Alice Adams (1935) – The Katharine Hepburn Project #2

The Katharine Hepburn Project is alive and well! You may have noticed I didn’t stick to my pledge of one-movie-per-month in June. I thought I’d do two in July to make up for it, but I’m swiftly running out of time. We’ll see if that happens. If not, August becomes the double-up month! Anyway, on to our feature.

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Alice Adams, the next Katharine Hepburn movie available (chronologically) on iTunes, is a portrait of a young woman who wants desperately to belong to the “in-crowd”. Sadly, she can’t because her family is poor. The film opens with her preparing for and attending a dance at a rich girl’s house. She’s purchased a powder puff she’s very proud of, and she’s added new flounces to disguise a two-year-old organdy dress. To add insult to injury, her unwilling brother is her escort. He spends most of the night playing craps in the coat closet with the staff.

Alice spends most of the time hovering in the hallway, pretending to be waiting for her escort and looking longingly at the fellows passing by, hoping desperately that someone (other than “Fat Frank Dowling”) will ask her to dance. Eventually, our hunky male lead, Mr. Arthur Russell, does just that. This is the youngest I’ve ever seen Fred MacMurray, and golly gee whillikers does he look just like Benedict Cumberbatch. I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of this movie, but it gets a thumbs-up in the eye-candy department.

This opening scene at the dance is really really long—and she actually leaves early! Thank goodness she doesn’t stay for the duration. In fact, she leaves in shame when Arthur discovers her brother gambling with the help.

So now seems like a good time to point out this film’s painfully racist moments. When Alice later runs into Arthur on the street, she makes up a story about how her brother “tells the most wonderful darkie stories”, and he only spends time with “them” to get material. The treatment of the woman they hire to serve a fancy dinner later in the film isn’t much better. And yes, those attitudes were nothing out of the ordinary in 1935, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable to watch from 2015. (Especially considering how far we haven’t come since then.) Alice Adams is hardly alone in having such uncomfortable bits–Holiday Inn (a film I manage to love) has Bing Crosby in blackface—but unlike Holiday Inn, Alice Adams doesn’t have a mostly-lovely plot and performances to even partly balance out the awfulness of such scenes.

The truth is, I don’t like Alice very much. She’s too caught up in appearing to be something she’s not. I find it off-putting. She spins lies far too easily for my taste. Perhaps if I’d seen this film when I was in high school I’d have a different view of it. In fact, I’m certain I would have. At this point in my life I’m so far beyond caring what most people think, I find it almost impossible to relate to her.

Now to focus on Kate herself for a moment, she’s the only reason I didn’t downright dislike Alice. To the character’s credit, she did have a lot of warmth and a real can-do attitude. In a lesser actor’s hands, those traits may not have shined enough to smooth out my annoyance. I think I mentioned Katharine Hepburn “glowing” as Jo in Little Women. Here, she’s positively effulgent. It’s not just the cheesecloth-close-ups that make her seem beautiful and approachable, it’s her beaming smile when she’s making someone happy.

Okay, so she’s not altogether unlikable.

Arthur sure likes her enough in the end—though he’s kind of a non-entity. He only exists to be a focus for her affection. He’s a very good-looking plot point—giving us a little bit of drama near the end when we wonder if the things he’s heard will turn him against Alice. Of course they don’t. And of course he declares he loves her. And of course I got weepy. But let’s be clear: My threshold for weepiness in old movies is very very low, so this doesn’t say much about the film.

The lack of character development is what bothered me the most. Alice doesn’t learn anything or change, she just gets what she wants in the end. Arthur is such a nothing-character, I spent the whole movie suspecting he was only spending time with her to shame her later. I never for a moment thought he actually liked her until he declared it at the end. Alice’s mother, a materialistic bully, doesn’t grow either–though at least her scheming is what brings the family low just before the denouement. I admit to feeling perverse pleasure at their downfall just because I thought she’d see how wrong she’d been. That doesn’t really pan out as explicitly as I’d like. Her father would have been one of the few likable characters if the performance was better, but I did not enjoy watching him. He was supposed to be a bit of a wet rag, but he took the wet-raggedness too far. It was as if all they needed was someone to recite the lines on the screen, with no real feeling behind them.

For all the bashing I’ve just done, I didn’t hate this film. It was a mediocre slice-of-life flick from the 30s. I’d rather watch one of those than plenty of other movies from a few decades later. I doubt I’ll watch this one again, but I’m not sorry I saw it. If you like Katharine Hepburn, it’s certainly worth watching.

