Uncommon Grace: The Life of Flannery O'Connor
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Despite her premature death at age 39, Flannery O’Connor left behind one of the most haunting and strikingly original bodies of work in 20th Century literature. With the rural South as her backdrop, she brought to life a string of eccentric characters torn between their worldly ambitions and the need for a more enduring truth. This film traces the people and events that shaped her remarkable career, as well as the important role that Catholicism played in her writing. Featuring expert commentary and rare photographs, Uncommon Grace will give you a new appreciation for this highly celebrated, yet often misunderstood, storyteller.
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What else? As good or better than the superb narration is the...MUSIC. The soundtrack of this film is just STUNNING. No other word for it. Along with Ms. Kurt's crisp narration, the soundtrack carries the film from start to finish. Flannery O'Connor's short life of just 39 years was marked by suffering, both physical and emotional, which she bore heroically. The soundtrack conveys precisely the right tone for a film about her life: certainly not melancholic, because her deep Catholic faith would have precluded such a lack of hope. But still...pensive, without being morose. Still serious-minded and even sorrowful. And the music captures all of that perfectly, in my opinion. I finished the film with a lump in my throat, frankly. It's that good.
If you are a fan in any way of American Literature in general or of Flannery O'Connor in particular, get this DVD. I guarantee you will thoroughly enjoy it. This film comes with my highest recommendation. I loved it.
I had assumed that I knew all there was to know about O’Connor’s life and was not surprised to find the backwards-walking-chicken, the cartoons about the WAVES, and the story of Paul Engle’s inability to understand her drawl included in the film. I had also assumed that I had seen every photograph of O’Connor: every pose on her porch, every awkward glance, every pursed-lips stare.
I was half-wrong—wonderfully so—on the first count and wholly wrong on the second. I knew that O’Connor revered her father, Edward, but Uncommon Grace reminded me, through its skillful use of a photograph and narration, of the depth of their relationship. Each adored the other. And I knew that the view from Andalusia’s porch inspired the ways in which O’Connor described the sun and treeline in so many of her works, but seeing it on film made me nod and think, That’s exactly right. As for the photographs, never before had I seen one of her among a brace of ducks.
The director, Bridget Kurt, wisely avoids tackling all of O’Connor’s works. While the mention of “Parker’s Back,” for example, made me hope for some discussion of that terrific story, I knew that to treat all of O’Connor’s works would only lead to superficial observations. Instead, Kurt opts for introducing Hazel Motes as O’Connor’s archetypical character whose fingerprints are found on Hulga, Rayber, Mr. Head, and many others; she then treats “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People.” Her choice of speakers is also sharp: the late William Sessions speaks of the Prayer Journal, biographer Brad Gooch talks about O’Connor’s home appearing in her stories, and professor David King provides sensible literary insights.
More impressive than the literary treatment is the way in which Kurt tells the story of O’Connor’s illness and death. Nothing could have been easier, or perhaps more expected, than to turn O’Connor’s battle with lupus into an occasion for sentimental slow-pans of photos accompanied by soft piano music. O’Connor would have hated such an approach. Writing to Maryat Lee in 1960, O’Connor fumed, “I don’t want further attention called to myself in this way. My lupus has no business in literary considerations.” The occasion was a review in Time of A Good Man Is Hard to Find which described her as a “bookish spinster” and one whose suffering would have seemed to prevent her from writing. Uncommon Grace instead presents O’Connor as an artist imbued with the quality mentioned in the film’s title. Anyone who sees it and doesn’t know O’Connor’s work will be provoked into reading it; anyone deeply familiar with O’Connor’s work will be reminded of why he or she was drawn to it in the first place.