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.

Clarence Brown, Tennessean gone Hollywood

March 6, 2008

Next to Quentin Tarantino, Clarence Brown is the most famous film director to have spent his childhood in Knoxville. Brown directed Greta Garbo more than any other director, and called the shots for National Velvet and The Yearling.

Metro Pulse’s Jack Neely has written the best story I’ve seen on Brown’s relationship to Knoxville, and particularly his generosity to UT, in which he funded the Clarence Brown Theatre. Tennessee Wife and I were undergrads on UT’s Film Committee in those days, and we and others were asked to help plan the Clarence Brown Film Festival–Tennessee Wife chaired it. Brown was delighted that students were so interested in his work, and UT’s fundraising officials were also very happy–he eventually gave UT $12 million. Below is a photo of me sitting beside Brown when he was holding forth during the Clarence Brown Film Festival.


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When Bonnie & Clyde met Lester and Earl

August 16, 2007

The New York Times had a good story on Sunday about the 40th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde, the Arthur Penn directed movie featuring the young Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the title characters, with Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons in supporting roles.

While writer A.O. Scott ruminates on “the crucial episode in the entwined histories of Hollywood, American film criticism and postmodern popular culture” and ponders “the connoisseurship of violence,” he makes only one reference to what he refers to as “the skittering banjo music of the soundtrack.”

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown is “skittering banjo music”? Huh?

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Elvis on American Idol

August 12, 2007

I’ve never been a fan of American Idol, except when Boulder local boy Ace Young came in seventh back in 2006. I have to admit, however, that I was blown away when I saw the American Idol Elvis/Celine Dion duet on Youtube. You can–until they yank it–see it here:

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Cas Walker film in Knoxville

June 13, 2007

Due to popular demand, Knoxville’s East Tennessee Historical Society will show This is Cas Walker, a film about East Tennessee’s most famous–and most notorious–grocer and public figure. The film will be shown on June 22 as a part of Treasures From the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound: A Film Series.

As described in the publicity, “Scenes and outtakes from his popular television show, The Cas Walker Farm and Home Show, as well as vintage commercials and rare early performances by local performers such as Dolly Parton will be included, along with newly discovered footage that was not part of the original screening.”


Photo courtesy of WBIR
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‘Iron City Blues’ film can’t even win Goober award

May 21, 2007

Having a slow day down at the film development office? Here’s a formula that never fails: pick some backwoods Southern town, hint that outsiders aren’t welcome there–“you ain’t from around here, are ye?”–and send some outsider in to check things out.

The latest version of this tiresome stuff is Iron City Blues, a documentary that depicts–well, let’s go to the press release, along with a little commentary:

After years of hearing urban rural legends about a lawless old mining town with a sky-high murder rate, (uh, when your population is only 368, all it takes is one killing to game the stats) blues musician Big Mike Griffin rides to Iron City to learn the truth for himself. Unlike nearby McNairy County which was home to Sheriff Buford Pusser in “Walking Tall,” Iron City has remained lawless and untamed. To Big Mike, it was the perfect subject for a blues song.

Along with a former Marine as a guide, Big Mike rides through Tennessee’s backroads to the heart of Iron City. (Blink and you’ll miss this “heart.”) There, surrounded by buildings ravaged by fire and years of decay (we couldn’t afford to film in Detroit), he interviews a fascinating collection of locals who seem to actually enjoy living their lives on the edge of anarchy. (As do most residents of peckerwood towns from coast to coast.) The resulting song, a high-energy blues anthem infused with southern rock (invoke Lynyrd Skynyrd here), is as much a celebration of Iron City as it is an ominous warning to outsiders.

Cue the banjo music, folks, it’s Deliverance 23!


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Oxford American releases first DVD

April 27, 2007

The Oxford American is a wonderful magazine that seemingly began its existence with nine lives, and has already gone through three or four of them. The magazine is beloved by subscribers for its once a year release of a CD with songs old and new accompanied by articles in the magazine about the music and its players.

