(On Sunday May 11, Andrea and I went with my daughter Sian and her boyfriend Bob to the Queen's Film Theatre to see 'To Kill A Mockingbird' on the big screen)
Oceans of ink have already been spilled on the subject of To Kill a Mockingbird, so there’s really no reason for me to pour my thimbleful over the side of this boat.
But I can’t help myself. What is it about this film that peels me open every time?
Certainly the central performance by Gregory Peck is a towering example of dignity, courage, integrity and strong, loving parenting. I have to say that Atticus Finch is the yardstick I set myself some time ago as a father.
(I know. It’s an impossible standard to measure up to, but you have to aim for something. There are a number of things that will bring me out in a cold sweat in the small hours of the night. And the thought that I might have been a bad parent is one of them. So I look to Atticus as one of the role models)
The sense of lost childhood is also stronger every time I see the movie – the narration, the idea that this whole thing is already a memory. That’s highlighted, I think, by the soundtrack, which hints at nursery rhyme structures now and then.
Also the look of the film – the overhanging trees, the creaking verandahs, the fallen leaves, the warm darkness... It’s a childhood world seen in memory. It has an unreal quality, like the whole street – the trees and yards and houses – was created in a vast film studio lot - indoors - and lit to look like reality, but feels instead like something you dreamed.
It’s an archetypal southern landscape too, all those heatstruck ladies and the kindly black maids, front porches and screen doors, chirping crickets and tree houses. People sitting outdoors at night on a porch swing, fanning themselves in courthouses, the rattling cars, the pocket watches and waistcoats.
It has been many years since I saw the film, and Sunday past was my first time to see it on a big screen. It has lost none of its power to move me. Almost from the minute they put Tom Robinson on the stand through to the last line... ‘he would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning’ - I’m in tatters.
What do I weep for? The first novels that really made an impression on my teenage mind were Southern Gothic classics - Harper Lee's Mockingbird, Truman Capote's A Grass Harp, Carson McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Cafe, and as a result, it's a world that makes me nostalgic when I go back there to visit, like a sentimental tourist in my own childhood.
What do so many of us weep for, anyway? Our own lost childhoods, I suppose. In my case, lost opportunities to be a better father, too, I’d guess. As always, the sense that time is slipping through our fingers and important things are being missed.