January 27, 2014

Katharine Hepburn, Alice Adams

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Whenever I think of "Katharine Hepburn", there are particular images of her that come to my mind. I don't know about you, but I think of the wealthy, hi-hat Kate that we see in The Philadelphia Story, playing golf on a large estate a la Cate Blanchett's depiction in The Aviator. I think of a tomboyish, feminist, pants-wearing Kate. I think of a senior Kate in the later stage of her career, she with the trembly voice and the I-don't-give-a-fuck spirit that we see in those interview clips of her on YouTube. So when I got around to watching Alice Adams, I was mystified; the Katharine Hepburn in this film isn't at all like the ones I envision in my head! Many of the Hepburn clich├ęs are gone (I say many because the infamous voice and the rea-lly's are still there, very unmistakably hers and no one else's) and Kate has more or less transformed into somebody else. And it's dazzling to see. 

 photo Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 3.18.17 PM.jpgIt's as if Kate sought out this role for the sole purpose of killing everybody's perceptions of her. Where in real life she came from a wealthy family and was a strong-willed woman herself, here she was playing a lower-middle class girl whose completely devoid of any self-confidence. This is a character perfectly suited for the time of the film's release, and really even today; because who doesn't long to be better off financially? I found myself understanding Alice in a number of ways--the excitement she exudes about going out in the beginning of the film, that which transforms into disappointment and disenchantment by the end of the night; the uncomfortable awkwardness she feels as she compares herself to others; the uncomfortable awkwardness of wondering if anyone is interested in her as everyone around her enjoys themselves; the inferiority complex she has throughout much of the film...these were all relatable for me. Much of Alice's journey involves powerfully personal feelings, and Hepburn is completely attuned to them all. The camera cuts to Kate's face on several occasions, and she in turn exudes so much vulnerability and self-consciousness in all her shots. After the film's famed dinner scene, where Alice senses that Arthur is becoming distant from her, you can see Kate unravel apart ever-so-quietly. Then the camera cuts to her face, where we can see her swipe away her tears quickly, to which she then regains her composure and puts up a front again. It's beautiful acting, and what she's able to achieve is so much more real and complicated than any of her fellow nominees.

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Never have I seen her so girly--at the age of 28 when Alice Adams was filmed, Kate is totally believable as a girl much younger. She's playful and silly and captures that romanticized adolescent mentality wonderfully. She's got an innocent virginal quality to her that one would expect of young ladies of the time. And like many girls, Alice has a severely low self-esteem; she's afraid that the man of her dreams won't like the "real" her, and when she goes to great lengths to be anyone except herself it can get very frustrating to watch. I suppose that's the beauty of this performance; it captures all of the many intricate feelings a young woman has--she's sweet and awkward and flighty and selfish and emotional and virtuous and so fragile--all of these facets make up a great Depression-era heroine, and she's brought to life by an actress you'd least expect could do so.

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