The Cat’s Meow
Just came back from Peter Bogdanovich’s newest theatrical release, The Cat’s Meow
, an enjoyable film, especially for silent film buffs, set during the Gilded Age of Hollywood, the 1920s, retelling, the now infamous, events supposedly surrounding the death of film pioneer Thomas H. Ince in 1924. The film is principally an actor’s showcase, and the large ensemble acquits themselves nicely, and Bogdanovich makes some interesting stylistic choices (which I will describe below). However, the film is less successful as an expose of the empty, hollow decadence that is Hollywood, as told by Eleanor Glynn, probably best known today, if at all, for writing the novel It
, The film is book ended, by two black and white sequences at the beginning and conclusion of Inces’s funeral, as well as a final color sequence, which is a reoccurring dream of Glynn’s, which delivers the films most pointed observation of the ultimate emptiness of Hollywood. But at least, the screenplay captures the wit and irony of Glynn, played with a rather knowing, yet rather distant, ironic detachment by Joanne Lumley.
As I said before, the film is largely an actor’s showcase, and the actors are uniformly good. Dunst, plays Marion Davies, as “spunky,” a trait captured in Davies best films, which were all comedies. But, while my attraction to Dunst will be undying, the film more or less belongs to the other cast members: Edward Hermann’s WR Hearst, one of the most powerful men in the world, is somewhat of a clod, genuinely in love with Davies, but affected by self-doubt and paranoia, it’s both pathetic and sympathetic. Eddie Izzard captures the rather vain, self-absorbed, foppish quality that many Chaplin biographers have remarked upon, but also his charm and wit. Cary Elwes perfects an American accent, and hints at the quiet desperation beneath his calm, businesslike demeanor. Jennifer Tilly as Louella Parsons was hilarious, brash, tactless, a clear ass-kisser, a facade that disarms the people around her (they all think she is a just a dumb yes woman), and masks the opportunistic intelligence underneath.
A quick comment on Bogdanovich’s stylistic choices ties into the acting. For a movie based on a stage play, there is an inordinate amount of close-ups and medium shots, but not of people talking (Bogdanovich also utilizes, in a sense, Bazin’s idea that the most successful theatrical adaptations preserve the theatrical elements of the film; the film is mostly confined to a few locations on Heart’s yacht, and there are several complex tableaus created in the staging, but I think this is secondary to his use of close-ups and medium shots without dialogue). The scenes are never “silent” there is always background noise, but there is a little or no dialogue; in a homage to the silent cinema, the actors are forced to utilize their facial expressions and body language to a heightened degree. Many times in the film, an arched eyebrow, a downcast eye (followed by a POV shot), or wrinkled, furrowed brow says a lot more than the witty bon mots that the cast members like to throw about. It was a quality I appreciated in the film. (Should probably also give a shout out to the period design, costumes, cinematography, and music.)