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To Kill A Mockingbird

Extract from Student's Guide

SEQUENCE 1
Opening credits

List the contents of the Trinket box.

Morning in Maycomb

Opening scene which introduces the main characters of the film; Atticus, Jem, Scout, Dill, Miss Maudie, Mr. Cunningham, Calpurnia, Boo Radley.
What do we learn about each character?

What themes are being introduced?

How are the relationships between the characters established?

What do we learn about the community of Maycomb?

Extract from Teacher's Commentary

INTRODUCTION

This study guide has been prepared as a photocopiable resource for use in secondary schools by teachers and students who want to explore how film works on an aesthetic level.

Following this method will mean that the film can be completed in two to three weeks. A major project on the film could be produced if the students build up their work over the two weeks and add an Introduction (by doing research on other titles by the same director or whatever), and sections on Themes, Imagery, Setting, Characterisation etc.

Studying film is a very worthwhile and liberating experience for teachers and pupils. Teachers may find that the expertise of the students outpaces their own. In this case the learning experience is truly social and of benefit to all. Skills of facilitating the group will be developed in this environment. The discipline that the teachers brings from their previous training and experience will act as a scaffold to facilitate learning among the students, and the concepts that the students bring to the class will be strengthened.

SEQUENCE 1
Morning in Maycomb
At the Finch's house

The opening sequence of the film consists of two scenes. The first, a short scene, introduces us to the town of Maycomb. It is accompanied by a voice-over, which we learn is that of Scout, as an adult, looking back on her childhood. This scene establishes the setting for the film. We see the houses and the street where most of the film's action is centred. The slow pace of life is emphasised by the camera movement which pans about the setting as it follows the progress of one man on foot and another on a buckboard. The two scenes are linked by a dissolve, a technique whereby one image fades out while another is superimposed on it.

The second part of this opening sequence introduces us to all of the main characters of the film. We are introduced to the Finch family through Mr. Cunningham as he comes to pay an instalment on his entailment. This detail immediately establishes Atticus' position as a lawyer and a figure of authority in the local community. A number of contrasts are deliberately being made between the Finches, who represent the townspeople, and Mr. Cunningham, who represents the farmers from out of town, and Atticus' explanation to Scout outlines the social background and setting for the film. Costume codes and gestures visually convey the social differences of the characters. Mr. Cunningham is dressed as a farmer and he respectfully touches his hat to salute Atticus as he meets him.

Atticus, in turn, is formally dressed. As he emerges from the house, he buttons his waistcoat and greets the farmer as "Walter". The conversation between the two is quite formal and underlines their social differences. The framing of the scene is also important. The steps of the porch are deliberately used to allow Atticus to dominate Mr. Cunningham, who is forced to "look up" to him. The choice of a high camera angle further emphasises Mr. Cunningham's lower status. This scene is repeated later in the film on the jailhouse steps.

As Mr. Cunningham walks away, Scout slides down the handrail of the porch and rests easily on Atticus' shoulder. Pause this shot for discussion, as it is very important in revealing the kind of relationship which exists between the two. Their conversation at this point is also very revealing, as Scout seems to speak to her father as an equal. Likewise Atticus seems to treat Scout as an adult and this can be contrasted with how he deals with Jem as the scene progresses. Space is also being used to symbolically establish the relationship between Atticus and his son. Jem's location in the tree house with the curtains drawn, is important as it shows the gap which exists between him and his father. The point-of-view shot from the tree house allows Jem to literally "look down" on his father. It is worth contrasting this gap with the closeness of Atticus and Scout. The conversation between the two reveals how formal Atticus is with his son and how he refuses to play football with him. It seems to suggest that Atticus feels it would not be fitting for him to be seen playing with Jem. As Jem later speaks to Ms. Maudie from the tree house, he accuses Atticus of not letting him have a gun. This is a significant change from the novel where we are told that Jem is quite well able to use a rifle. However, in the film, this detail establishes a reason for the distance between the two. The narrowing of this gap becomes one of the major themes of the film. As it is narrowed Jem discovers a previously unknown side to his father and Atticus realises just how important his children are to him.

Once Atticus retires to breakfast, we are introduced to Dill Harris. Dill's role is to act as a catalyst as he focuses the kids' attention on the Radley house and instigates their visit to the Court House. He is also the driving force behind another of the film's plots i.e. the children's obsession with Boo Radley and his gradual emergence from the shadows. The screen character of Dill Harris is radically different from the novel. Although he is still a teller of tall tales, he is not mistreated as the book suggests. Instead he is fussed over by his Aunt Stephanie, and is obviously well looked after.

Musical themes are also introduced here, particularly Boo Radley's theme in the piano/music box style. Although we do not see Boo in this scene, his musical theme suggests his presence. This music box theme is used at several points in the film whenever Boo is discussed by other characters. The use of the music box, suggestive of childhood, is at variance with the two descriptions we get of Boo, one from Jem who describes him in terms of a child's nightmare figure, the other from Aunt Stephanie, whose more adult description is "maniac". As the film progresses both of these descriptions are proven false.

Two characters whose roles sometimes blur in the course of the film are Calpurnia and Miss Maudie. At various points each one assumes the role of mother to the children. Both are introduced to us in this scene. It is worth noting Miss Maudie's costume as she waters her daffodils. She wears a light dress, sun hat and gardening gloves, all of which suggest a very feminine character who does not like to get her hands dirty. The action of watering the daffodils is also significant as it establishes the time of year. As the film progresses, the clothes worn by the characters as well as details in their surroundings are also used in this way to mark the passing of time.