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.

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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.”

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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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