Tuesday, March 11, 2003

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About the only movie of note that I've watched lately is Peter Bogdanovich's 2001 film The Cat's Meow, an interesting little speculative fiction about the events on communications mogul William Randolph Hearst's yacht back in the Twenties. Nobody, or at least nobody alive today, really knows what exactly transpired, and all that is known is that producer Thomas Ince died shortly after he sailed with Hearst and Company. While foul play was suspected, nobody important was even questioned, let alone arrested for anything! As the narrator says at the beginning, "There were many whispers about what happened, and this is the whisper heard most often".

But Bogdanovich doesn't seem to be all that interested in doing a JFK-style film and getting to the bottom of the seven-decades-old mystery; he seems to be more inclined to use the events and characters as props to get in some digs at Hollywood and the society it represents. Still, there is an interesting story here, and it's told very well. The ship almost becomes like one of those "old dark houses" of yore, and there are several characters, all with their own agendas, all maneuvering to acheive this goal or that. I saw a review which called this film "Gosford Yacht", and I think it's a very apt description.

He's helped a lot by a great ensemble cast: Ed Herrmann as Hearst-goofy one scene, malevolent the next; Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin, and especially Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies. She brings a lot of depth to the role of Hearst's mistress; in fact, she's as good if not better than Dorothy Comingore was in essentially the same role in Citizen Kane. Other cast standouts include Cary Elwes (who's becoming quite the character actor) as Ince, Jennifer (sigh) Tilly as the young and ambitious gossip columnist Louella Parsons, squealing like Betty Boop...and Joanna Lumley as Brit wit Elinor Glyn, all dry humor and sarcasm.

It was my interest in Citizen Kane, perhaps my favorite film, that steered me towards this one. I'm also a fan of Izzard, so I wanted to see it for him– and Jennifer Tilly– ah, Jennifer Tilly. Where was I? Oh. Never mind all that, you say, should I see it or not? I say you should– but don't expect a thrilling whodunit. It's deliberately paced and low-key. If this doesn't bother you, then by all means drop a fiver to rent it, or try to catch it on cable like I did.