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Which of Monday's 'American Masters' Documentaries Is Better? I Say: 'Boo!'
April 2, 2012  | By David Bianculli
 
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Of Monday's two new American Masters literary profiles on PBS, the much better one is titled Hey, Boo! And if your response is "Boo who?," my response is: Quit your crying...

...And watch Harper Lee: Hey Boo!, a wonderful examination of the life and sole novel by the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The two profiles are Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel (8 p.m. ET; check local listings), an hour-long documentary about the author of Gone with the Wind, and Harper Lee: Hey Boo!, which follows at 9 and is a slightly longer, infinitely better program.

(For an interview with American Masters creator Susan Lacy about these two programs, see Tom Brinkmoeller's Raised on MTM article HERE.)

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The Mitchell biography, by writer and executive producer Pamela Roberts, has a separate credit for Kathy White as "Director of Reenactments," which tells you pretty much all you need to know.

From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel is too florid, too superficial, and much too apologetic a study, forgiving the author for racist and insensitive positions and leanings the same way some biographers of D.W. Griffith treat the man behind Birth of a Nation.

And juxtaposing this program directly against Harper Lee: Lee, Boo! merely underscores the difference in quality between the two programs. Hey Boo!, written, produced and directed by Mary McDonagh Murphy, is smart, inspired and inspiring.

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It has people who have been affected by To Kill a Mockingbird reading their favorite passages -- including Oprah Winfrey, who fights back tears. It has clips from the Gregory Peck movie, of course, but also footage of Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote, the model for Scout's best friend in Mockingbird and a literary icon in his own right.

With Hey Boo!, you get a very clear sense of how bold a work To Kill a Mockingbird was -- and still is. One great scene takes cameras into a high school classroom, where young students talk passionately about the racial and legal ramifications of the case. And with Harper Lee not granting interviews for decades, rivaling J.D. Salinger as a literary recluse, we get to understand her motives a little bit as well, from such sources as her still-living older sister.

After watching this double-header American Masters presentation, I was eager to go to my personal library shelves and pull down my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird for an immediate re-read.

As for revisiting Gone with the Wind? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn...



 
 
 
 
 
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