Classic Couple Conversation with Author and TCM Host Alicia Malone On Her New Book: Girls on Film
Alicia Malone is a host on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and the host of TCM Imports, showcasing cinematic treasures from around the world each Sunday. Moreover, Alicia Malone is an authority on classic, independent, and foreign films, and is passionate about supporting women in film. As an author, Malone’s first two books – Backwards and in Heels and The Female Gaze – explore the accomplishments and obstacles women have faced throughout cinema’s history. Her latest book, Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life Watching Women in Movies, is her most personal essay collection to date. Within its pages, Alicia connects film analysis with her own journey of self-discovery—from growing up as a self-proclaimed nerdy film lover in Australia to finding her voice as a woman on television. Weaving together her own life lessons with movie history, Alicia Malone celebrates the power of cinema and the women who shone brightly on the big screen, while also critiquing hidden messages in film.
Classic Couple recently chatted with Alicia Malone about Girls on Film and the life lessons she has taken from watching women in the movies. Our conversation follows.
Classic Couple: In Girls On Film you write about the impact of certain films or performers on you across different stages of your life. At present—what is influencing you?
Alicia Malone: That’s an interesting question. You know, I’ve moved over to the East Coast as I mentioned at the end of the book, to a small town, and it is so quiet and peaceful. I have been enjoying just re-watching a lot of movies set in similar locations, New England-type locations. My go-to is always All That Heaven Allows and also Leave Her to Heaven—those two films. I actually wanted to call my house Back of the Moon Lodge, in reference to Leave Her to Heaven. But funnily enough, I met a couple here in town who are classic film fans. Their house is called Back of the Moon, so it’s already taken. Anything that’s set in in a beautiful New England town—even Far from Heaven, the Todd Haynes movie—those ones have been re-watching lately. I find I always watch films that resonate well with where I am. It’s something I’ve always done throughout my life.
Classic Couple: Any predictions of film or performer influences for the coming decades and seasons of your life?
Alicia Malone: I think that is something that I wanted to include in the book, but I didn’t quite get to it. Something that I will grow into and think more about as I get older, is just about age and being a woman and what that means. I think it was Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth who talks about how our ties between young women and older women have been broken. We’ve been told that younger women are competition. Older women are sort of obsolete, and we miss out on so much great wisdom by not being able to talk with older women about their experiences of womanhood.
So I think I think I’ll probably just re-watch a lot of the films that starred the older versions of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford—just in a different way. I think Whatever Happened to Baby Jane has much to say about aging, and not wanting to let go of the past. I also love the fact that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford held on so long in notoriously ageist Hollywood to their careers, and they kept on working by transforming themselves. Sometimes, yes, they had to do what was called now hagsploitation films, but they ended up having to do those kinds of those roles as older women. But I really love seeing the evolution of a star, and Bette Davis and John Crawford certainly had very long careers so you can watch them progressively get older on film and the way that they coped and changed with it.
I was thinking about this the other day that the older you get, the more comfortable you get in your skin. I look back at pictures of myself from my 20s and I remember thinking that I needed to change everything about the way that I looked. I wish I didn’t spend all that time being so insecure. As you get older, you just naturally get more comfortable in your own skin and your own body.
I was thinking what age am I allowed to just go completely gray with bronze silver hair? That’s what I want. I want to wear the pantsuit. When do I get to wear the really comfortable old lady pants?
Classic Couple: Yes to the pantsuit! A couple of other questions. In the book, you describe yourself as an introvert an extrovert’s profession. Are there films or performers you look to when you need to show up as a reporter and television personality?
Alicia Malone: I think throughout my life I have looked to actors like Rita Hayworth for inspiration and just becoming a persona. I also talked in the book how the pitfalls of getting too much into that persona can start to feel like you’re losing yourself. You are. Rita Hayworth was a very vulnerable, fragile person in real life. Same with Marilyn Monroe who was able to just put on that performance when needed. I love the way Marilyn Monroe would talk about herself as Marilyn being a separate person from where she was and how she could become Marilyn all of a sudden and and draw a crowd out of nowhere through some kind of magic. So I’ve definitely looked to figures like that throughout my life and how to project X amount of confidence.
