To Kill a Mockingbird: time for a remake?

May 26, 2010

The 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird is upon us, according to an article in The New York Times. This book has to be on anyone’s top ten list of Southern novels, and the reclusiveness of its author, Harper Lee, and her Truman Capote connection make it all the more intriguing.

Then there’s the movie. Released in 1962, it is remembered for great performances by Gregory Peck, who defined the Atticus character forever, and a young Robert Duvall, who played Boo Radley. The late playwright Horton Foote wrote the screenplay, the film won three Oscars, and was ranked number 25 on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 movies.

I watched To Kill a Mockingbird a while ago for the first time in decades and, while again impressed by Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall, I found myself cringing at the awful performances by the child actors. Compared to, say, the superb youthful role-playing in the Harry Potter movies, the parts of Scout, Jem, and Dill come up far short.

It’s time for a remake. I would cast Tom Hanks as Atticus and, for old time’s sake, Robert Duvall as the judge. The other roles should be parceled out among the talented young actors of our time. Maybe Harper Lee could be enticed into a cameo.

A new cinematic To Kill a Mockingbird would make this wonderful story more approachable to modern viewers, would reinterpret a classic Southern novel, and get more people thinking about the timeless themes in the book.


The governor and road striping

May 24, 2010

The New York Times reports that there is a shortage of the specialized yellow and white paint that adorns highways. A lack of methyl methacrylate, an evidently vital ingredient in the paint, is the culprit.

This brings to mind a story I’ve heard about Frank G. Clement, governor of Tennessee from 1953-1959 and 1963-1967. Seems that Governor Clement, who championed road-building, had a political crony who had bought too much of the costly road-striping paint and was whining about what to do with it. The governor, according to the tale, grew tired of the complaining and said something to the effect of “Hell, paint lines down the outer edge of the lanes!”

This was done all over the state, and soon Federal authorities noticed a sharp decline in single-vehicle accidents on Tennessee highways. This, according the story, is why most highways now have stripes on their outer edges.

Governor Clement is better remembered for a histrionic speech he gave at the 1956 Democratic Convention, which prompted a young Red Smith of the Times to write a wonderful lead: “The young governor of Tennessee, Frank G. Clement, slew the Republican party with the jawbone of an ass here last night . . . .”

But that’s another story.