Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
Post Reply
Message
Author
User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Posts: 5890
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#1 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Oct 12, 2015 6:47 am

DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, OCTOBER 26th AT 6:30 AM.

Members have a two week period in which to discuss the film before it's moved to its dedicated thread in The Criterion Collection subforum. Please read the Rules and Procedures.

This thread is not spoiler free. This is a discussion thread; you should expect plot points of the individual films under discussion to be discussed openly. See: spoiler rules.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I encourage members to submit questions, either those designed to elicit discussion and point out interesting things to keep an eye on, or just something you want answered. This will be extremely helpful in getting discussion started. Starting is always the hardest part, all the more so if it's unguided. Questions can be submitted to me via PM.

User avatar
colinr0380
Posts: 8457
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#2 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Oct 12, 2015 12:16 pm

Here's a great Moviedrome introduction to the film by Mark Cousins from 1998 (that particular Sunday evening you could have either watched the premiere of Se7en on BBC1 or this on BBC2!) Though watch out for spoilers and some brief nudity!

I guess the first questions to be asked about this film is what do people think about the set up? Does it work to have the cat people myth literalised on screen? How does the change of emphasis from the main female character fully aware of her history work now that it has been changed to someone discovering a new family (and new country) along with slowly understanding her family curse, and the introduction of the worryingly touchy-feely brother character to drive the early section of the film along? (While I like the Franju comment that Cousins makes, perhaps Les enfants terribles is just as good a French cinema touchstone for the brother and sister relationship). Also, what does the location of New Orleans bring to the atmosphere? A certain hothouse, debauched, invitation to a certain loss of inhibitions quality?

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Posts: 5890
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#3 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Oct 19, 2015 10:03 pm

While the original is not one of my favourite Lewtons, this remake is not an improvement. There is something feeble about the movie that I'm having a difficult time explaining to myself, but I think it comes down to two weaknesses:

1. The sleek visual style aims to elevate the material through elegance and poise when what the movie ought to have is a raw carnality. The movie is too controlled and balanced to inhabit the emotional and physical wildness of the material. It glides along where it ought to charge.

2. It's ineptly plotted. What ought to be the centre of the movie, Irina's struggle with her demonic sexual inheritance, is relegated to the final thirty minutes. So it's over as soon as it begins. The screenwriters didn't seem to know how to integrate Irina's story with her brother's parallel story, so they play out sequentially rather than simultaneously. And because of this extra plot burden, a lot of the motivation for certain actions is undeveloped, giving the impression of a movie that is maneuvering people around to hit its beats.

The combination of these two faults cripples the movie, I think, because it feels pulled along by everything but sexual compulsion. ''


That said, the movie's literalness is definitely not one of its faults. The original's use of the fantastic (in Todorov's sense of raising two competing narrative explanations, one realistic and one fantastical, without resolving them) make its themes both more psychological and more abstract. The monster in the movie is both a specific antagonist as well as an idea of human psychosexuality. The cat is usually represented by shadows without a source because, if it's not a literal cat, it becomes something that's impossible to locate even as its presence and effects are so potent. So the film uses the fantastic to work rather well on our fear of the unknown parts of our brains, but it can only do that by abstracting the threat into an idea, diminishing its visceralness.

Schrader's literalness gains him all the visceral power that the Lewton had to sacrifice. Rather than being partly a story of how repressed sexual desire can compel humans to horrifying aggressiveness, it's entirely a story of sexuality rising to its most bizarre physical extremes. It depicts a sexuality so bestial it begets literal monsters: humans and animals copulate willingly and ritualistically and produce hybrids. This stretches sexuality so far past the point of taboo that it can no longer achieve balance unless siblings copulate. This is the same degraded sexual compulsion that produced monsters like the Minotaur, and it's terrifying not because it's a general idea of human psychology, but because it reminds us of the ugliest extent of our nature, of just how far from beauty ugliness can lie.