About the Patron:

Erik Stadnik (@sjcaustenite on Twitter) is one of my favorite people in the world. I met him in person the same weekend I met my spouse, and I fell in love with both of them in different ways. In fact, Steven and I chose Erik to perform our wedding ceremony. He did it perfectly. He is also the intelligent, well-spoken co-host of three excellent podcasts, The Doctor Who Book Club, Doctor Who: The Writers’ Room, and The Classic Horror Cast. His always erudite and insightful blog can be found at erikandhispointlessblog.blogspot.com.

Tweet-tiquette Missteps

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This morning was a learning-morning for me. Those aren’t always fun, but they’re always good. I was having a bit of the old morning-anxiety-brain, and something I heard on a podcast really triggered it into high gear. The thing and the podcast are beside the point. My reaction is not. That reaction was to tweet about it. Sometimes that’s an okay thing to do, but as most celebrities and congressmen will tell you, it’s not always the smartest choice.

The problem was I came at it from a really selfish viewpoint. As if my reaction was universal (certainly not), or even common (who knows?). And the really dumb thing I did was tag the podcast and podcasters involved. Oy. My thought process at the time was this:

I love this thing SO MUCH I want it to succeed in every way possible! And there’s this thing that really bothered me that might make it less successful! I should shout it from the tweet-tops!

But outside of my head it looked like this:

I have a problem with how someone else does something so I’m complaining about it loudly on the internet! And not only that, but I’m telling someone else how they should make their own thing!

Duuuude. Not a good call.

As soon as I tweeted it all out, I admit to feeling relief in my brain—it cooled the anxiety a bit. And hey, that’s why some of us do these things in the first place. However, that particular relief valve wasn’t really worth it because then I started to feel another kind of anxiety—the what-if-that-wasn’t-a-great-idea kind. The I-hope-they-take-that-in-the-spirit-it-was-intended kind. The oh-shit-I-look-like-an-ass kind.

And by the time I got to work I’d had several private messages about it. A couple were from people agreeing with my feelings, but, like civilized people, doing it privately. The other was from someone gently pointing out it was maybe not a great idea to tweet like that and tag the people involved.

And I felt like the idiot I was. Because I was.

So I deleted the whole string of tweets—a decision I’m happy with. I’m less happy with the fact I tweeted in the first place. But if I hadn’t, then I wouldn’t have had this lesson-learning experience and might’ve gone on to tweet something even more bone-headed in the future.

My next challenge is to take the positive from this and learn (rather than just feeling like a jerk all day and letting it bring me down—that helps exactly no one). And maybe somebody reading this will think twice next time they have a criticism of something they love. There’s absolutely a place for criticism and feedback, but unless you *want* to make someone else feel bad, there’s a way to go about it—gently and in private are two key factors. Words of advice from someone who got it wrong.

So to anyone who saw my little outburst this morning and was made even the teensiest bit uncomfortable, I apologise wholeheartedly. I will certainly do my best to avoid anything like this again. I can’t guarantee I’ll succeed, but dammit, I’m gonna try.

In closing, I’d like to point myself to one of my own posts. The irony that I wrote a post entitled (in part) “Think Before You Tweet” is not lost on me. So yeah, self: Think more. Tweet better.

Webcomics – Worth Sticking With

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I recently stumbled across my notes from an Incomparable episode we recorded way back in 2014. I thought I’d pull them together and flesh them out to make a series of blog posts because web comics are cool goshdarnit! And know there are more out there than these. (The other comics we talked about in The Incomparable #220 are just the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure!) Let me know what your favorites are in the comments!

The Order of the Stick

The Order of the Stick is a web comic created by Rich Burlew that lovingly satirizes table-top RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons specifically. The characters are stick figures, as you may have guessed from the title, but they have surprisingly effective and emotive faces. He captures mood and emotion far better than some artists manage with more realistic styles.

“The Order of the Stick” is the name of an adventuring crew made up of the usual suspects—human fighter, rogue, and bard, dwarven paladin, halfling ranger, elven wizard. Only one, the rogue, is female (probably—the elf is gender-unspecified, which I like), but I find it hard to be upset about the lack of female representation in the principals. If the party was gender-balanced, it wouldn’t work so well as satire. There are oodles of other female characters in the world, and they only occasionally conform to traditional gender-roles, which is super-awesome. There’s one great interaction between Haley, the female rogue of the party, and another female character in which they hilariously make mockery of how gender roles typically play out in D&D.*

The cast is racially diverse as well–at least as far as I can tell from stick figures. Continue reading

Chasing the Shadows of the 80s – Shadow Chasers

I know I’ve been largely quiet of late, which means I haven’t chugged through the patron-inspired posts as quickly as I’d hoped. For that, I am sorry. Life and brain chemistry got in the way. But I am back on the horse,* and today I bring you words about a doozy of a patron-requested topic.

