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Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & “To Kill a Mockingbird”

hey_boo

Release Year:   2010
Studio:   First Run Features
Format:   Colour, DVD, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
Rating:   Not Rated
# of Discs:   1
Running Time:   82 m + bonus
DVD Release Date:   July 19, 2011

Creator:   Mary Murphy, based on the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Screenwriter:   Mary Murphy
Director:   Mary Murphy
Actors:   Mary Badham, Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Alice Finch Lee, Oprah
DVD Features:   Bonus Interviews with May Badham, James McBride and Oprah Winfrey; Director Interview & Biography; SDH subtitles
E: Top Picks Rating:   7/10

First Run Features Write-up:

After more than half a century, To Kill a Mockingbird remains a beloved bestseller and quite possibly the most influential American novel of the 20th Century. Nearly one million copies are sold each year and the novel has been translated into more than forty languages. The film version, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, won a trio of Academy Awards.
Behind it all was a young Southern girl named Nelle Harper Lee, who once said that all she wanted to be is the Jane Austen of South Alabama. Hey, Boo explores Lee’s life and unravels some of the mysteries surrounding her, including why she never published again.
Containing never-before-seen photos and letters and a rare interview with Lee’s sister, Alice Finch Lee, the film also brings to light the context and history of the novel’s setting in the Deep South and the social changes it inspired.
Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Wally Lamb, Anna Quindlen, Richard Russo, Scott Turow, Oprah Winfrey, Andrew Young and others reflect on the novel’s power, influence, and popularity, and the many ways it has shaped their lives.

Rhiannon Benedict Review:

HEY, BOO: HARPER LEE & TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a fine example of a documentary made with great passion and enthusiasm. Unfortunately it is not a fine example of a documentary. Apparently Writer/ Producer/ Director Mary McDonagh Murphy spent 20 years as a producer at CBS and has had three other docs on PBS. So what happened?

It seems that what we have in HEY, BOO is a failure to communicate. Perhaps Murphy needed another hand or two to guide her ship into port successfully. She’s clearly in love with her material, and in the absence of more objective influences, this film very nearly sinks.

There is no through-line to hold the content together. There are more “talking head” sequences in her interviews than I’ve seen in a long time, and the interviewees do not seem to be well-guided – their content wanders back and forth. There are so many bits and pieces and snippets of things thrown in, when you get to the end, instead of the “Wow!” that you’d like to give her, what pops into your head is “What was the point of all that?” HEY, BOO is a meandering structural mess and a bit frustrating to watch.

The main factor that saves Murphy’s film is the subject matter. While the bits and pieces and snippets are disjointed, they are truly fascinating and some of her talking heads really do have a lot of new things to say. The information Murphy offers up in her film is worth watching – almost every second of it. And I would not want any of it omitted. Unfortunately it required a stronger mandate and a finer hand in order to turn the great content into a great documentary.

I would like to say otherwise, but HEY, BOO: HARPER LEE & TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a brilliant opportunity tragically wasted. However, while it won’t go down in history as a great work of art, as a source of education and information, it’s worth the effort.

 

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