I think nowadays I’m trying to just show up completely as myself and know that yes, I’m still shy. I’m still an introvert. I’m not a perfect person; I’m vulnerable. Just being able to show more of that side of myself I’m enjoying. Someone I think of in that regard is probably Greta Garbo. She’s such a mysterious figure to me. We didn’t know that much about her own life and she was quite reclusive particularly towards the end. But she had that mystery and it made her even more beguiling and even more interesting, because you didn’t know what was what was real and what was the façade. So I like that. Again, I think just trying to show up as myself more and more and being comfortable with that is the goal.
Classic Couple: Memoir is clearly a deeply personal genre and this book blends in memoir. What made you want to take it on as an author?
Alicia Malone: I say it’s a blend of memoir, film analysis and film history. And it’s not a complete memoir. in that I don’t talk about my entire life. I look at it through a series of flashbacks with specific times in my life and specific movies. It’s more about my life as a movie lover.
I wanted to challenge myself because my first two books were straight nonfiction, but I had always written little personal essays and personal stories. For myself. I remember when I first moved to LA, I had a little blog, and I think only my mom was reading it at that point, about my experiences moving to LA and what it was like to live in Hollywood. So I’d always written in that way. I’ve done a couple of writing courses in the genre, but I never felt confident enough to put it out there. So I really wanted to challenge myself with this book. I don’t think I’ll be writing another book after this. I mean, never say never, but I think three is enough, so I thought let’s just go out with trying it this swing for the fences.
Of course, I had to really not think about the fact that people were going to actually read it when I was writing because in order to be as honest as possible, I had to not think about the reaction to it. Now that it’s out I don’t really read reviews or anything about it because I’m just trying to hold on to the value of the process of doing it rather than what other people think. It’s not really in my control, but it has been nice to hear from people that they relate to certain parts of the book, being film lovers. So I’m glad that I tried it and, yeah, I just couldn’t think that lots of people are reading it. Now it’s out there in the world.
Classic Couple: As you describe your career path, it’s clear you set goals for yourself and are driven to achieve them. In the book’s Coda you set forward your next big goal. We want people to read the book, so we’re not going to tell them what that next big goal is, so we won’t provide a spoiler here. But what films or performers might you look to as you focus on that next big thing?
Alicia Malone: Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah, because as I say, in the book, when I was in my very ambitious career minded 20s, Katharine Hepburn and Woman of the Year really invigorated me. Now, with the goal that I have it’s such a different mindset. I kind of feel like I am still an ambitious person, but it’s in such a different way from my 20s. Now I have done more than I ever expected to do in my career, and I’m so grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve had, that if it all ended tomorrow, I would say that was really fun.
This might sound like a weird choice and this film does come up in my book, but now it’s You’ve Got Mail. Her bookshop was not successful. But I just love Meg Ryan’s life at the beginning of that movie, and how she is working in a bookshop and this bookshop means a lot to a small amount of people. I think I see a lot of value in that and being part of a community and part of someone’s memories and part of something shaping someone’s sensibilities Mine would be around film instead of books ,but just that simple, quiet life. She talks about her life being very small, but valuable, and I think that is something that really appeals to me these days.
Classic Couple: Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. So, last question—of course, you’re certainly well known for representing women in film as an author, reporter, speaker and TCM host—do you see yourself as an advocate for women’s film studies?
Alicia Malone: I do think advocate is a really good one because I am not an academic. I am not a professor, obviously. I wouldn’t be a scholar and in a broad term you could call the job at TCM a historian role, but advocate works because I really see my place as being an amplifier for other work about women and film.
You know, I’m not someone who has created my own film theory around women or necessarily discovered anything that hasn’t already been spoken about, already done or had research done on. But I do see myself as being someone who can amplify the work of other people. And, I think there’s value in that, especially in being able to relate it to a different kind of audience and making it very accessible. That’s I have always wanted every time I write anything—to be very welcoming for people who have never seen classic films or who love classic films. So, I like to advocate because I try to do what I can with the small platform I have.
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Buy the book: Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life Watching Women in Movies by Alicia Malone
During the TCM Classic Film Festival Alicia Malone will sign copies of Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life Watching Women in Movies on Sunday, April 24 from 2:00-3:00 pm PT in the Lobby at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.