The Kitty Corner: An Interview with Brandie Ashe of True Classics
The Kitty Packard Pictorial is pleased as punch to introduce the Kitty Corner, a new series spotlighting some of the very best film blogs on the web, and the masterminds behind them. We kick things off with Brandie Ashe, webmistress of the much loved True Classics. A professional writer, Brandie has been blogging since 2009 and shares with us the story behind her blog, her love of classic films, and how the classic film community has changed her life.
The Kitty Packard Pictorial: Brandie, your website, True Classics, has come to be known among your readers as one of the foremost online destinations for truly fine reflection on classic film. Keeping that up month after month must be a true labor of love: tell us a bit about how the idea of True Classics was born.
Brandie Ashe: I have to admit that True Classics was my little brainstorm–and a pretty badly-timed one at that. Back in 2009, my friend Carrie and I were both in graduate school: she was getting her Master’s in social work, and I was pursuing an MA in English. We were in Georgia–I was in Milledgeville, and she in Athens. Since we were only about an hour apart, we spent a lot of weekends hanging out together, usually at her place, because she had Turner Classic Movies and I, sadly, did not. We spent many a weekend watching classic movies, and one day we caught a strange little musical on TCM called Cinderella Jones (1946). This film was so full of genuine ‘what-the-fuckery’ that we both felt the need to share our feelings about it. But how to do that? So I thought, ‘Hey, let’s start a classic film blog!’ And Carrie, bless her heart, decided to go along with my crazy scheme. Seriously, what were we thinking? We’re both in grad school and time is a premium, but we want to start yet another project? We were insane.
KP: Hey, one man’s insanity is another man’s genius.
BA: So we went ahead with the idea, and on December 1, 2009, we launched True Classics under its original name, ‘The ABCs of Classic Film.’ Initially we had this grand idea to form an alphabetical database on classic movies, but we soon dropped that notion when we realized that we just wanted to write about whatever film-related topic was on our minds. So a few months later, we switched the name to what we had christened our domain on WordPress: True Classics. Things were sporadic for the first couple of months, and then once we were both out of grad school, we were able to really spend some time concentrating on the blog. And it just kind of took off from there.
KP: Were you aware of the audience for this prior to launching your blog?
BA: I’d never realized that there were classic film blogs out there until I got the idea to start one and began doing some Google-fu to see if there were others. And we found some really great sites out there, some of which are still around and which we still read voraciously today. Sites like Raquel’s Out of the Past and Ivan’s Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.
KP: Both of them big, big favorites for classic film fans and bloggers alike.
BA: Definitely. It was nice to know that there was a budding community of classic film bloggers out there that we could relate to.
KP: Building on that idea of ‘community,’ how has your blog, and the community it serves, impacted your life on a personal level?
BA: The blog has changed my life in innumerable ways. I’ve met people who share the same love of classic filmdom as me, who don’t think I’m crazy because I’d rather watch Buster Keaton chase a locomotive for the 50th time than sit through some new Adam Sandler comedy schlockfest. I’ve been able to form friendships with people I probably never would have met otherwise, some of whom I now count as the greatest of pals. It’s given me a much-needed outlet for my love of film (because aside from Carrie, Nikki and Sarah, my blog co-authors, there are few people in my “real” life who fully understand my devotion to the classics). It’s given me some great writing opportunities and really helped me become a better writer overall. I think it was the best poorly-timed idea I ever had in my whole life.
I’ve found in my experience that, with a few exceptions, the classic film blogging community is a tight-knit, supportive group. And not just on their respective blogs, but through social media–tweeting and posting links to articles on Facebook, driving traffic to each other’s blogs, participating in blogathons–it’s a great community to be a part of.
KP: You mentioned that few people in ‘real’ life understand your love of the classics and here is where I think you hit at the core of any fandom– whether classic film or comic books–and that is the absolute need to interact with like-minded folks on what you’re passionate about. Growing up, were you always a classic film fan? And if so, do you remember which film it was that drew you in, or was it more like osmosis?
BA: I was weaned on the best of Disney, both the films and the classic animated shorts. We had some VHS tapes with the old black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons, and I adored those even more than the brightly-colored, latter-year ones. I was a weird kid. My favorite movie growing up was Fantasia. I used to watch the hell out that movie, to the point that I practically wore out the videotape. And I was the only one in my family who liked it. My younger brothers thought watching Fantasia meant they were being punished for something. I never understood that. To me, it was simply beautiful. When I got a bit older, I discovered Shirley Temple. Back when [cable network] AMC actually lived up to its name [American Movie Classics] and showed ‘classics,’ they would run Temple films on weekend mornings. I used to love watching those. But my real ‘gateway’ film was probably Gone with the Wind.
