Monday, April 26, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird at Loew’s

The “Friends of Loew’s” always throw audiences something extra for their monthly film series held at the Journal Square theater, known locally as Loew’s, but officially as The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre.

Usually it’s a Q&A and talk post film with an author and/or film scholar. Last month, for a screening of All Along the Water Front, the Q&A was particularly good. Seeing that film in Hudson County was an unforgettable and singular cinema experience. The post-film talk served as a sublime enhancement.

I’m probably game to see any Black & White film on real celluloid projected on a 50 foot screen. It’s just beautiful.

Last Friday, no scholars or lectures to be had about To Kill A Mockingbird, but volunteers had put together this interesting showcase display on the book and film, including autographed editions by Harper Lee and stills from the film, etc. It was in the lobby.

It is not just a great novel and a great film, but one of greatest novel-to-film translations in cinematic history.

I’m actually a late comer to the Mockingbird phenomena. I never read the book growing up. It was never assigned in school or part of any literature class. Which is sad, but on the other hand, teachers have killed George Orwell for me and John Steinbeck needed an ongoing reclamation project.

I first read only a few years ago, and saw the film the first time (and until the Jersey City screening only) a few days after reading it. In fact, I was visiting my friend in Virginia, who gave me the book to read—she loves it—and we watched the film together. I read the book on the way down on the train. Coming to it as an adult frees it of baggage some might have. It’s a really well written novel. The film is a poignant work of true beauty. Seeing it on the big screen and sharing it with an enthusiastic audience was simply incredible, a memory worth cherishing. The scene where the guilty verdict comes in and Atticus leaves the court room and the black folk in the segregated balcony stand up in respect—the Reverend nudges Scout and tells her to stand because "you're father is passing by"— well, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes and I wasn't the only one. The film was made in 1962 and is a powerful piece of work no matter the format. It is one of the greatest films ever made. But on a big screen, as it was made to be shown, the experience is on a whole other level.

Mockingbird is several novels actually: a story of child hood; a depiction of the existential interpretation of the world through a child’s eyes; a gothic southern tale; a civil rights parable and a suspenseful courtroom drama. The fact all these devices work separately and apart is remarkable. Not one false note or tone deaf sentence, and the film makers were able to translate the novel in near entirety to the screen.

An interesting controversy has risen over the years about the role Truman Capote played in shaping the original novel.

Nancy believes that Truman Capote wrote the novel. My buddy Tony believes that Capote, being such a publicity whore and ego maniac, could never have kept quiet about writing it if he did – the dang thing won a Pulitzer after all. Both are big Capote fans.

Me, not so much. I find In Cold Blood boring and pretentious. On the other hand, his early work is perfect. Breakfast At Tiffany’s – a god-awful film – contains the best sentences ever written in English. I see Capote’s hand in the first half of Mockingbird, but not the second half. The first half is essentially the world of Scout; the second half is the courtroom drama. Capote knew how to capture the mind-set world of childhood innocence, especially as that innocence slips away. The novel is cut in two tone-wise. In that sense, the film is more fluid and less abrupt.

No Air Conditioning at Loew’s, so there is only more film weekend. They’ve been doing decades—Mockingbird was the 60s. In May, will be the 70s. Sadly, all color films.

Here’s the fact, revival film theaters are few and far between. I wish Loew’s could run this program more often, every weekend. I often wish they showed a little less mainstream classic films. But , the workers are all volunteers, the budget is shoe-string and there’s no money to invest. What a fantastic space though. Maybe less is more, going is always a special evening. What a great film experience.


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