Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Edward Herrmann, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Tilly, Cary Elwes
If The Cat’s Meow (2001) turns out to be Peter Bogdanovich’s last theatrical feature—as frankly seems likely—I can scarcely think of a better way to go out. That it wasn’t a success even on the art-house circuit (I looked up my original review, and it played one week locally) doesn’t change the fact that the film was a return to Bogdanovich’s 1970s form—something I never expected to see happen. The story is Hollywood-insider speculation on what might have really happened on William Randolph Hearst’s (Edward Herrmann) yacht in 1924 that led to the death of pioneer filmmaker Thomas H. Ince (Cary Elwes). It’s told from the point of view of then-popular (and slightly scandalous) novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley). The screenplay takes the known facts, then goes off on its own version of what happened on that yacht—something that no one aboard ever talked about. Are its conclusions valid? Who knows? Those conclusions would certainly go a long way toward explaining the unprecedented power that Hearst afforded Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) right after the fateful excursion—but true or not, the speculation makes for a wonderful and wonderfully dishy movie. A lot of what works here comes down to the casting. Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Edward Herrmann, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Tilly are absolutely perfect as Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Hearst, Glyn and Parsons. Even Cary Elwes as Ince is credible. (It helps that he’s playing the character least clear in our minds.) But don’t sell Bogdanovich short here. He obviously has something to do with those performances. Plus, he made the film into a kind of small-scale Citizen Kane in a couple of instances, and he crafted a beautiful film that actually feels true to the period. His major accomplishment, though, may be in capturing the strange desperation of the time—nowhere more so than in his depiction of the sense of despair and hysteria lying just beneath the “Charleston.”
Here’s my original 2001 review: www.mountainx.com/movies/review/catsmeow.php
The Hendersonville Film Society will show part one of The Cat’s Meow at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.