CAT OF THE DAY 082: GHOST

ghost01CAT OF THE DAY 082: GHOST (1990)

This supernatural love story reverses the standard romantic formula by starting with the lovers together, but then driving them apart with the biggest wedge of all – death. Patrick Swayze is fatally shot in a mugging. Post-Patrick, Demi Moore is left sharing her potter’s wheel with her pussycat.

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Aha, but Swayze is still around. The best scenes in the film, for me, are when he’s learning the practical limitations of being a ghost. He can’t communicate with Demi to warn her that she is in danger, nor can he move inanimate objects, but he can be seen by her cat, which comes in handy when he needs to chase away a dangerous thug. In other words a) startle cat and b) make startled cat jump in direction of thug.

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Cats often give the impression they can see things we can’t. Feline or canine sensitivity to the supernatural is a recurring element in films; see also CAT OF THE DAY 056 and CAT OF THE DAY 049. But in Ghost, the familiar set-up of an animal being aware of something the humans can’t see is cunningly reversed – now, at last, we’re seeing this scene from the ghost’s point of view.

 

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CAT OF THE DAY 081: WHISPER OF THE HEART

whispers02CAT OF THE DAY 081: WHISPER OF THE HEART (aka 耳をすませば aka MIMI O SUMASEBA) (1995)

Yoshifumi Kondo was being groomed as a successor to anime genius Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli when he suffered a fatal aneurysm at the age of 47. His sole feature as a director is the enchanting tale of Shizuku, a 14-year-old schoolgirl whose encounter with a mysterious cat on the Tokyo metro leads to her discovery of  true love, and ultimately nurtures her ambitions to be a writer. It’s one of my favourite anime, and if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to track it down.

The story manages to be simultaneously realistic and magical. Don’t expect fireworks, but do expect a lovely, delicate teen romance, all blushing cheeks and blurted sentiment, as well as one of the most beautiful evocations of everyday life in the suburbs of Tokyo (where I lived for a year) that I’ve ever seen on film. It makes me simultaneously sad that Kondo won’t be making any more movies, but also grateful that he made this one.

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It’s a Major Cat Movie. Not only does the cat on the metro (who may or may not be called Moon) lead Shizuku into her adventure, White Rabbit-style, but she also stumbles across a feline statuette called the Baron Humbert Von Jikkingen, which plays a pivotal role in the story.

There is also a smashing version of John Denver’s Country Roads that now makes me cry when I listen to it.

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[The Baron returned in 2002 in a semi-sequel, The Cat Returns, directed by Hiroyuki Morita. It’s a lot of fun, though not in the same league as Whisper of the Heart.]

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MINI-JAPANESE LESSON!

A literal translation of the Japanese title Mimi o sumaseba would be “if you listen closely”.

耳 (mimi) is Japanese for ear. The kanji for it resembles an ear, kind of.

We’ve already met 目 (me, pronounced “meh”), the Japanese symbol for eye. Which looks like an eye, kind of.

口 (kuchi, pronounced koochy) is the Japanese symbol for mouth. And yes, it looks like a mouth! This is a useful symbol if you’re in Japan, because it also forms part of the word for exit: 出口 (deguchi, pronounced “deh-guchi”). So if you see a sign like this…

learn_japanese_signs_and_symbols-fig04 2…you’ll know it’s the way out.

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There’s another mini-Japanese lesson in CAT OF THE DAY 041.

If you like Studio Ghibli films, you may also be interested in CAT OF THE DAY 035.

And I wrote a short article about women in anime for the Guardian a few years ago.

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CAT OF THE DAY 080: A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT

CAT OF THE DAY 080: UN LONG DIMANCHE DE FIANÇAILLES (aka A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT) (2004)

When your fiancé has gone off to fight in the trenches in the Great War, and you don’t know whether or not he’s alive, but you refuse to accept that he’s dead – what more could you ask for than a nice stripey ginger puss to keep you company?

You accuse Stripey Ginger Puss of having pyromaniac tendencies when he nearly sets fire to your bedroom by knocking a lamp over in the middle of the night.

But maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t Stripey Ginger Puss’s fault…

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s follow-up to Amelie is a big-scale adaptation of Sébastien Japrisot’s novel set just after the Great War. Audrey Tautou is convinced that reports of her fiancé’s death on the Front have been greatly exaggerated, and scours France in a search for the truth.

