Saturday, January 04, 2020


Cats / Cats.
    GB / US © 2019 Universal Pictures / The Really Useful Group / Perfect World Pictures. P: Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tom Hooper. EX: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Steven Spielberg, Angela Morrison, Jo Burn.
    D: Tom Hooper. SC: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper – based on the stage musical (1981) by Andrew Lloyd Webber – based on T. S. Eliot: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939, in Finnish: Kissojen kielen kompasanakirja, 2018, Jaakko Yli-Juonikas / Otava). Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler.
    DP: Christopher Ross – colour – 2,39:1 – source format: ARRIRAW 6.5 K – master format: digital intermediate 2K – release format: D-Cinema. PD: Eve Stewart. AD: Tom Weaving. Set dec: Rebecca Pilkington. Cost: Paco Delgado. Makeup: Nuria Mbomio, Niamh O'Loan. VFX: Mill Film / MPC / Lola. M: Andrew Lloyd Webber. S: John Warhurst. ED: Melanie Oliver. Casting: Lucy Bevan. Cast (from Wikipedia):
    James Corden as Bustopher Jones
    Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy
    Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger
    Idris Elba as Macavity the Mystery Cat
    Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella the Glamour Cat
    Ian McKellen as Gus "Asparagus" the Theatre Cat
    Taylor Swift as Bombalurina
    Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots the Gumbie Cat
    Francesca Hayward as Victoria the White Cat
    Laurie Davidson as Mr. Mistoffelees
    Robbie Fairchild as Munkustrap
    Mette Towley as Cassandra
    Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks
    Danny Collins as Mungojerrie
    Naoimh Morgan as Rumpleteazer
    Ray Winstone as Growltiger
    Les Twins as Plato and Socrates
    Jaih Betote as Coricopat
    Jonadette Carpio as Jemima
    Daniela Norman as Demeter
    Bluey Robinson as Alonzo
    Freya Rowley as Jellylorum
    Ida Saki as Electra
    Zizi Strallen as Tantomile]
    Eric Underwood as Admetus
Musical numbers (from Wikipedia) (there is no song listing in the movie):
– "Overture" / "Prologue: Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" – Orchestra/Company
– "The Naming of Cats" / "The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball" – Munkunstrap, Victoria (choreography), Mr. Mistoffelees & Company
– "Jennyanydots: The Old Gumbie Cat" – Jennyanydots, Munkustrap & Company
– "The Rum Tum Tugger" – Rum Tum Tugger, Jennyanydots & Company
– "Grizabella: The Glamour Cat" – Grizabella, Cassandra, Demeter & Company
– "Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town" – Bustopher & Company
– "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" – Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer & Victoria
– "Old Deuteronomy" – Munkustrap, Old Deuteronomy & Company
– "Growltiger's Last Stand" – Growltiger & Bustopher Jones (dialogue)
– "The Jellicle Ball" – Company
– "Memory (Prelude)" / "Beautiful Ghosts" " – Grizabella & Victoria
– "The Moments of Happiness" – Old Deuteronomy
– "Gus: The Theatre Cat" – Gus
– "Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat" – Skimbleshanks & Company
– "Macavity: The Mystery Cat" – Bombalurina, Macavity, Macavity Girls & Company
– "Mr. Mistoffelees" – Mistoffelees, Munkustrap & Company
– "Memory" – Grizabella & Victoria
– "Beautiful Ghosts (Reprise)" - Victoria, Old Deuteronomy & Grizabella
– "The Journey to the Heaviside Layer" – Company
– "Finale: The Ad-Dressing of Cats" – Old Deuteronomy & Company
    109 min
    Gala premiere: 16 Dec 2019 Alice Tully Hall.
    UK and US premieres: 20 Dec 2019.
    Finnish premiere: 3 Jan 2020 – released by Finnkino Oy – Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen / Joanna Erkkilä.
    DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 10, Helsinki, 4 Jan 2020.

Official synopsis: "Oscar®-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) transforms Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-shattering stage musical into a breakthrough cinematic event."

"Cats stars James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson and introduces Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward in her feature film debut."

"Featuring Lloyd Webber’s iconic music and a world-class cast of dancers under the guidance of Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights), the film reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology, and dance styles ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop to jazz, street dance to tap."

