Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scout's Honor

I had not planned on seeing To Kill A Mockingbird, even if Scout herself, Mary Badham, was going to appear.  Nothing against Miss Badham or the film itself, but I have seen TKAM many times and wanted to try something new.  I had at first opted to watch Alexander Nevsky at the smaller Philanthropy Theater immediately next to the Plaza. 

My change of plans require I believe, some explanation. As loath as I am to talk about my private life, they are relevant as to how I ended up at TKAM rather than Alexander Nevsky.  Without going into too much detail, I had a date, and after some thought I decided that A.) it would not do to keep her waiting if I had to rush from work to the Plaza (which as I've stated before can take up to forty minutes), and B.) Alexander Nevsky might not make the best impression for a date.  I would already be in the area since I was going to see the film prior to TKAM (Midway) and since Alexander Nevsky doesn't exactly scream 'romance', I decided in the end To Kill A Mockingbird might be the better choice. 

This won't be a review about To Kill A Mockingbird (and mercifully, not about my date either, although I think it went rather well).  Instead, it will be about Miss Badham's talk and my own impressions and views on her chat with PCFF Artistic Director Charles Hovak.

One can see Miss Badham, still perky at 59, is a true Southern belle (more on that later) as well as a delight to listen to.  In the forty-odd minutes she spoke prior to the screening, she told stories, some funny, some sad, and left the audience with a greater appreciation for both the film and the importance and relevance of To Kill A Mockingbird even now.

Badham basically played herself: a little tomboy from the South.  When Horak asked if she was precocious as a child, she replied, "I was...yes," then let out a loud laugh that accompanied the audience's.  She remembers the filming as 'five months of having a blast'.

It was important to cast Southern children because, as Badham observed, things wouldn't have to be explained to them.  Second, it was important to cast kids with imagination.

Here, she took an ever-so-genteel swipe at the current generation of youngsters when she said that imagination was something easier to find in 1962.  I can see her point: a lot of children today don't value the importance of imagination, with the barrage of video games and films and Internet being more important than finding time to go outside and play.

In regards to whether there was any negative reaction to her appearing in To Kill A Mockingbird, the only thing she recalls is that she was never sure if people really were her friends for herself, Mary Badham, or because Mary Badham was in a movie.

During the conversation, while the audience had a rapt silence, a cell phone went off...loudly.  Here is where the Southern belle came out.  She just calmly looked out into the audience and with a sweet, Southern tone declared, "Somebody has a cell phone," with Horak following her lead by extending his arm and pointing all over the audience. 

This, I pause to say, is class.  She didn't get mad or become agitated.  Badham merely pointed out the obvious in the loveliest, almost jovial, voice, and this is how one should handle such thoughtless moments: with a deft touch.

One thing that I learned was that TKAM director Robert Mulligan drew the performances out of the children by keeping all the adults in character whenever the kids were on set at all times.   

As for the actual premiere, the only memory Badham has of that itself is of embarrassment at seeing herself up on the screen...and in a dress no less!  What she does remember is when the talk started getting dark, more sad, where, to coin a phrase, she took it down a notch and brought to our attention just how controversial TKAM was.

Badham recalls that many of her school friends were surprised to find themselves crying over a black man (and I imagine, the injustice of it all).  However, these same girls had to dry their tears and eyes before their parents could see them and ask why they were so upset.

The insidious racism the South was still wrestling with is evident in a particularly shocking story Badham shared from her own life experience.  It was Easter, and she and Beadie (her Calpurnia as she called her, and I can't vouch for the spelling of Beadie) had gone shopping for Badham's Easter ensemble.  It was raining at the time, and a group of black people were waiting at the bus stop.

Mary and Beadie got onto the bus.  Now, one must remember this was a time when strict segregation was being enforced, where blacks had to sit at the back of the bus (thank you, Rosa Parks), and this was Birmingham, the heart of the white resistance.  The 'colored' section was already full to overflowing, while the 'white' section was nearly empty.  Hoping against hope, Beadie sat with Mary at the very end of the white section, hoping that perhaps with this small child with her it would be all right.

Mary remembers that they hadn't gone far when the bus conductor stopped the bus and went back there, his face all red and furious.  Telling her there was no way she was going to sit there he forced Beadie to the overflowing 'colored' section.  An agitated Mary started following her, but the bus driver grabbed her, told her there was no way SHE was going to go to the back of the bus, and forced her to stay in the white section. 

Beadie, a stout woman if memory serves correct, was forced to sit on top of two black men for the rest of the journey.

The injustice and shame of it all still rings within Badhams's voice when retelling this story.  However, it is another story that sealed Badham's decision to leave the South because of this insanity.

There was going to be a party at the Badham home, and John, a young black man who was delivering groceries, was offered lemonade by Mary.  She had known John for some time, and Mary knew him to be highly intelligent and educated (John had been given library books surreptitiously).  Mary's mother saw him and told Mary that he had to leave...immediately (the tone of Badham's voice lowered when using the word, 'immediately'). 

"You're not in California anymore," her mother told her.  Now the Badhams weren't prejudiced, but they were bound by the mores of the times.

Mary went to her father, Colonel Badham.  "Your heart is in the right place," he told her, "but your mother is right: you're not in California anymore". 

This sealed the deal for Mary Badham about how all this segregation and thinking was poisonous.

With that, Horak ended the talk and Mary Badham was given an ovation.  However, she had one last thing to tell us at the Plaza Classic Film Festival.

"Education is the key to freedom," she said.  "Ignorance is the root of all evil."

Even fifty years after Harper Lee's only novel was made into a film, we still can find great wisdom and truth within it. 

"Education is the key to freedom.  Ignorance is the root of all evil."  Those words will ring in my ear as long as I live, because it is so true.

I figure Mary Badham is distressed by a lack of education and use of imagination by today's young.  People find that knowledge is something almost useless (apart from knowing how to get more points on a video game).  Books are slowly becoming obsolete, and going outside to play is seen as almost anachronistic (kids today are more Greg Heffley than Scout Finch).  I see it in people who claim to have an open mind but won't watch a black-and-white film or read a 'classic' novel because the lack of color or age automatically means it's 'boring'.

I was pleased to have heard Mary Badham speak (and the date wasn't that bad either).  Still, the thing I took from her talk was simply this:


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