Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mockingbird the Movie—It’s Always Better to Read the Book

As part of The Big Read celebration, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum recently hosted a viewing of the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Roughly 20 people attended the screening of the two-hour and twelve-minute movie. (We had a time limitation and I was definitely conscious of the duration of the movie.)

Believe it or not, I had never seen this classic movie which is odd because I am a devotee of the movie channels that broadcast the old films. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie through the years, but never the whole thing from start to finish. Though I am glad to have seen the movie, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. As a person who had just finished reading the book (also for the first time), I felt the movie just didn’t stand up to Harper Lee’s writing.

For one thing, the movie left out almost all references to food with the exception of the scene in which Water Cunningham is invited home to the Finch household where he proceeds to pour molasses over his lunch. That’s it for the food.

Which means that many other key scenes in the book that involve food are completely left out – the emotional scene in which the townspeople thank Atticus for his defense of Tom Robinson by leaving food at his back porch; the scene in which Dill returns to Maycomb and is so hungry he eats all the leftovers; and the scene in which Scout visits relatives for a holiday meal and is given a profound three-word message by a cousin that “men don’t cook.”

Gone are the references to Lane Cake, scuppernongs, Tootsie Rolls, squirrel and possum, ambrosia, collards and other greens, etc.

Food is important in this book. It helps to set a time and a place. In Mockingbird, the presence of food helps to move along key scenes that define the social status of the characters and define the issues Harper Lee illustrates – hunger, the role of women, the role of African-Americans, the issue of social justice, and the general importance of food at the Southern table.

Besides food, there are other key parts of Harper Lee’s story that are left out of the movie. For example, the story of the morphine addicted Mrs. Duboce gets no attention; Miss Maudie’s house does not burn down; we do not get to see a key scene in which Scout and Jem attend Calpurnia’s church.

I know I’m being a little picky. I also know that it’s tough to transfer a book to the screen and leave it completely intact. Much has been written about Harper Lee being extremely pleased with the way her book was translated to film. She became close friends with Gregory Peck in the process.

Many people claim the movie is one of their all-time favorites. Good for them. However, the bottom-line for me is that the movie is very different from the book. The book is many times better than the movie, and if you want a great experience, sit down and immerse yourself in it. Reading Mockingbird definitely takes a longer period of time than watching the movie, but you will be rewarded for the time you spent.

This will be my last blog regarding To Kill A Mockingbird and The Big Read for quite some time. We are applying now for next year’s Big Read initiative; it looks like our choice will be Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Our celebration will occur in November and December of 2009. If there’s a movie, we’ probably screen it.

In the meantime, we are undertaking more literary/culinary adventures and we will share them with you in the future.