The new issue breaks ground by including a DVD containing 16 short films to accompany the “Southern Movie” theme of the magazine. The second film included is “Born for Hard Luck,” an amazing look at the late “Peg Leg Sam: Jackson, whose photo is here:


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Scopes Trial on Broadway while original set crumbles

April 13, 2007

Today’s New York Times has a review of Inherit the Wind, the play that has, for many people, become the truth about the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton. The part of Matthew Harrison Brady, modeled on William Jennings Bryan, is played by Brian Dennehy, a wonderful and expressive actor who, according to the reviewer, does not prove a foemen worthy of the steel of the Clarence Darrow character.

The odds were stacked against the Bryan character when the play was written in 1955, for he symbolized the evils of McCarthyism. Today, most viewers of the play or its 1960 film adaptation wouldn’t know Senator McCarthy from Charlie McCarthy, so all that is lost on them. Residents of Dayton, most specifically the faculty of Bryan College, created and named for “The Great Commoner,” mightily resent the fictional depiction of their town and their hero.

From the Knoxville News Sentinel comes an article reporting that the historic Rhea County courthouse, where the Scopes Trial took place, is showing its age. Historian Richard Cornelius, chairman of the Scopes Trial Museum Committee and former professor at Bryan College, states that problems include “birds nesting in the attic and the potential for disease that brings. Cornelius also said the third floor is settling unevenly because of the weight of books stored there and that there are cracks in the building’s brickwork.”

The courtroom on the second floor of the building, where Darrow and Bryan made history, is the scene of an annual reenactment of the trial based on the actual testimony.


‘Black Snake Moan’ director on Memphis and the South

February 28, 2007

This is an excerpt from an interview in (Premium edition, subscription required, alas) with Craig Brewer, Memphis resident and director of Black Snake Moan. He is talking about Memphis:

“It’s a maverick town. It’s a town that doesn’t have professionals. Jerry Lee Lewis can’t really play the piano all that well. He plays it a certain way. You can’t really give him a Bach piece and expect it to sound like Bach. It’s going to sound like a Jerry Lee Lewis song, because the energy he uses to attack the keys is specific to himself.

“Also, in the South, you do a lot with not much. And that makes what you’re making more unique and more lasting and memorable. You look at Johnny Cash singing “I Walk the Line.” They couldn’t have drums on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and he really wanted that song to cross over to the country charts. So he just took a dollar bill and wove it through the strings of his guitar. And it created that chk-chikka-chik-chikka-chik. You look at Ike Turner coming up from Clarksdale, Mississippi, in a jalopy filled with his band, and he’s writing a song about a car that passed, called the Rocket 88. He gets pulled over by a cop, and the amplifier falls off his car and smashes on the pavement. He goes into Sun Studios, and there’s Sam Phillips, this crazy white man from Mississippi. And Phillips says, “Aw, don’t worry about that, Ike.” He starts shoving newspaper inside the amplifier. They plug in the guitar and it has this raw, distorted sound. And now all amplifiers try to duplicate that sound.

“There’s something about that spirit, where we know, when we listen to music, when we make music, when we worship, when we go to football games. And especially when we eat. We’re bound to each other more than people outside of the South give us credit for. I guess I respond to that kind of spirit. It makes me feel I can be creative and not be judged. I can be poor and not be ashamed.”

Personally, I’d like the hear the Killer play a little Bach sometime.


Black Snake Moan: second in a Tennessee trilogy

February 11, 2007

An article article in today’s New York Times discusses the impending release of Black Snake Moan, the film starring Samuel L. Jackson. Writer Mark Olsen compares the working relationship between director Craig Brewster and Scott Bomar to that of Italian director Frederico Fellini and his composer, Nina Rota.

Brewster and Bomar previously created Hustle and Flow, which won an Oscar for “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp.” Both, according the the article, live in Memphis.

The piece concludes with these two paragraphs:

“For Mr. Brewer ‘Black Snake Moan’ is another step in the overall project he hopes to bring to fruition.

“’I’m trying to do a music series for my state,’ he said. ‘It sort of starts from the music and begins to inspire me with images and stories. I really wanted ‘Hustle & Flow’ to be the rap movie. I tried to write a story that would use it as a soundtrack and capture what I felt was the essence of hip-hop in Memphis. Now I’m doing blues. My next one is outlaw country.'”

Wonder where it will be filmed?