Mary Murphy‘s Hey, Boo (opening 5.13 at the Quad Cinema) is one of those gently incisive personal-portrait documentaries that covers all the bases except the one you want to know the most about. It’s about Harper Lee and the creation and lore of To Kill A Mockingbird, and is quietly absorbing and perceptive and nicely composed. But how does anyone (especially a writer) cruise for 51 years, doing essentially nothing, after writing one very moving and popular book?
Lee never wrote anything of any size or ambition after To Kill A Mockingbird. She just kicked back and chilled and lived off her Mockingbird money, which has never stopped pouring in. I’m sorry but an artist can’t do “nothing” for half a century. All artists are inclined to say more or less the same thing over and over — I get that — but a writer is about more than just saying that one thing well. Writers live to write and write to live. It’s a faith and a discipline. You don’t resign. You’re committed for life. It’s like being in the mafia.
And I’ve never been persuaded, incidentally, that Lee wrote every line of To Kill A Mockingbird all by herself. I think she had some editing help from her childhood pal Truman Capote. I don’t care what Murphy or anyone else says about this. I’ve heard things and suspect what I suspect.
And why didn’t Lee talk to Murphy for the film? Seriously — she does nothing for 50 years and then a serious filmmaker wants to compose an affectionate tribute and Lee blows her off? And yet Lee came out of hiding to accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom Award from George Bush in 2007 but reportedly declined to attend some kind of similar White House ceremony when she was invited by Barack Obama ? Is she a Republican or something? She’s a rural Alabaman so that would fit