I was exposed to that one early on. I had an aunt who was obsessed with the movie–she even had a room in her Atlanta house dedicated to the film. I actually read the book before I ever saw the movie. My parents gave me the book for Christmas when I was 10 years old. They’d never read it, nor had they ever seen the movie, so they didn’t quite realize how inappropriate it might be. But I was a pretty saucy kid, so it didn’t faze me.
KP: I love that Gone with the Wind was your ‘gateway’ film. I’ve found that, among classic film fans, the key difference between us and the rest of the world is that we view them as films, first and foremost. Age is more of an afterthought. Did you view it as ‘old’ or just a ‘movie’? And how did your obsession with classic films progress from there.
BA: I wholeheartedly agree with you. I knew it was technically ‘old,’ but it didn’t feel old, you know what I mean? It has this kind of timelessness to it that really transcends its 1939 production. It felt as fresh to me as movies that were coming out in theaters at the time. I didn’t even mind the length; I was engrossed. And it had little to do with my familiarity with the book, surprisingly enough. Normally, book adaptations on film fall flat to me. I tend to nitpick about the difference, and it’s one of the reasons I flat-out refuse to see the Baz Luhrmann version of The Great Gatsby, because I know it can never do that book–my hands-down favorite of all time–any justice. But with Gone with the Wind, I didn’t care that they’d deleted two of Scarlett’s children, or that they’d kept certain scenes out of the film. It was just that damn good of a movie.
Anyway, Gone with the Wind eventually led to me discovering Turner Classic Movies. I still remember the first movie I ever saw on TCM: Bachelor Mother (1939). Robert Osborne introduced it, and I was googly-eyed for him from that moment on. And I loved that movie! Still do–it’s one I like to show friends who aren’t particular fans of classic film. That and Bringing Up Baby. I find that ‘newbies’ respond much better to comedies than if you try to hit them with Citizen Kane or Casablanca right out of the gate.
KP: Oh, Mr. Osborne. What a silver fox.
BA: I want to do bad things to that man.
KP: Is that…off the record?
BA: Most people know I’m crazy gaga over him to the point of no return.
KP: I think you’re right comedies. Charming, highly likable movies like Bachelor Mother– one of the most charming films you’ll ever see–are wonderful ways to introduce people to classic movies. Keeping on that thought, then, how would you answer the question ‘what IS a classic film?’
it’s important to remember the roots of cinema, because so few people actually do. It’s vital to celebrate our film heritage, and to preserve it for the future.
BA: That is such a hard question, because it differs for everyone. On our blog, we tend to focus on pre-1970 films, but that’s not to say that anything produced after 1970 doesn’t necessarily qualify as a ‘classic.’ I think it’s a matter of personal perception. I know people who consider Quentin Tarantino ‘classic.’ I disagree, but then again, I look at the Disney Renaissance films of the 1990s, and by and large, they scream ‘classic’ to me.
KP: Here’s a toughie, then: Why, do you think, classic movies matter?
BA: Now this is something I have experience in answering, because I have had friends ask me why I try so hard to expose them to old films, or why I like to focus on silent features and animation on our blog when most of the people who stumble across the site have never even heard of those films/shorts. And that, in a nutshell, is why it’s important to remember the roots of cinema, because so few people actually do. It’s vital to celebrate our film heritage, and to preserve it for the future. It’s important to educate people about where modern cinema comes from. It’s important to show people these bloody brilliant films, to show their originality and artistic value and true, true beauty.
KP: That is beautifully put. How do people know, unless someone is there to educate them.
BA: For instance: I love Disney. It’s a documented fact. But it bothers me to no end that the majority of people believe that Disney “invented” animation. There’s an entire two-plus-decades history of men and women who planted the roots of the modern animation machine–men and women on whose shoulders Disney stood to achieve those beautiful films and cartoons we all loved as a kid. And many of those men and women are now forgotten. Sure, they sometimes get a lovely Google Doodle on a milestone anniversary (like last year’s gorgeous Winsor McCay doodle), but who today remembers Bray, or Terrytoons, or the Fleischer brothers, or any of the other prolific cartooning pioneers that came long before Disney ever produced a short?
