Tuesday, April 05, 2005

No songbirds were harmed in the writing of this post 

When I was in the 8th grade, my class spent an hour on 2 consecutive days sitting in the dark of the school library and watching the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. I was so impressed with the film that I went home on that second afternoon and pulled my parents' paperback copy off the shelf and began to read. I read that copy to death over the years, and when I read it for the last time--probably 10 years ago--each page I turned fell away from what was left of the spine. I threw that book away page by page.

Fast forward to this past winter. Mockingbird was offered as a selection in our Scholastic book club, so I ordered a new copy. I wondered at the time if Mike would be ready for it yet. I certainly didn't want to risk exposing him to such a wonderful book too early and having him hate it for all eternity. At the same time though, I couldn't stand to wait. A couple weeks ago, I got out the new copy and offered to read just one chapter to him with the understanding that if he didn't like it, we would put it away until he was ready. He liked it, and I read the rest of the book out loud over the evenings of the next couple of weeks.

For the first few nights, we stuck to one chapter per session. As we got deeper into the book though, his interest grew and he wound up begging for multiple chapters at one time. We read the entire court scene in one sitting because neither of us could bear to stop in the middle of it. And when we got to the chapter that ends something like "And thus began our longest journey together," I insisted we stop for the night. I knew that once we embarked on the events of that Halloween, we would be unable to stop until the end of the book, so I needed to save my energies for yet another marathon session.

I was pleased by Mike's intense interest in the book. I do not normally enjoy reading out loud--it's frustrating, as I can read so much faster in my head--but Mockingbird was fun. Mike's enjoyment inspired me to do it up right, and I invented voices for each of the main characters, which I tried to keep consistent.

Just about every night, Mike would ask, "So are we almost to the point of finding out how Jem broke his arm?" And one night, he asked, "Hey! Did they ever make a movie out of this?" Did they ever make a movie out of this? Oh, boy, did they ever! I decided then and there that our Mockingbird experience would culminate in a showing of this film classic.

I checked the DVD out of our local library yesterday afternoon, and last night he and I parked ourselves in front of the TV. Watching To Kill a Mockingbird with Mike was what I imagine it must be like to go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show with Andy Rooney. Either way, you're watching a grumpy guy yell at the screen.

First of all, the actors in the movie didn't match the characters Mike had seen in his head. He writhed in agony, "Oh, no, now I'll never be able to see them my way again!" He was especially outraged where an actor's appearance openly conflicted with how Harper Lee had described the character. Dill, for example. "Dill has white hair," Mike insisted, "not a mouthful of goofy teeth!"

He was horrified at every change, no matter how big or small. "Where's Miss Maudie's fire?" he asked indignantly. "Where's Judge Taylor's house break-in? What did they do to Aunt Alexandra? That's her line, not Miss Maudie's! Hey, how come Scout and Jem didn't go to church with Calpurnia? And WHERE is Mrs. DuBose?!"

He was especially incensed that they changed the date of Tom Robinson's alleged crime. "It was NOVEMBER," he declared, "not AUGUST! Why did they say it was August?"

I explained that they had to do a lot of editing to make the book fit within the parameters of a 2-hour movie, but Mike wasn't buying it. Finally, in exasperation I suggested that perhaps he should write the screenplay for the remake (oh, yes, he thinks there should be a remake!), and he thought that was an excellent idea:

"I will! And I'll put everything in, not try to compress several years into one. And I'm going to replace the actor who plays Jem every year or at least age him a little!"

I asked who he had in mind to play Atticus, figuring that he would have a tough time coming up with somebody to fill Gregory Peck's shoes. No problem there. He already has the part cast. The part of Atticus Finch will be played by . . . Johnny Depp.

I am embarrassed to admit that I've never seen the movie or read the book. I'm such an oaf.

I sympathize with Mike, though. It is hard to see a great book 'cinematised' no matter how good a job they do.
Mike, I'm with ya, baby! There's a reason why I seldom watch movies based on books. I get too pissed off. Stuff is left out, details are changed. But most importantly, the director's view doesn't match what lives in my head. Save yourself some grief and angst, and stick with the book. :)
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