So the literalness is a fine idea; the movie just doesn't manage to carry it off, frankly.

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Posts: 28762
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#4 Post by domino harvey » Tue Oct 20, 2015 1:08 pm

I didn't like this at all either, I'm afraid, though I commend Sausage on trying to get some meaning out of what is to my eyes a (not very good) two hour music video, with ludicrous transitioning images that are comically self-serious for such a silly movie. I've read praise on this forum and elsewhere for Kinski's performance, but I found her perfectly awful and quite lost looking, though McDowell seems to be in on the joke (though he's barely in the film despite his top billing). John Heard's halfhearted bemusement at being on the set is an interesting choice, but his relationship with Kinski is poorly formed by the film. I'm not sure what to even say about this, sadly. I don't think the literalization of the "Cat People" mythos helps the film given Schrader's inability to straddle the absurdity of the premise and the more highfalutin aims of some of his aesthetic choices. It seems that a better film would have either played it more straight and elliptical as in the original, or gone full-out ridiculous in the manner of a poor taste baron like Bartel or Waters.

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Posts: 5890
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#5 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Oct 22, 2015 1:18 pm

Surely there are more than two people on this forum who have seen Cat People and can say a sentence or two on it.

User avatar
Drucker
Posts: 4096
Joined: Wed May 18, 2011 9:37 am

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#6 Post by Drucker » Thu Oct 22, 2015 1:21 pm

Have it from Netflix and will be watching it tonight or tomorrow! Sorry for the delay, personal life been very busy this last week.

User avatar
Drucker
Posts: 4096
Joined: Wed May 18, 2011 9:37 am

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#7 Post by Drucker » Fri Oct 23, 2015 12:04 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:2. It's ineptly plotted. What ought to be the centre of the movie, Irina's struggle with her demonic sexual inheritance, is relegated to the final thirty minutes. So it's over as soon as it begins. The screenwriters didn't seem to know how to integrate Irina's story with her brother's parallel story, so they play out sequentially rather than simultaneously. And because of this extra plot burden, a lot of the motivation for certain actions is undeveloped, giving the impression of a movie that is maneuvering people around to hit its beats.
This was my exact feeling about the film, and it really took me out of the film for the first hour. The opening scene is beautifully shot, sure, but then not picked up until way later. I surely knew that they'd connect the dots between Irina and the character she shares eyes with in the opening shot, but the connection between Irina and her animal genes isn't made clear enough early on, as far as I'm concerned. The film spends too much time on the brother's killing impulses. In addition, a lot of the plot developments felt like "so what" moments. At first, Irina's love interest can't bear to kill an animal, then he realizes he probably should...so what? Irina feels uncomfortable in her own skin, and then finds out why...so what? The payoff just didn't feel there for me in any of the big revelations or moments of the film.

I don't like to take too many points off for what I'm sure some see as "minor" things, especially in a cheesy 80s horror film, but there were some real eye-rolling moments, as well. Irina's out-of-nowhere urge to go to the zoo felt incredibly forced. Then, as she escapes from her would-be love interest, the dropping of her purse and camera was over-the-top. Even though this didn't go where I thought it would (easy to track her identity, ID left behind), it still felt a bit cheesy for my taste. Of course, when her love interest starts to realize her curse, in the photo lab, there just so happens to be two pictures next to each other that feature a close-up of the eyes of the cat and Irina.

Which I think goes back to what Sausage said at the outset. The plot really holds this film back. A stylized version of the Lewton film deserved to be visually stunning. I think my favorite moment of the film is when Irina first gets into the mindset of an animal, and we get a hunting sequence from her point of view. It's beautifully done and suspenseful. I'd also give credit to the opening sequence and the dream sequence with her brother. If these pieces were in the middle of a film more about feeling, they'd really work. Instead, we're treated to sidebars of cops, a Voodoo woman that is totally underutilized, and zoologists that are barely relevant to the film. And why, oh why does she need to get that job at the zoo?

