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His Last Picture Show
Ain't it Cool

Director lifts anchor with snappy mystery
'The Cat's Meow' 04/28/2002
By JANE SUMNER / The Dallas Morning News

One of the first things Peter Bogdanovich ever shot was on a yacht. "I did some second-unit work on a sci-fi film for Roger Corman," he says. "I only directed 10 minutes of it, but the girls were vomiting, everybody was sick as a dog."

He vowed never again to shoot on a yacht. And he didn't for 34 years. When he did, it was to shoot The Cat's Meow, the mystery-romance that opened Friday and is lifting his movie career out of dry dock.

The director, his countenance a map of rough road, admits that life hasn't been easy. "What round is this?" he asks impishly, peering through signature tinted horn rims.

For the immigrants' son, more famed these days for his role as a shrink in The Sopranos than his 25 films, it's way past the 15th round.

The director of the black-and-white classic The Last Picture Show has survived bankruptcy, box-office flops, career-killing obsession, a young lover's grisly murder and, recently, the end of his marriage with her half-sister.

But after riding the Hollywood roller coaster from its zenith to a screeching halt, the actor-turned-director appears to be back on the rails. The Cat's Meow, his first film in eight years, is getting good buzz.

Set aboard William Randolph Hearst's private yacht, the tantalizing peep at Tinseltown's rich and famous in the Roaring '20s proves the stage-trained thesp hasn't lost his touch with actors. This time, he's working with Edward Herrmann as the smitten, childlike Hearst; Kirsten Dunst as his effervescent actress-mistress Marion Davies; and Eddie Izzard as movie star-on-the-make Charlie Chaplin.

While the whodunit is elegant and funny, it wasn't too many laughs to make. "It was a lot of work," he says. "We did it in 31 days. We shot it very quickly. I can't say it was fun, but it was invigorating."

The plot concerns the demise of one of the guests on a merry weekend cruise in 1924. Though whispered about, the scandal was never much publicized.

"No, it was all hushed up," the director says. "But you can find references to it in alternative underground type of industry scandal books like Hollywood Babylon."

He first heard the story from Orson Welles, who heard it from Ms. Davies' nephew. It even appeared in the first draft of Citizen Kane , inserted by Herman Mankiewicz. Co-writer Welles, contending the composite character of Charlie Kane was not a killer, took it out.

While the real cruise took place off the coast of California, interiors for The Cat's Meow were shot in Berlin and exteriors off Greece.

"Berlin because much of the production money was German money and they wanted to shoot in a German studio," he says. "Greece because that's where we found a yacht from the period."

And since San Pedro and San Diego are too developed to serve as backdrops for the period, a Greek fishing village was chosen. But Kyparissi, famed as the last place Princess Diana vacationed, wasn't easy to get to, he says.

"My driver drove me in a very good Mercedes from Athens and it took him five hours," the director says. "It took the bus with the crew 11 hours."

Since there was so little money and time, he says, they couldn't make the costumes. "Except for a couple suits, which Hearst wore, all the clothes were from the period. We had a brilliant designer and she found the clothes in Paris, London. She went looking all over Rome, too."

Since he nixed any color in the wardrobe, the designer opted for black, white and shades of gray. "The whole point was to focus on the characters and not on the costumes," he says. "And nobody notices."

In telling a story, he says, "I'm very much a believer in focusing on the actors, on the characters, and the way to do that is not have anything distracting like the costumes and the camera. I think the camera work should be invisible."

The other vital element to capturing a time period, he says, is music. "All the music that you hear is from 1924 or earlier. We have 58 songs in the picture. ... There's no score, you see, no modern overlay telling you what to feel."

For the role of Ms. Davies, he says, "I didn't think of Kirsten Dunst. The studio came to me and said she wants to do this part." Aware that she could act, he wondered about the age difference. "She's 18. This character's 25. But, you know, she pulled it off. We got her voice down ... and she played it very well, beyond my expectations."

For the role of Hearst, he says, the studio wanted more of a name than Tony-winner Edward Herrmann, who spent several years at the Dallas Theater Center.

"We tried to get somebody, but we couldn't. So we were down to the wire and they said go with him." As the media mogul, he says, Mr. Herrmann gives a colorful, complex performance. "He also looks a lot like Hearst. He's better looking, but he's very big, very tall. His hair falls the same way. He's a bit jowly. It was quite amazing."

The role of Chaplin was hardest to cast because people still remember him as The Little Tramp, Mr. Bogdanovich says. "He never wore a mustache in life. He never walked that way and his hair was prematurely white. But we couldn't figure out who the hell to cast."

But the director knew he wanted an English actor to play the London-born silent star. Then a friend took him to see Eddie Izzard at Town Hall.

"He blew me away. He was brilliantly funny. He's not a stand-up comic. He plays different parts. I thought he was unique."

As it turned out, Mr. Izzard, who delivers a subtle, nuanced turn, was short like Chaplin and a fan of the comic. "That was just dumb luck, really dumb luck. I didn't even know who the guy was." But then, he says, "We were awfully lucky on The Cat's Meow. Things we thought were bad luck turned out to be good luck. Things we thought wouldn't work, did. That's one of the funny things about movies."

