Oscar Friday: To Kill a Mockingbird

by David on October 7, 2011

Rarely is a book and its film adaptation loved in equal measure. But such is the case with To Kill a Mockingbird.

The book continues to remain a perennial favorite amongst school teachers, librarians, and avid readers young and old, while the film remains one of the most beloved cinematic classics of all time.

I recommend experiencing both, at least once. Preferably more.

The book was written by Harper Lee, and is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in the Depression-era South (the character of Scout is Lee’s surrogate, while the character of Scout’s cousin Dill is based on Truman Capote, who was a close friend of Lee’s.) It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960, no doubt to Capote’s chagrin.

The film came out in 1962. It was shot entirely on the Universal backlot (in California, not Alabama, where the story takes place).

From the moment he first read the book, actor Gregory Peck knew he was born to play Atticus Finch, the widowed father and courageous attorney who defends a black man accused of rape. Before he’d been cast, Peck had initially tried to buy the film rights himself. Once Peck secured the role, he didn’t disappoint, and his performance earned him an Academy Award–and a permanent place in film history. In 2003, The American Film Institute voted Atticus Finch the Number 1 Movie Hero of All Time.

Attention should also be paid to director Robert Mulligan and screenwriter Horton Foote, whose efforts succeeded in capturing the tone of Lee’s novel with tremendous subtlety, while creating a film that stands completely on its own; to Brock Peters for his performance as Tom Robinson; and to Robert Duvall, for his performance as “Boo” Radley. Foote also won an Oscar for his work on the film. (Twenty-one years later, Foote and Duvall would work together again on the 1983 film Tender Mercies. For that film, Foote would win his second Oscar, Duvall would win his first.)

Why do people adore this story (the book and the film) so much? Perhaps because of its themes of childhood and lost innocence. Perhaps because it effectively dramatizes the harrowing effects of racism and segregation. Perhaps because of Scout, its plucky Tomboy heroine, who even the most cynical reader/moviegoer can’t help but find endearing. Or perhaps because, deep down, it’s the story of a father and the enormous love he has for his children. And the love his children have for him.

Whatever the reasons, it’s probably a good bet that To Kill a Mockingbird (the film) will continue to be seen by generations of moviegoers — indeed, it may be one of the few black-and-white classics in this millennium that will enjoy that luxury. Specific to its time yet universal in its themes, thought-provoking yet entertaining (and yes, just a wee bit sentimental), it’s the kind of film that reminds us of the power of great stories. Great stories — the stories that we remember, the stories that leave an impression, the stories that might even change our lives — don’t simply transport us to a different world. They help us find a deeper meaning in our own.

By the way, To Kill a Mockinbird (129 mins.) lost the Oscar for Best Picture to Lawrence of Arabia (216 mins). One can argue which film is better. No one can argue which film is longer. But few would deny that when it comes to popularity and public sentiment, the Desert Warrior is no match for the Mockingbird.

Proof that it’s not the length of the film that matters. It’s the length of time it lasts in our memories. And our lives.

(P.S. — This blog post goes out to my mom, whose birthday is today and whose favorite film To Kill a Mockingbird. Happy birthday, mom!!!)


Bank of America’s “Inherent Duty”

by David on October 7, 2011

Last week, Bank of America (aka, a recipient of TARP and one of the major players in the subprime mortgage horror show of ’09) announced it would begin imposing a $5 monthly fee on customers who use their BOA cards for debit purchases.

During a recent interview, BOA’s CEO Brian Moynihan defended his company’s decision.

Of course he did.

“I have an inherent duty as a CEO of a publicly owned company to get a return for my shareholders,” Moynihan said.

Sure, Brian. But what about your inherent duty to your customers? You know, the ones who are still struggling with financial debt, mortgage payments, and economic uncertainty? The ones you still haven’t helped with their loan remodifications and who’ve yet to see a return on their investment and continued loyalty? What’s your duty to them?

Apparently, it’s an increase in fees.