You may remember Mike Huberty from my most recent Cool People Doing Cool Things post. In addition to rocking and podcasting, Mike loves TV. And he has a ridiculously good memory for shows that ran for a very short time during his childhood. He asked me to watch one of those for the blog. Speaking of his podcast, the themes of today’s show fit perfectly alongside the topics on See You on the Other Side. So with no further ado, let’s get into it!

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Shadow Chasers is a maybe-spooky-maybe-silly show created by Brian Grazer and Kenneth Johnson. It ran 14 episodes in 1985 and chronicles the adventures of Serious Scientist Jonathan MacKensie (played by Trevor Eve) and tabloid journalist/novelist Edgar “Benny” Benedek (played by Dennis Dugan). They travel around and investigate reports of strange occurrences. The pilot, however, is the getting-the-band-together story. At the start, Benny is in the offices of The National Register. This the craziest of tabloids, judging by the newsroom in the first scene—it’s got everything from Elvis as an alien to a dude meditating on a desk with flames coming out of his palms. It’s worth noting that the blocking, acting, and timing of this scene smacks of cable access. You can’t even hear most of the dialogue. Happily, the direction does get better from here. Anyway, Benny hears about a house in California that started on fire spontaneously, and decides it’s a story worth checking out.

Meanwhile, Jonathan is trying to edge out of his father’s shadow at the fictional Georgetown Institute. His department head semi-blackmails Jonathan into heading to California to study the very same case Benny is looking into. She wants him to see if there’s any truth behind the reports of supernatural occurrences. She knows he’ll investigate in a thorough and unbiased manner because he’s a skeptic, you see.

As you might have picked up, this is something of an X-Files before there was an X-Files. Continue reading

Cool People Doing Cool Things – Episode IV

It’s time for more coolness! Welcome to the fourth installment of my periodic roundup of fantastic friends and their creative creations. And if you haven’t already, do check out the first, second, and third posts of this kind!


 

Cool Person: Kyle Anderson

I met Kyle via Twitter. In fact, I think I was one of his first followers, thanks to Chris Hardwick tweeting about him. Kyle writes for Nerdist.com, you see. But that particular coolness is not the one I’m here to share. Before I get to that, I do recommend you read his sweet Nerdist articles. Among all the other fab stuff he writes, he recently finished up a couple series of posts–a Cowboy Bebop review/discussion, and a Miyazaki Masterclass. I must admit I haven’t read them yet because I’ve barely scratched the surface of Miyazaki, and haven’t seen any of Cowboy Bebop. I know I need to rectify both those. I look forward to reading his wise words when I’m finally in-the-know. If you already are, then yay you! Go forth and read without fear of spoilers!

Cool Thing: Awesomely Bad Movies

Awesomely Bad Movies Continue reading

CONvergence Conversation

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I’ve been jonesing for some con-goodness, and I’m about to scratch that itch in a big way! This Thursday I fly away to the southern climes* of Minnesota for CONvergence. I’ve never been before, but I’m pretty excited! It’s not as big a con as Dragon*Con (which I’ve attended twice) or SDCC (which I’ve never attended), but it’s much larger than the Doctor Who conventions I frequent. It’s in the neighborhood of 7,000 people, so it’s roughly twice the size of my beloved Gally.

One thing it has in common with Gally: CONvergence is a fan-run convention. That’s a huge part of the reason I’m so excited to go. I enjoy the big media conventions as well, but there’s something about the atmosphere at a fan-run con that you just don’t get anywhere else. They’re built from the ground up on love– Continue reading

Listing Towards OCD

I’ve talked before about some of my coping mechanisms for dealing with mental health issues: how I remind myself depression lies, how I use jigsaw puzzles to calm my anxious mind, how I focus on the good stuff. One other thing I do is try to harness my mental weirdness and use it for good when I can. I have more than a touch of obsessive-compulsiveness. Happily, it’s not enough to interfere much with my daily life. In fact, I’ve found a way to trick my compulsive brain into working for me instead of against me.

The key is randomness.

No. There are two keys: randomness and dice.

Continue reading