Question: What’s the best movie starring an all-American superhero?
Answer: To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is the man.
I recently finished “rereading” my To Kill a Mockingbird audiobook, and it occurred to me that one day, Hollywood might try to remake one of their greatest classics for a new audience. With the recent surge in remakes and society’s penchant for nostalgia, the idea does not lie outside the realm of possibility. Judging by today’s most pressing social and political issues, To Kill a Mockingbrid has particular relevance and poignancy. I can easily see studios both trying to capitalize on the the lucrative nature of hot topics, and retelling a classic story to remind us that hot topics don’t always cool off.
The thought of a remake still scares me—nay, terrifies me to my very soul—but I like to keep my mind open to possibility.
Despite director Robert Mulligan’s already perfect choices, the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck did leave out quite a bit from the novel. Aunt Alexandra, for instance, or Uncle Jack, who give Scout some perspective on the social context surrounding her father’s latest legal case.
There’s the fire, where Scout first encounters Boo Radley, although she doesn’t see him. There’s Dill running away to Maycomb and Jem’s telling Atticus about it. There’s Mr. Raymond and his Coca-Cola. And honestly, who got the short shrift more than morphine addict Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose and her poor camellias?
Mulligan introduced elements to those stories and lessons, but another director might well decide to give them more promise, and not without reason. That doesn’t change the repugnance of the idea of a To Kill a Mockingbird remake, but I can see how someone might think they have something new.
However, should current or aspiring filmmakers make that decisions, I must request one thing.
Do not use color.
Technicolor has been around since 1939 (Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz), so Mulligan’s decision to forgo that technology in 1962 undoubtedly means he had a good reason. Whether or not that reason is among them, I have compiled my own list of reasons why To Kill a Mockingbird would suck if it were to be shot with a full color palette:
- Black-and-white photos exemplify the Depression and the 1930’s in our minds. So in a way that grounds the film’s events as definitive of a certain time period
- Harper Lee’s classic book depends on the element of flashback. We see the events of the novel through Scout’s young eyes, but it’s not 6-year-old Scout talking, it’s adult Scout recalling what she did and felt at the time. Black-and-white film reminds us that these are memories, which in turn reminds us the story is told from only one perspective. Which brings us full circle to a central theme: seeing the world from someone else’s point of view.
- It makes the first half, during which the the children attempt to lure the spectral Boo Radley out of his house, far creepier and plays to the idea that the Radley’s house truly is haunted.
- It gives the characters more importance than the setting. We don’t get a visual tour of Maycomb; we hear Scout describing the tired old town where men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning and by nightfall ladies were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. Let’s not try to film that precise imagery, shall we? Instead we learn to understand Maycomb through inhabitants like Miss Maudie, the Cunninghams, Heck Tate, Mrs. Dubose, Nathan Radley, and Miss Stephanie. It’s easier to focus on that if we’re not distracted by color.
- Well, race. A black-and-white film about black and white tensions adds a subtle symbolic dimension to a story that also features shades of gray.
The only adaptation to merit color, in my mind, would be a total update in story, perhaps transforming Tom Robinson into an unarmed man seriously injured by police officer Bob Ewell when his daughter Mayella insists the black man down the street tried to rape her. Mrs. Dubose can be the Trump supporter down the street, and the Radleys were once featured on an episode of NBC Dateline, so now they stay off the grid to protect what’s left of their private life.
Hmm, that movie might not actually be all that bad.