It’s the same way with film. It originated somewhere, with dedicated men and women who fought for respect and the ability to produce great works of art. Not many people realize how utterly difficult it was for actors and directors and producers of film in its first couple of decades. When they weren’t being chased around by that bastard Thomas Edison for “impugning” his patent, they were being sniffed at by “real” stage actors and the public for being worthless dilettantes. It took many years and hard work for film actors to gain respect and obtain the notoriety they enjoy today!
OK. I’ll stop now.
KP: Going back to social media. You mentioned the blogathons, cross-platform networking: the classic film fandom really has come into its own thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. But it’s intimidating for some. What advice would you give to new bloggers out there who want to integrate themselves into the online community?
BA: First and foremost, read other blogs. Follow other bloggers on Twitter. Find their blog pages on Facebook. Participate in discussions online. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into the fray when folks are debating a certain film on Twitter. Look into joining blog communities–there are several devoted solely to film, and more specifically classic film. But I would also caution new bloggers to try to find their own voice. Don’t copy what other classic film bloggers are doing. Create your own unique space. The most irritating thing to a blogger is to find that another blogger is trying to piggyback off their hard-earned success by trying to do the exact same thing! It’s happened to us on occasion, and it is not a good feeling.
KP: And, a reality check: even though we’d like to believe that every film blogger out there is a full time film writer and makes a living by doing what they do online … it is 100% the opposite. So, who is Brandie Ashe in real life?
BA: I am a ghostwriter, and I have my own service called Southern Memoiries (southernmemoiries.com). I help people–real, ordinary, everyday people–preserve their memoirs in print. It’s a job I kind of stumbled into about two years ago, and it truly is a calling. I love it! I live in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA, but I’m originally from Birmingham, AL; a Southern gal through and through. And I just discovered last week that after some truly heinous surgery, I have kicked uterine cancer’s ass!
KP: Your followers have been closely monitoring your recent health scare and are so infinitely relieved to learn that you’ve come through so well! Did the classic film community help in any way to get you through such a frightening time?
BA: You know, when I was first diagnosed, I had to think about whether or not I wanted to say anything about it on the blog. But I did mention it on Twitter and Facebook, and I received some wonderful support from not only family and friends, but fellow bloggers. And when I finally wrote about the cancer on True Classics, I was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support from our readers. We really have built a fantastic readership, and they have patiently stuck with us over the past six months while our posting was stilted because of health and personal issues. I was grateful to realize that they ‘had my back’ during this fight!
And of course, it was always helpful to be able to go on Twitter and joke with my classic film buds about various topics to take my mind off things, whether it’s Clark Gable mustache rides (don’t ask) or the abiding love many of us share for the ever-smoking-hot Cary Grant.
KP: Funny you should mention Cary Grant’s ever-smoking hotness. Bloggers tend to be a mischievous sort, and instead of asking wrapping up with the same old boring ‘favorite actor, favorite actress’ questions, I propose the following:
Best classic movie actor’s ass …?
BA: Duh. Cary, by a gloriously chiseled butt-cheek. Although … Gene Kelly does give him a run for his money.
KP: Most likely to have a one night stand with … ?
BA: Gable. You know he and Lombard got some good freak on.
KP: Your stable, nice to come home to guy … ?
BA: Joel McCrea. It’s doesn’t hurt that he’s got that whole tall-and-yummy thing going on.
KP: Your go-to drinking buddy … ?
BA: Bette Davis. And I don’t think I’d do much drinking. I’d just want to hear her rage about all those other bitches in Hollywood.
KP: Most likely to get into a catfight with…?
BA: This is a hard one. Let’s go with Evelyn Keyes. Her Suellen in Gone with the Wind always makes me want to scratch her damn eyeballs out.
KP: Good call. I’m surprised Scarlett smacked her only once.
BA: I’da gone to town whipping that ass.
KP: And finally: if you could live in any film, which one would it be?
BA: His Girl Friday. Fast-paced world of New York journalism, Cary Grant as my hot boss, Rosalind Russell as my smart-mouthed best friend? Sold! Or hell, just knock off Rosalind and LET ME AT MY MAN.
KP: Now there’s a catfight!
KP: Brandie, I have to thank you so much for taking the time out today to share with our readers a bit about you, your love of films … and your everlasting love for Cary Grant’s perfectly formed ass.