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The Cat’s Meow

Director:

Canada-Germany-U.K.| 2001. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 114 mins.


Thirty years ago, director Peter Bogdanovich was among the hottest things in Hollywood after the likes of Targets, The Last Picture Show and What’s Up, Doc?, but although his career sadly failed to sustain itself, this expose of silent-era Hollywood marks a welcome return to our cinema screens.
Bogdanovich is also a distinguished Hollywood historian, and although this latest film is based on a play by Steven Peros, it has its roots in the revelations of his late friend Orson Welles about the rumours which had long since surrounded famed media magnate William Randolph Hearst (the thinly disguised subject of Citizen Kane, you’ll recall). So how exactly was the hushed-up demise of ’20s studio head Thomas Ince connected to an all-star party on Hearst’s yacht, and the latter’s illicit love affair with the actress Marion Davies (later fictionalised in Kane as the talentless opera singer ‘Susan Alexander’)?
Bogdanovich’s speculative drama comes up with a credible sequence of events, which suggests the significant involvement of one Charles Chaplin (Eddie Izzard gets his preening vanity spot-on), displays a certain sympathy for the ill-fated Ince (Cary Elwes), and boasts a lovely performance from Kirsten Dunst as the unfairly maligned Davies. Crucially, although it never quite portrays Hearst as a monster (Edward Herrmann depicts a powerful man at the mercy of his own desires), it still burns with an underlying anger that Tinseltown’s power-mongers escaped culpability. Although you can certainly see how he might have pushed harder and made the tone somewhat darker, Bogdanovich has followed his own tastes and produced a most civilised entertainment from one of the Dream Factory’s murkiest legends.

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