THE UNFETTERED CRITIC
By Paula Block Erdmann & Terry Erdmann
It was 50 years ago today: To Kill A Mockingbird
Film buffs long have proclaimed l939 as “The Golden Year” of motion pictures. It’s hard to fault their rationale; releases included Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Goodbye, Mr. Chips and many more.
The current deluge of press stories about the 50th anniversary of “James Bond on the big screen” reminds us that in l962, Dr. No, the first Bond movie, was but a bauble in Hollywood’s jewel box of offerings. That year also brought us Lawrence of Arabia, The Miracle Worker, Days of Wine and Roses, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Longest Day, The Music Man and our personal pick of the glitter, To Kill A Mockingbird.
You can still catch some of these classics locally on the big screen. Medford’s Tinseltown is a “subscriber” to the Fathom Events series, which regularly presents “one day only” theatrical performances, filmed concerts, opera, ballet—and movie revivals. Several months ago, Jacksonville’s Mayor Paul Becker alerted movie enthusiasts that Fathom (at Tinseltown) would be presenting Hollywood’s most beloved musical, Singin’ in the Rain. Recent screenings include Hitchcock’s The Birds, a concert performance by Led Zeppelin, a live HD transmission from New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and a stage performance of Frankenstein from London’s National Theatre. In today’s entertainment market, traditional theaters must compete with developing competitive platforms such as mobile devices and digital video. Fathom’s business plan is to fight back by reminding customers about the wonder of the big screen—and we think it’s a winner.
We recently caught their revival of Lawrence of Arabia. With its sprawling desert locations and a cast of thousands, including countless camels, Lawrence won seven Academy Awards. It’s the very definition of an “old school” style cinematic epic. No director today, given the available array of digital effects technology, would spend the money to shoot on location as David Lean did. The film is still a visual feast, full of breathtaking beauty, and Peter O’Toole’s audacious debut is a marvel. But the story doesn’t resonate in the way it once did; emotionally, this tale about the rise and decline of a flawed man feels rather hollow.
Not all revived classics come up short. Days of Wine and Roses still draws our tears as the characters drink themselves into oblivion. The Music Man still makes us wish that we could toot along on one of those seventy-six trombones. The Miracle Worker still triggers goose bumps when Patty Duke’s Helen Keller finally comprehends that the water flowing over her left hand corresponds with the word “water,” spelled into her right hand by her determined teacher.
And To Kill A Mockingbird’s tale of one man’s stand against bigotry, as witnessed by his young daughter Scout, is as moving as ever, even from the vantage point of our (supposedly) more enlightened era. Mockingbird was a contender for Best Picture opposite Lawrence, but the small black and white production lost to the flashier juggernaut. No matter. You can see a newly restored print of the film at Tinseltown on November 15, courtesy of Fathom. As a bonus, viewers will be treated to behind-the-scenes footage of To Kill A Mockingbird’s cast and crew. Tickets can be purchased in advance, either at www.fathomevents.com, or at the theater.
While filming Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, actor Gregory Peck stated that it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Good advice for us all.
Paula and Terry each have long impressive-sounding resumes implying that they are battle-scarred veterans of life within the Hollywood studios. They’re now happily relaxed into Jacksonville.