  But subject matter-wise, it was a historical depiction of 30 years prior, and it was more of a coming of age of three children, realizing the underlying rot of her town.

Anyhow, while watching it crossed my mind to check when other movies came out around this time that might have been tackling various, vaguely similar themes or images.  Just to get a sense of what was swirling around at the time.

To Kill a Mockingbird (book) 1960

To Kill a Mockingbird (movie) 1962

  • The Bicycle Thieves 1948

  • The 400 Blows 1959

  • Twelve Angry Men 1957

  • Shadows 1959 (Own this, but I still need to watch this one)

  • Spartacus 1960  (I was wondering if either stand up scene might have influenced the other)

  • In the Heat of the Night 1967

  • Killer of Sheep 1978 (I thought was an earlier film)

Then just googling to see what else was going on cinema-wise about racism

  • Black Girl - 1966 (haven't seen this one)
  • West Side Story 1961
  • A Raisin in the Sun - 1961
  • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - 1967
  • Imitation of Life - 1959 (hadn't heard of this one.  I've only seen Kazan's two big movies)

I'm not sure what to take away from this, but it's there.  I guess I'm getting a bit of a mental block trying to think of another movie from the era exploring racism through the eyes of children in the south.  I guess we could go back much further to Mark Twain.

I guess I'm just trying to get a sense of was this really that groundbreaking or not.  Oh well, to me it still feels like a polished drama, with an interesting credit sequence.  It's kind of in the same situation as Silence of the Lambs, where I could see myself including this somewhere on a list of a 100 movies (especially when picking from 400 movies), but can easily imagine that I'd also come up with 100 movies that wouldn't include it (especially when not picking from a curated list of 400 movies).

On 5/17/2019 at 6:16 PM, WatchOutForSnakes said:

I agree. I'm not sure I've watched the whole thing from start to finish, so I'm watching that tomorrow. I don't know if I'll be able to completely divorce it from the book. And, aside from maybe being a faithful adaptation of a novel, I'm not sue it belongs on the AFI 100. But maybe at the time it was more revolutionary, and it's certainly earned its place in pop culture. It always pops up as one of the top legal films, and Atticus Finch always pops up as one of the most inspiring fictional lawyers, but I'm not sure I agree. Personally, I'd rather see My Cousin Vinny on the list.

Just wondering, how do you feel about Twelve Angry Men?

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Side note of some small things to point out: 

In the podcast, I think they refer to Cunningham as "someone who doesn't like to be thanked." Just to clarify, he doesn't like to be thanked because he's poor and is paying off a debt to Atticus that he doesn't have the money for (so he has to pay in goods he's growing).  And being thanked for that payment effectively reminds him of this fact.  Lots of the movie is about Scout being given social hints about how it hurts the pride of poor people and to be considerate of them (they point this out in the podcast better with the syrup scene).

Another observation - Atticus struggling to shoot the gun with his glasses on.  Seemed like a clear metaphor about how Atticus doesn't want to engage in violence, he wants to stick to the rational, but in the end, to take care of the rabid dog, he ultimately has to remove his glasses in order to kill it.  The dog, I'll just assume is a metaphor for what happens with Ewell.

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Great episode!

Just a quick nitpick, at one point in the episode, Paul describes Dill as being “their rich friend,” but I’m pretty sure everything he was saying about his wealthy father was a way of hiding the fact that he didn’t have a father which I’m sure would have been absolutely scandalous at the time.

I also didn’t think the judge’s feelings were all that ambiguous. I think it was pretty clear that he felt like Tom was innocent from the get go. That’s why he personally chose Atticus to defend him. He figured Atticus was the maybe the only lawyer in town who would put up an honest defense for Tom. He could have picked anyone, but he chose Atticus. So him storming out of the court wasn’t because he was swayed by Atticus’ defense and upset that he lost, so much as Atticus did exactly as he hoped he would from the beginning and it still wasn’t enough.

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On 5/21/2019 at 10:03 PM, Cameron H. said:

Great episode!

Just a quick nitpick, at one point in the episode, Paul describes Dill as being “their rich friend,” but I’m pretty sure everything he was saying about his wealthy father was a way of hiding the fact that he didn’t have a father which I’m sure would have been absolutely scandalous at the time.

I also didn’t think the judge’s feelings were all that ambiguous. I think it was pretty clear that he felt like Tom was innocent from the get go. That’s why he personally chose Atticus to defend him. He figured Atticus was the maybe the only lawyer in town who would put up an honest defense for Tom. He could have picked anyone, but he chose Atticus. So him storming out of the court wasn’t because he was swayed by Atticus’ defense and upset that he lost, so much as Atticus did exactly as he hoped he would from the beginning and it still wasn’t enough.

I am super late to the mockingbird party, so I hope you still remember what you wrote here, lol. I recently went to see To Kill A Mockingbird, the play, and these 2 points were made super obvious in the play, as you assumed. 

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