Although sepia-tinted and sprinkled with whimsical humour, this portrait of war’s effect on a cross-section of French society is anything but cosy nostalgia, and you’ll need to stay alert if you want to keep tabs on the sprawling plot teeming with moustachioed French actors, plus a pre-Oscar Marion Cotillard looking hot, and Jodie Foster speaking French. It’s worth the effort, and a real pleasure to see digitally rendered views of Paris’s Les Halles and the Musée d’Orsay as they used to be.

Also, Stripey Ginger Puss.

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CAT OF THE DAY 079: THE TOMB OF LIGEIA

CAT OF THE DAY 079: THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964)

A Major Cat Movie. Legendary producer-director Roger Corman shot on eerie Norfolk locations for this supernatural chiller, and the result is one of the most impressive in the series of classy Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he turned out during the 1960s. Vincent Price, in hugely symbolic dark glasses, plays Verden Fell, the wealthy widower haunted by the spirit of his late wife, who might as well have had the words “I’ll be back” etched on her tombstone.

BIG SPOILERS!

Unless, of course, you’re already familiar with the Poe story, in which case, go ahead…

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BIG SPOILERS! Ligeia‘s spirit has apparently passed into a black cat which hangs around her grave. It engineers a meeting between Fell and the Lady Rowena, Ligeia’s successor, by frightening Rowena’s horse when she is out hunting. Throughout the film, the cat indulges in all manner of sinister feline behaviour, lurking, and jumping out, and in one scene luring Rowena to the top of the belltower by making off with Fell’s trademark dark glasses in its mouth.

Black cats are considered harbingers of good or bad luck in many cultures, but in horror films they are invariably bad news, as we have already seen in CAT OF THE DAY 071, CAT OF THE DAY 041 and CAT OF THE DAY 018. Black cats through the ages have been on the receiving end of much superstition and prejudice, often thought to be witches’ familiars or of demonic provenance, and I have heard stories (unsubstantiated) that it’s difficult nowadays to find a cat that is 100% black, as so many of these were burnt in the Middle Ages.

It’s really no wonder some of them might want to get their own back.

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CAT OF THE DAY INTERLUDE

My beautiful pictureCAT OF THE DAY INTERLUDE

Tried without success to upload this picture to FaceBook, which is all buggy today and wouldn’t let me. Then decided visitors to CATS ON FILM might like it, even though it’s not strictly a picture of a Film Cat. My lovely cat Tiger 1988-2003 – the inspiration for this blog. I miss her. Here are some more pics. (All photographs ©Anne Billson + Tiger)

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CAT OF THE DAY 078: THE THIRD MAN

3rdman04CAT OF THE DAY 078: THE THIRD MAN (1949)

Or: THE THIRD CAT. We all know dogs are shameless brown-nosers who long ago sold out their dignity to perform demeaning tricks for a mess of Chum. But cats, due to their independent nature and all-round contrariness, are notoriously hard to train. They can sometimes be hoodwinked by smearings of tuna, but mostly they can’t be bothered to do what humans want them to.

It’s little wonder film-makers so often use stand-ins – one cat whose speciality is walking in medium-shot, for example, another cat which may enjoy playing with a ball of wool, and yet another which is an expert at close-up purring without attempting to play pat-a-cake with the camera operator. So long as the different cats look more or less alike, no-one will notice.

THE THIRD CAT

The First Cat refuses to play with Joseph Cotten.

Even so, it takes only a cursory glance at The Third Man to ascertain that no-one has made the slightest effort to match up the kittens. The pivotal feline contribution here is a classic CATGUFFIN: it’s the kitten’s mewing that first alerts Holly Martins to the presence of the figure he will presently recognise as Harry Lime, the friend he thought dead.

Director Carol Reed builds up to this famous movie moment with careful editing and judicious use of zither music. Just prior to the scene, Martins has learnt the truth about his friend’s penicillin racket and has been out drowning his sorrows; he lurches drunkenly up to the flat of Lime’s girlfriend, Anna Schmidt, with an armful of flowers. It’s here that we first meet the kitten; Martins tries to get it to play with a piece of string, but it yawns, turns its back on him and exits through the open window.

THE THIRD CAT

The First Cat, yawning and preparing to jump out of the window.

“Not very sociable, is he?” says Martins, to which Schmidt replies, “No, he only likes Harry.” They talk in a desultory way about what they have learnt from Major Calloway, and the camera takes off through the window and out into the street, where a man (too far away for us to identify) seems suddenly to realise he’s being filmed, and ducks into one of the doorways opposite.

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The first peculiarity here is that the kitten now appears around the corner from the left; cat lovers may well start wondering exactly how the little kitty got down from the window-box so quickly (Schmidt’s absurdly grand apartment is on the first or second floor, at least) and why it is now appearing from the opposite side of the street. The simple answer, of course, is that it’s an entirely different kitten.