"The film also stars Robbie Fairchild (Broadway’s An American in Paris), Laurie Davidson (TNT’s Will), hip-hop dance sensation Les Twins (Larry and Laurent Bourgeois), acclaimed dancer Mette Towley (featured in videos for Rihanna and Pharrell Williams’ N.E.R.D.), Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae, and rising-star singer Bluey Robinson."

"Universal Pictures presents a Working Title Films and Amblin Entertainment production, in association with Monumental Pictures and The Really Useful Group. Cats is produced by Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Tom Hooper. The screenplay is by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Rocketman) and Hooper, based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot and the stage musical by Lloyd Webber. Cats is executive produced by Lloyd Webber, Steven Spielberg, Angela Morrison and Jo Burn."

"One of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway history, the stage musical “Cats” received its world premiere at the New London Theatre in 1981, where it played for 21 years and earned the Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Musical. In 1983, the Broadway production became the recipient of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for an extraordinary 18 years. Since opening in London in 1981, “Cats” has continuously appeared on stage around the globe, to date having played to 81 million people in more than fifty countries and in nineteen languages. It is one of the most successful musicals of all time.
" (Official synopsis)

AA: I was positively surprised by Cats. I was not looking forward to it, having been bored by the previous Andrew Lloyd Webber film adaptations Evita (1996) and The Phantom of the Opera (2004).

I'm a lover of film musicals and hard to please. To me the golden age of film musicals ended in the 1950s when specialized musical units of the Hollywood studios closed. But there have been exceptions, most prominently Jacques Demy's cycle of five musicals based on the verismo approach.

Also Cats belongs to the best musicals but in contrast to Demy's verismo it is driven by dream, fantasy and magic. Cats is a magnificent mind trip about rejection and community, solitude and belonging, difference and identity. I like its feeling of meditation and longing, introspection and self-searching. It is a journey into the night, into the unconscious. It is also about the experience of: "I once was lost, now I am found". There is an affinity with some of the reveries by Vincente Minnelli which were produced, incredibly enough, in the heart of MGM.

Cats could have been produced as a straight ballet or animation. The controversial and experimental solution was to interpret it as digitally altered live action. Comparisons can include anything from Polar Express and Avatar to The Irishman.

Like in The Irishman, the uncanny valley of digitally animated live action makes everything strange. In The Irishman mobsters turned into alien monsters. In Cats the characters are extraterrestrial creatures like in Avatar. Neither here nor there, neither human nor animal, they are cinematic chimeras. They are transformers, trespassers, interlopers, new kinds of dream figures. They are strange and haunting. For a while I was also thinking about the Panther Woman in Island of Lost Souls (1932, based on H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau), Cat People and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns.

Cats are cinematic. They are rewarding for animation. Felix the Cat by Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer was one of the cinema's first animated series. The first film in the series was called "Feline Follies". With its pleasingly round forms and figures Felix was an obvious predecessor and model for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse. The most popular animated feline character is probably Pink Panther. Not forgetting Tigger by A. A. Milne.

In this movie cats are played by people who are naked and fur-covered. The movements are sinuous, slithery and sensuous. The ballerinas wear no tutus, the male dancers no dance belts (thongs). Groins are exposed but genitals are absent. In this sense the characters are like children's dolls. They are both sexual (in movement) and asexual (in appearance). They are sensual eunuchs. We find ourselves in a "doubly uncanny valley".

I have not read T. S. Eliot's "practical cats" poems, but I register the rich and literate quality of the dialogue and lyrics. In this musical Andrew Lloyd Webber is at his best. With effortless flair Cats takes off into the faraway galaxies and milky ways of musical theatre dreamworlds. The actors, dancers and singers are great, and the choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler is marvellous. Tom Hooper has an assured touch in keeping the esoteric dream spheres in constant enchanting movement.

I like this film very much but I have also misgivings. As for musical production numbers, especially dance solos, I prefer the montage interdit, the plan-séquence. When the dancer is great I want to see her/him in long shot and long take. The art of the dance is watered down by fast edit. Perhaps we are being prevented in lingering too long with uncanny views. But the impact of great performances is diminished.

There is a charming new song, "Beautiful Ghosts" (2019), written for the movie by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber, sung first by Francesca Hayward as Victoria and during the end credits by Swift herself. It develops the themes of "Memory", the most famous tune of the musical. There is something intriguingly melancholy and Minnellian in it.

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