People Cat

The Shadowplayhouse has been haunted of late. Strange noises in the night, phantom shapes glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, small morsels of food vanishing overnight.

A rodentalgeist has crept within these walls, nimbly eluding our traps, squeaking in hilarity at our feeble attempts to exorcise it, and ignoring the patient attention of Tasha, our Siamese sentinel. Until this morning, when Fiona was awakened by a SNAP, and then exultant mewlings and scamperings from Tasha. Fiona just assumed T was having a “mad half-hour”, until she arose and found a mouse, slain by a trap, hanging from Tasha’s cheerful jaws.

Now, I take this as an imposture — Tasha was trying to claim credit for killing the mouse, despite the evidence of the appended trap still clinging to the beastie’s throat. A cat lie. Fiona disagrees.

Nevertheless, having recently screened Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE to students, who found much cruel humour in the frequent shots of a kitten being stuffed into a shoebox (gift-wrapping pets has since gone out of fashion), I decided to entertain Tasha by telling her the story of that film. Of course, I had to adapt it somewhat for her attention span and cultural prejudices.

“Once upon a time there was a kitten in a box.”

“A man gave the kitten to a girl, but it didn’t like her.”

“So he took it back to the pet shop, where it went into a cage with some other kittens. The man left with a canary, which died. But the kitten was no doubt purchased by some lovely people and lived happily ever after. The end.”

I guess the kitten being jammed into the little box is the central concept of the film in metaphorical form — the animal within. But the best parts of the movie are far from this kind of symbolic, artificial stuff, and more to do with the way light falls in empty, impersonal spaces, the echo of little sounds, and the quiet delivery of muted actors.

Another thought — I was tickled by the character of Simone Simon’s neighbour, Connie Leon, a gratuitous Scot of the kind one never expects to encounter in a Hollywood film but sometimes does (see RUSHMORE for a more recent example). No obvious reason presents itself for her broad Scottish accent, as she advises everyone not to disturb the crime scene, linking her to the zookeeper, another Scot, Alec Craig, although he has suppressed his accent for the role. Both characters pop up to offer helpful words of solid commonsense advice. I’m always pleased by inappropriate Celtic intrusions of this kind.

5 Responses to “People Cat”

  1. Rivette said his Scenes de la vie parallele was inspired by a French text entitled”Le Femm Celte.”

    Meanwhile. . . .

    Milk is magnificent. Unlike anything Gus has done before it’s a rock solid piece of political filmmaking in the tradition of Francesco Rosi with a dramatic solidity redolent of Sidney Lumet. Sean Penn give the performance of his fucking life, the rest of the very large supporting cast (including a sprinkling of Gus boyfriends) is teriffic, I want to adopt Emile Hirsch more than ever, and as “Variety” would say “all tech credits pro.” But over and above all Milk is a stark reminder of what the gay rights mvement is REALLY about and why the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and NLGTF (Nattional Lesbian/ Gay Task Force) are pititfully inadequate substitutes for the street activism that GAVE US OUR FUCKING FREEDOM!!!!!!

    This is San Francisco in the 70’s when gays are just starting to settle into the Castro. There are no housing and employment laws, “sodomy” statutes are still on the books, and precious few are out and proud. Mixing vintage footage (and it’s amazing how much Anita Bryant and Sarah Palin look and act alike) and all manner of image types (Harris Savides has varied the grain to suggest everything from 35 to 16 to 8) we’re thrown right into the midst of things. The film covers the birth of the Castro, the fight against the Briggs amendment, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in school and of course Harvey’s murder. It shows how the Briggs fight was won, and in so doing it shows a united community, with gays in the Castro reacting to battles against Anita Bryant’s bigoted pushbacks in everywhere from Florida to Kansas as of it were right in their own back yard as the Briggs fight was.

    Sean Penn is in every scene, but it’s not two hours of screaming. He captures Harvey’s sweetness in innumerable ways. How grabbing a bullhorn and leading a march dovetail right into his love for Scott Smith (the ever-gorgeous James Franco)and the crazy Jack Lira (Diego Luna, hot as a pistol) and we really believe his inspiring street kids like Cleve Jones (Emile.) My favorite scene is one where he talks with Jones for the first time. He’s trying to get him to join his campaign and Jones is with street -at pals who he says are going to take him to Spain. Milk keeps talking to him as Jones walks back and forth. He leaves with the street rats, but of course comes back later and becomes an important activist. Still the moment between mindless exhuberance and commitment is put on film as I’ve never seen it before.

    Josh Brolin is a wonderful sad wreck as Dan White — who Harvey suspects may be a closet case. The film dosn’t pump that point. It simply notes it as Harvey’s view. That could well have been true but it’s part of the film’s intelligence that it doesn’t hammer such an notion home as an “explanation.”

    More to say in the future but for the moment it’s enough that this is NOT TO BE MISSED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

    And it made me feel 30 years younger.

  2. Re La Femme Celte: maybe this has to do with why the first voice we hear in La Belle Noiseuse is a Scottish woman?

    Milk indeed sounds like a must. I mean, it would be anyway even if he didn’t pull it off, the combination of talent and subject is too intriguing/important to pass up.

  3. Looked up La Femme Celte: here’s what babelfish makes of the synopsis —

    How the Celts consider did the woman? L’ would they have dreamed? N’ this is not l’ image of the woman, more than her reality, qu’ they bequeathed us in their traditions and their legends? – This book s’ endeavour to answer these questions. Through testimonys of the Greeks and Latin, through l’ abundant Irish medieval literature, through the Breton tradition and the famous novels of the Roundtable, as well as the many popular tales of l’ Western Europe, emerges the disconcerting silhouette d’ an unknown woman, woman-sun, under the most various names: Dahud the “good witch”, Rhiannon the “large queen”, Guenièvre the “phantom white”, Blodeuwedd “born from the flowers”, and much d’ others, jusqu’ in Yseult, incarnated sun which floods of its love l’ hommelune Tristan, and this strange “Virgin in Graal” which holds between its hands a vase d’ where emanates a supernatural light…

    Can definitely see bits of the Rivette films in there. Emmanuelle Beart speaks a Gaelic poem/invocation in Marie et Julienne, which is sort-of part of the Vie Parallele series.

  4. Duelle uses Cocteau’s “Les Chevaliers du Table Ronde” as a sort of alternate text quoted by the actors and Noroit (which uses Tourneur’s “The Revenger’s Tragedy” in the same way) evokes Queens and witches throughout.

  5. …bringing us back to Tourneur, although in a somewhat garbled way!

    It was the “incarnated sun” which struck me as particularly pertinent to the Sun and Moon goddesses of Duelle.

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