THE THIRD CAT

The Second Cat, not to be confused with the First Cat.

The Second Cat runs along the street towards the doorway where Lime is hiding. But wait, the kitten which we now see rubbing lovingly against his brogues is a Third Cat! We get a good look at its face as it gazes adoringly up at the shoes’ owner.

THE THIRD CAT

The Third Cat. Nul points for kittinuity.

When I shared this discovery on Facebook, Nicholas Royle demanded the kitten continuity person be fired. Barbara Roden wrote, “Fire the balloon continuity person as well; the balloons the old man is selling have designs on them, but the balloon purchased by Paine – which has a design on it initially – is a plain one in a subsequent shots.”

So obviously, continuity was not a high priority on this production; maybe they were probably too busy making a masterpiece to care. Besides, one of the themes of the film is perception, and how things look different depending on the viewpoint, and as Neil Williams observed of the multiple kittens, “Given the number of shots of Harry Lime that aren’t Orson Welles it might just be a clever in-joke.”

THE THIRD CAT

Playing-with-shoelace kitten. But is this really The Third Cat?

Indeed, The Third Man is full of stand-ins for Orson Welles, who was leading a nomadic life when he accepted the role. (Read Rob White’s The Third Man, in the BFI Film Classics series, for some excellent in-depth analysis and behind-the-scenes information.) No sooner had the actor signed on to do the film (he later regretted his decision to accept £100,000 for a few days’ work instead of 20% of the film’s profits) than he disappeared, was finally tracked down to Italy and turned up two weeks late for shooting; he refused to film in the sewers, and numerous body doubles had to be used in his absences.

Arguably, his elusiveness only helped the film, as it turns Harry Lime into an even more mysterious and mythical figure; you’re never quite sure whether that shadowy figure is him or, say, a passing balloon salesman. But that’s not all. Let us take a closer look at the kitten playing with the shoelace:

THE THIRD CAT

Donner und Blitzen! Could this be… a Fourth Cat? The muzzle certainly looks different, though this sentence is written by someone who for fifteen years shared her life with a tabby-and-white, and is thus probably more sensitive to variations in the markings of this type of moggy.

But a simple yet classic cat-related moment has somehow now escalated into a case of MULTICAT which eerily echoes the central mystery that kicks off the film: who was the third man helping to carry Harry Lime’s body across the street after his accident? Who are the second, third and fourth cats? How many of them belong to Anna Schmidt? Are they related? Do they all like Harry Lime? And isn’t it just typical of cats, that they should want to cuddle up to this man whose cynical, mercenary actions have destroyed lives and left small children crippled?

THE THIRD CAT

Of course, the kitten is also a classic CATAPHOR. Throughout The Third Man, we are repeatedly led to believe that Anna Schmidt is helplessly, hopelessly, unequivocally in love with Harry Lime, yet Alida Valli and Orson Welles have no scenes together until near the end, when he walks into the trap laid for him by Martins and Calloway at the Café Marc Aurel, and she cries, “Harry get away! The police are outside! Quick!”

Even now they are not sharing the frame, but she shows no hesitation in trying to help him, even when he pulls a gun. All through the film, we have been required to take this love on trust, with no physical contact, nor even dialogue between the two characters. Indeed, for much of the narrative she, like Holly Martins, supposes him dead. How then to convince an audience of her unwavering devotion?

The answer, of course, is her cat. The kitten is her familiar, the symbol of her love and fidelity (note how her pussy refuses to play with Holly Martins) which she subconsciously sends out into the night to nuzzle the feet of her lover, play with his shoelace (paging Doctor Freud!) and gaze up at him in wide-eyed adoration. Throughout her conversation with Martins in that scene, her cat is otherwise engaged. That there is, in reality, more than one kitten involved, only emphasises the singularity of her purpose; there may be a multiplicity of cats, but they are all performing in concert, acting out her wishes and desires, leading us to the man she loves.

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CAT OF THE DAY 077: THE UNCANNY

theuncanny17CAT OF THE DAY 077: THE UNCANNY (1977)

“We let them prowl about just as they please, hardly noticing them. And all the time, they’re watching us, spying on us, making sure that we behave.”

In this Major Cat Movie, Peter Cushing plays a writer nervously delivering his precious manuscript to Ray Milland; he has written a book about a feline plot to take over the world, and relates three stories to the sceptical publisher to back up his argument that cats are out to get us.

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The sceptical publisher’s cat, Sugar. He’ll do anything for her. Anything.

