When given the choice of Roman Holiday or To Kill a Mockingbird for HMWYBS, the choice was a fairly easy one. Watching Trumbo pretty much put me off wanting to watch Roman Holiday ever for fear of Bryan Cranston entering my mind as I watched it. I also hadn’t seen TKAM in about a decade, before the death of Harper Lee and the Go Set a Watchman mess, and didn’t remember a damn thing about its photography…with one exception.
So, first, watch this video. Watch all eleven minutes of it, in full screen, no distractions. Then come back.
All done? Good. (Sorry.) We were shown this in one of my film classes and it made quite the impression. My personal theory is that it encapsulates the never ending array of interchangeable breakfasts when you become a parent. I had zero intention of picking the scene for Best Shot (why is the neighbor more important than the maid?), but it affected my viewing of TKAM by shifting it towards Robert Mulligan’s attempts to make a portrait of a Southern town that hasn’t changed for a while but is on the precipice of a great change.
I think it’s because of what I was looking for that I can now say that the early scenes of the movie are my favorites. They remind me of The Wizard of Oz’s Kansas scenes, a place that you simultaneously want to get away from and could totally see being someone’s home where the heart is. The film is at its best here before it really digs itself into what I’ll generously call “of its time” social attitudes towards race.
While Gregory Peck probably is best in show here, Mary Badham as Scout is no slouch (one of the nicer touches are that her and Jem come across as very natural while their out-of-town friend Dill can be best described as theatrical). Halfway between asleep and awake, Scout quizzes Jem about the mother she never knew, and everything about the moment in question is somewhere between the two states, just like the movie itself in the early stages. A mix of blissful dreaminess and a desire to question everything. (It’s not captured in the shot, but the music’s on point too.) Wistful and sleepy. It’s the last moment of innocence before the mind is opened, and the fact that the curtains make it look like someone is peeking through the window (Atticus? Boo?) is the cherry on top.