Monday, October 1, 2012

31 Horrors: Cat People (#1)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

This past Saturday I made one my regular appearances on JOY 94.9's The Saturday Magazine and this week's special topic was film-noir and vintage cinema with a keen eye on the queer subtext found therein (being a GLBTIQ oriented radio station that certainly makes sense). When co-host - and friend, fyi - Ben Rylan asked me to choose a film to discuss I naturally went to my favourite film-noir, Jacques Tourneur's 1942 masterpiece of feline shadow play, Cat People. The queer element drips off of the screen in that film and it was a joy (ow, my ribs!) to discuss. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on over here (it's the September 29 episode). It's a fabulous episode in its entirety, but if you have a specific desire to listen to my segment you can fast forward to the 45-minute mark. Apologies for, you know, everything about my voice and speaking and general lack of eloquence. You can also hear my housemate, the crowned "Queen of The Astor", Tara Judah discussing celluloid right before me. I can tell you're jealous just thinking about the conversations we have at home whilst in track pants and with terrible bed hair.

I've seen Tourneur's original Cat People many, many times, but I had never seen Paul Schrader's remake, which came to be some 40 years later in 1982. I figured what better time to actually watch it than now? I only had 9 minutes to talk on the radio, but all in the name of "research" and wondered what the remake would illuminate upon the original if anything at all. I admit to assuming that since the original film was so steeped in lesbian subtext, that Schrader - hardly a wilting flower in the face of sex - would up the ante and present it merely as pure text. I was genuinely surprised, however, to find that the '80s redux all but jettisons the lesbian angle outside of the two scenes that directly photocopy the original.

Paul Schrader, also an uncredited co-writer alongside Alan Ormsby, veers his rendition of the DeWitt Bodeen story away from homosexual "oddness" and more abruptly towards incest and general erotica. In fact, Cat People 1982 bares very little resemblance to Tourneur's film outside of general plot similarities and a couple of scenes here or there. The only scenes replicated by Schrader outright is the "my sister" scene, which is actually humourously fobbed off by the Annette O'Toole character as if to say once and for all that this isn't a faithful retelling, and the swimming pool stalker sequence that is more or less the centrepiece of the '42 edition. It's fitting that it's the best scene in this edition as well, although the leopard autopsy sequence rivals it for edge-of-your-seat "what's gonna happen?" suspense.

Cat People 1942 is a superbly stylish film, utilising the aesthetics of film-noir (albeit predominantly due to budget limitations, although it proved popular and Tourneur/Lewton utilised the same look for The Leopard Man and I Walked with a Zombie a year later and beyond including the famous Out of the Past). Schrader's rendition is also stylish, but almost in the complete opposite way. Rather than high contrast blacks, greys and whites, cinematographer John Bailey utilises incredibly bright blues, greens, reds and yellows. Blood is actually quite minimal, but whenever it shows up - like Ed Bagley Jr's delightful arm excision sequence - it splatters in vivid clarity. When Natassja Kinski's Irena visits her brother's (a typically creepy Malcolm McDowell) workplace it is a church hall with rainbow colours (certainly a no go nowadays, yes?) When Schrader decides to recreate the swimming pool sequence, he uses fluorescence in a way that the original film never could.

The remake - much like, for instance, the 2003 "remake" of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, calling it a remake seems disingenuous - is certainly not an improvement on the original, but it works as its own curious beast. The Golden Globe-nominated score by Giorgio Moroder, and "Theme from Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)" by David Bowie(!!), are nice touches, but it is the original story that continues to impress most of all. It seems like such a silly premise, and yet it works because both filmmakers, Tourneur and Schrader, take it with absolute seriousness. Cat People '42: A; Cat People '82: B.

1 comment:

Forever1267 said...

What I mostly remember from the film was the nudity-friendly Nastassja Kinski, and the near-nudity of everyone else. If the camera would just move a little bit one way.... Still, it was a creepy, highly sexual film for my sexually confused teenage self.