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'Alice Adams,' 'coquette' Shown In Stevens Tribute

October 19, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is presenting George Stevens' "Alice Adams" (1935) tonight at 8 in its Samuel Goldwyn Theater as part of its fifth annual George Stevens Lecture on Directing, which will be given by film scholar Gene D. Phillips.

On Wednesday at 8 p.m., the academy and the film department of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will screen "Coquette" (1929), which earned Mary Pickford an Oscar, in the museum's Bing Theater. It's another offering in the monthly "Treasures From the Academy Film Archives" series.

Both films have small-town heroines who have yet to marry, an automatic expectation for women of the pre-liberation era. And both have been seriously compromised in their adaptation to the screen from their original sources, which were the Booth Tarkington novel in the first instance and, in the second, a 1927 hit play by George Abbott and Ann Bridger starring Helen Hayes.

"Coquette" is an example of the early talkie at its most static, a dreadful film (directed by Sam Taylor) noteworthy only for Pickford's gallant struggle in playing the ingenue at age 35, a Southern belle whose flirtatious ways bring about tragedy.

There's an intensity to Pickford's performance that suggests that, after 20 years as the greatest female star of the silent era, she had become trapped by fame, fortune and her indelible image of innocence. Variety's reviewer overheard a woman commenting after the film, "Well, after spending an entire night with a man in a cabin, Mary Pickford is still America's Sweetheart."

In the play, Helen Hayes not only lost her virginity but also became pregnant, yet for all the drastic changes that "Coquette" underwent in its transposition from stage to screen, its heroine remains a temptress (for all her essential innocence) who brings about calamity on herself and others. Today, "Coquette" stands as an indictment, intended or not, of Southern small-town mores. (213) 857-6010.

"Alice Adams" is so fresh and vital, and Katharine Hepburn's performance as a bright young woman with desperate social ambitions is so distinctive and timeless, that it is all the more lamentable that an abrupt and unconvincing happy ending has been tacked on to it. It's best remembered for its classic sequence in which Alice's rich young suitor (Fred MacMurray, wonderfully warm and understated) is invited to what proves to be a painfully funny, utterly disastrous dinner served by a fatally nonchalant Hattie McDaniels. (213) 278-8990.

As usual, the American Film Institute's annual video festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Los Angeles campus at Western and Franklin avenues, offers an embarrassment of riches.

There's an exhaustive survey on the media and the Vietnam War, which ranges from a French TV documentary that views our involvement with both detachment and a sense of tragedy to a patriotic presentation of the war that celebrates the adoption of the 1st Infantry Division by the city council of Birmingham, Ala. More affecting than either of these is Fred Stein's "Frank: A Vietnam Veteran," an interview with a man still struggling with the aftereffects of Vietnam, a man who wishes everyone could understood "what it's like to take a another human life and not know whether or not it's right or wrong and then to have to live with it."

There's a collection of international work, even a series of West German student films, a survey devoted to new American videos, which includes Jonathan Demme and Jo Menell's poignant and zesty "Haiti: Dreams of Democracy," and massive surveys of work from Brazil and Yugoslavia. Panel discussions are also scheduled.

Of greatest urgency are the many works on AIDS in the extensive "Only Human: Sex, Gender and Other Misrepresentations" division. These include a very recent and excellent "MacNeil/Lehrer" report called "AIDS and the Arts," which deals with the great ongoing losses in the creative fields and centers on AIDS-afflicted dancer-choreographer Arnie Zane and his longtime partner and lover, Bill T. Jones. There is also "Danny," Stasiu Kybartas' heartbreaking memoir of a once husky and vital young man who returned home to die in a town (Steubenville, Ohio) he regarded as dying itself.

For festival information: (213) 856-7787.

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