Perhaps someone should’ve reminded Brian: “Hey buddy, we’re all you’re shareholders! The minute BOA asked the federal government for a bailout, we all became your shareholders! And your inherent duty to us — the American people — is to help get this economy back on track by increasing consumer confidence, not increasing fees!”

Some would say that smacks of class warfare. But those people would be assholes.

Is a $5 monthly fee the worst offense in the world? Probably not. (Nearly destroying the U.S. economy is a much more egregious offense.) But it’s indicative of a mindset. It’s why average Americans are occupying Wall Street for a third straight week. It’s why the economy is still struggling. It’s why Fed Chair Ben Bernanke (hardly a socialist) recently insisted that the government and the banks do more to help consumers. I suspect imposing additional fees on them wasn’t exactly what Ben had in mind.

Sadly, BOA still has the right to nickle and dime its customers.

But thankfully, their customers have the right to take their nickles and dimes somewhere else. And hopefully many of them will.

They might even consider it their inherent duty to do so.


Alas, No Sarah

by David on October 6, 2011

No doubt you’ve heard: Sarah Palin isn’t running for President in 2012.

Shame really, since it would have added an entirely new level of crazy to the GOP primaries, and perhaps even fired-up Obama supporters (many of whom are low in the morale department these days).

Though on hearing the news, I’m sure many in the Republican establishment let out a collective sigh of relief. Thank fucking God.

For me personally, it would’ve been great to see Sarah duke it out with Mitt and Rick and the rest of the Looney Tunes. Sarah’s a fireball. She’s devisive. She likes to make up new words and reinvent U.S. history. And compared to Michele Bachmann, she’s practically a Rhodes Scholar.

But as much as I would’ve loved Palin to enter the ring (imagine all that new material for Tina Fey!), she probably made the right career move. After all, if you’re Sarah Palin, why run for president? It’s more fun to make stump speeches than lead the free world (just ask Obama). Besides, Palin stopped being an actual politician some time ago, opting to trade in politics for celebrity, which is a much cushier gig. And thanks to her status as GOP kingmaker and Tea Party high priestess, she gets to enjoy the perks of being a leader without the burden of having any actual responsibilities.

It’s like she’s become the ultimate community organizer.

Ironic, isn’t it?

So alas, the GOP race for president just got a lot less interesting. But don’t worry: we haven’t seen the last of Sarah. Armed with her hunting riffle and her Twitter account, she’ll be spouting inflammatory rhetoric and misremembered history lessons for many months to come.

Of course, the scary thing is: when she speaks, people don’t just listen.

They act.

And they vote.


Steve Jobs and Second Acts

by David on October 5, 2011

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that in American life, there are no second acts.

Clearly Fitzgerald had never met Steve Jobs.

Jobs’s second turn as CEO of Apple (after having been previously fired) was one of the most remarkable second acts in American life.

Now that he’s gone, his life is sure to become an American legend.

Than you, Steve — for living such an incredible life and leaving such an incredible legacy.

And for proving Mr. Fitzgerald wrong.


Not yet vs. Not enough

by David on October 2, 2011

Not yet: You haven’t achieved success… yet. You haven’t yet logged in the requisite hours to become a master in your field (10,000, according to Malcolm Gladwell). You haven’t yet lost all the weight you hope to lose. You haven’t yet finished the script/business/website you’re working on. The “not yet” stage is sometimes fun, at least in the beginning, but it’s often not. It’s here when aspirations come into direct contact with reality—which is usually humbling, and sometimes downright depressing. During the “not yet” stage of reaching your goal, you will be frustrated, annoyed. You will be tempted to give up and pursue other goals that seem easier. But what’s needed during this stage is redoubled focus and commitment. As much as you want to, you can’t skip this stage. Not yet always comes before Done.

Not enough: you feel you don’t have enough (intelligence/will power/clout/energy/talent) to reach your goal, so you might as well do busywork, or better yet just do nothing.

Not yet is about being patient and sticking it out.

Not enough is an excuse to do nothing.

Recognize the difference.

Be patient. Stick it out.

Do something.