User avatar
barryconvex
Posts: 312
Joined: Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:08 pm
Location: NYC

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#8 Post by barryconvex » Wed Oct 28, 2015 10:24 pm

i haven't seen this in at least ten years. i wish i could say more than i remember not liking it ...and that it seemed poor annette o'toole only showed up so schrader could recreate the indoor swimming pool scene from the original. this time with an unnecessary topless woman. can't even recall who her character is supposed to be..

User avatar
colinr0380
Posts: 8457
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#9 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Oct 29, 2015 1:14 pm

I would generally agree on the topless recreation of the swimming pool scene being rather crass (though that explictness in all areas is kind of the main theme of the film), though I found Annette O'Toole's character arc moving from an equal zookeeping partner through to thrawted potential girlfriend character as she sees Kinski obsess her man to be one of the most interesting aspects of the remake, though she does drop out due to the shift in emphasis of the ending. I found the same character of Alice in the original Cat People to be far more problematic in the way that she was sort of entitledly emphasising the endorsement of the norms of a correct and all-American coupling set against the predatory, dangerously attractive European woman threatening to lead our hero astray (though I want to emphasise that while I do not particularly like the original Cat People, I do love the furthering of all of these characters in the sequel The Curse of the Cat People, with the spectre of the 'dangerous woman' hovering even more pointedly over a nuclear family!)

User avatar
Lost Highway
Posts: 567
Joined: Thu Aug 29, 2013 7:41 am
Location: Berlin, Germany

Re: Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

#10 Post by Lost Highway » Thu Nov 05, 2015 11:34 am

colinr0380 wrote: I found the same character of Alice in the original Cat People to be far more problematic in the way that she was sort of entitledly emphasising the endorsement of the norms of a correct and all-American coupling set against the predatory, dangerously attractive European woman threatening to lead our hero astray (though I want to emphasise that while I do not particularly like the original Cat People, I do love the furthering of all of these characters in the sequel The Curse of the Cat People, with the spectre of the 'dangerous woman' hovering even more pointedly over a nuclear family!)
Ugly Americans more likely.

A mere reading of a synopsis would see Irena as the predator and Alice and Oliver as the victims, but that's really not how it plays when actually watching the original Cat People. Oliver is pretty much the villain of the film while Irena is treated with tremendous sympathy. When Irena appears to develop what at this point can only assumed to be psychological problems due to her sense of cultural displacement as an immigrant, Oliver shows little empathy or patience and he discards her as quickly as he courted and married her. Alice is a home wrecker who lures Oliver away from Irena when she is at her most vulnerable, which makes her the predator. Couldn't she have told him she loves him before he got married, considering that they've known each other for a while ? The way Oliver and Alice exclude and isolate Irena is nothing short of cruel, just check out the scene when all three visit a museum prior to the pool sequence. It makes you understand Irena's state of mind and her stalking of Alice as she embraces her new found powers, similar to Sissy Spacek's equally sympathetic "monster" in Carrie.

In Curse of the Cat People Oliver is still is the same insensitive clod, but this time towards his emotionally fragile daughter. Irena on the other hand becomes a spectral guardian angel to the girl, validating my suspicion that she always was the real heroine of Cat People and the wronged party all along.

Manuel Puig's novel Kiss of the Spider Woman contains a queer reading of Cat People similar to the way I always felt about the characters (which didn't make it into the overrated film version)

The remake is far less interesting in the way it turns subtext to text (and soft porn) and there is an arrogance with which Schrader dismissed the original, which he stated in interviews he felt to be beneath him. There are compensations in the cinematography and Moroder's score and most of all Kinski at her most drop dead gorgeous but overall the film is a hot mess when compared to the far more psychologically acute and economic original. Hitchcock's Marnie always struck me as a more worthwhile companion piece to Tourneur's masterpiece.

Post Reply