In truth, the characters whose deaths are caused by cats in the three stories in this portmanteau horror movie all behave atrociously and, narratively speaking, pretty much deserve their fates. The cats chew through ropes and rip out throats, but as always the classic modus operandi is the best – tripping someone up when they’re coming down the stairs. And all the time, despite the best efforts of the film-makers, they look adorable.

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Calico cat, one of multiple moggies who avenge the murder of their mistress (Joan Greenwood) in the first story.

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Wellington, who helps a small girl get her own back on her beastly stepsister.

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The third story; Donald Pleasence has murdered his wife. But her cat cunningly avoids all the traps he sets for it.

“One explanation fits all the stories, all the facts. It’s here – years of research, evidence from all over the world proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that cats have been exploiting the human race for centuries. We think we’re the masters and they’re merely pets but we’re wrong! They are the masters, and some day…”

theuncanny10Vampire cat alert! But Robert Ellis’s credits sequence, with its paintings of cats, is altogether rather lovely.

 

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CAT OF THE DAY 076: RE-ANIMATOR

reanimatorcat03[1]CAT OF THE DAY 076: RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

“Don’t expect it to tango. It has a broken back.”

Poor Rufus.

But on the bright side, best zombie cat attack ever.

 

You may also be interested in:

STUART GORDON: THE 1986 INTERVIEW

CAT OF THE DAY 013

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CAT OF THE DAY 075: CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING

celineetjulie05CAT OF THE DAY 075: CÉLINE ET JULIE VONT EN BATEAU – PHANTOM LADIES OVER PARIS (aka CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING) (1974)

Jacques Rivette‘s meandering, 193 minute shaggy-dog story is a post-New Wave variation on Alice in Wonderland set in Montmartre, and the nearest thing the French auteur ever had to an audience-pleasing hit. Dominique Labourier plays a freckled librarian who makes friends with a wacky magician (Juliet Berto). The two of them swallow magic bonbons (insert your own drug reference here) and are repeatedly transported into an old dark house haunted by ghosts who seem to be reenacting a murder mystery. Can our heroines infiltrate the ghostly narrative and save the little girl?

It’s simultaneously a yarn about female friendship, a ghost story, homage to silent serials, a meditation on storytelling and memory, and an adaptation of a story by Henry James. Anyone hooked on zippy Hollywood pacing will expire of boredom within the first five minutes, but if you’re patient enough to go with the flow, your reward will be one of the most enchanting chick-flicks ever made. My dad took me to see it at the NFT in 1975 and I was so completely smitten I started filling notebooks with recipes for elaborate spells and rituals, many of them involving Crème de Menthe and Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes.

There are also several cats in it. More importantly, the film ends with a close-up of a cat, leading film critic Jonathan Romney to muse, “This might be the only film in which the story is dreamed by a passing cat.”

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There’s also a very cool cat in the same director’s Histoire de Marie et Julien. But I’m saving that for another CAT OF THE DAY.

MINI-FRENCH LESSON!

“Mener quelqu’un en bateau” (to take someone boating) is the French equivalent of the English idiom “to lead someone up the garden path” or “to take someone for a ride”.

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CAT OF THE DAY 074: YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

YOLT06CAT OF THE DAY 074: YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)

The White Cat of Evil first appeared in From Russia With LoveIt could be glimpsed again, briefly, in Thunderball (1965), but was to have a more substantial role in Sean Connery’s fifth outing as Bond – something it would no doubt come to regret.

You Only Live Twice was scripted by Roald Dahl, and features one of John Barry’s best scores, with a great title-song sung by Nancy Sinatra. Donald Pleasence plays 007’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who hi-jacks space capsules (I always feel terribly sorry for the astronaut who’s left drifting in space) and oversees operations from his headquarters inside a hollowed-out Japanese volcano.

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The White Cat of Evil looks uneasy. What’s that camera doing there?

As Blofeld’s role was expanded from previous Bond films, so was the role of his white cat. For most of the film it looks ill at ease and self-conscious, often staring straight into the camera, until – at the film’s climax – it makes it quite clear it would rather be anywhere else than in a supervillain’s HQ with loud explosions going off. Pleasence does jolly well to hang on to it and stay in character when it starts to struggle.

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Full-on feline freak-out! And who can blame it?

Obviously, there are downsides to being a White Cat of Evil.

I hope they made a fuss of the poor thing afterwards and gave it extra tuna treats. And I hope the animal-casting director learnt a lesson – if you’re going to put a cat into a scene like that, you had damn well better make sure it’s a cat which is accustomed to loud noises.

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