From the Guardian
Storm at sea
The murderous rage of a media magnate makes for a fine film, says John Patterson in his weekly look at US releases

Monday April 15, 2002
The Guardian

The story Peter Bogdanovich tells in The Cat's Meow is based on one of Hollywood's enduring dirty little secrets: the death of movie director Thomas Ince aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht in 1924. Although the cause of death was given as a heart attack brought on by ulcers, there was no autopsy because the body had been cremated. Gossip in Hollywood focused on the yacht's celebrity passengers: on board were Hearst's mistress, 27-year-old Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Ince's mistress Margaret Livingston, and columnist Louella Parsons.

After the boat docked, Livingston and Parsons were suddenly elevated to a lucrative signing with Hearst's studio and a life-time contract, respectively. Rumours circulated that, in a murderous jealous rage, Hearst had mistaken Ince for Chaplin, who was pursuing Davies at the time.

Bogdanovich has filmed Steven Peros's sly and witty play based on the story. The press magnate is played by Edward Herrmann as an adoring, possessive lover, a brutal wielder of his power, and a man prone to jealous fits where Davies is concerned. Davies herself is a thespian debutante ball for Kirsten Dunst - at 19 a full eight years younger than the woman she plays - and the actress snatches with both hands the opportunity to shred her image as a teen-set cutie and establish herself as an actress to be reckoned with. Chaplin and Ince are played by Eddie Izzard and Cary Elwes, and filling out the cast are Joanna Lumley as novelist Elinor Glyn, and Jennifer Tilly as the shrill, brassy Parsons.

The result is the best Bogdanovich movie in a long time. Blessed with Peros's bitchy dialogue and the gusto of an energetic cast, Bogdanovich makes the most of the imagery of jazz-era Hollywood: pot-smoking starlets, bootleg gin, feather boas and flapper skirts, vulgar wealth and the frivolous, dangerous rich. If the director leaves no discernible signature of his own on the story, that doesn't detract from its vivacity and pathos.

The Hollywood Reporter
'Cat's Meow' sets sail for next Globes, Oscar races

Apr. 12, 2002

By Martin A. Grove

Marvelous "Meow": If you think you've already seen the definitive film about William Randolph Hearst, think again -- unless you've had an early look at Peter Bogdanovich's marvelous thriller "The Cat's Meow," opening today in New York and L.A. via Lions Gate Films.

Set on Hearst's yacht in November 1924, "Meow" was written by Steven Peros and produced by Kim Bieber and Carol Lewis. It was executive produced by Mike Paseornek and stars Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies, Hearst's long-time lover; Cary Elwes as pioneer filmmaker Thomas Ince; Edward Herrmann as Hearst, America's first media mogul; Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin; Joanna Lumley as British novelist Elinor Glyn; and Jennifer Tilly as Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

With all its style, wit, charm and first class performances, you can expect to see "Meow" sail into the next races for Golden Globes and Oscars. One of the year's first awards worthy movies, it marks an outstanding filmmaking return for Bogdanovich after an absence of too many years. "Meow" ranks with earlier Bogdanovich classics like "The Last Picture Show," "What's Up, Doc?" and "Paper Moon." It's particularly fascinating viewing for anyone with an interest in Hollywood's past because it shows that not much has changed in terms of the film business over the past 75 years or so since the heyday of silent movies when "Meow" takes place. It's still an industry that revolves around money and power, the beautiful women attracted to them both and the little pleasures of life (both legal and otherwise) that seem to go hand in hand with Hollywood success.

"We open New York and Los Angeles (semi-exclusively and April 26 and May 3, we roll out nationally," Lions Gate Films president Tom Ortenberg told me. "On April 26, we're going to be expanding our runs in New York and Los Angeles out into the suburbs as well as opening Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and a few other major cities. We hope to be pretty much nationwide by May 3."

Asked how the film came to Lions Gate, Ortenberg explained, "We financed the picture. The script came to us a couple of years ago and it's one that everybody took to right away. And, of course, the opportunity to work with a great filmmaker like Peter Bogdanovich was extremely attractive. It's not something that comes our way every day. So we were thrilled. And when the great cast came together, it turned into a dream cast and really the project has been blessed. It was a great production. The movie turned out great. Critics seem to like the movie. We know audiences love the movie. So we're looking forward to a very successful release."

As for the film's awards prospects, which I think are considerable, Ortenberg observed, "We really hope so. Certainly, time has shown that good pictures even released this early in the spring are still capable of being remembered during the awards season. So we have every intention of reminding (Oscar) voters and all various awards groups of the picture come next December."

Focusing Wednesday with Bogdanovich about the making of "Meow," I asked how he came to make the picture. "The whole thing for me began, believe it or not, about 33 years ago when Orson Welles told me about the incident (on the Hearst yacht)," he explained, "in a conversation we were doing for the book (Bogdanovich's 'The Cinema of Orson Welles'). It was a conversation in which he was trying to explain to me that, in fact, there's a general misunderstanding (and) that 'Cinema Kane' was not supposed to be about Hearst at all, but rather that Kane was a composite character based on Hearst, a Russian press lord whose name I can't remember, and a couple of others, including (Col. Robert) McCormick, a Chicago press lord who built the Chicago Opera House for his girlfriend who was a singer.

"That whole aspect of Kane had nothing to do with Hearst and, in fact, Orson made no attempt to play Kane like Hearst. Hearst was not particularly attractive, kind of pear shaped and had a sort of high pitched voice. So in trying to explain that really it was a misunderstanding about the intention of the movie, he told me about this incident as an example of how different Hearst was from Kane as he saw it. In fact, (Herman J.) Mankiewicz had put the incident into an early draft of 'Kane' and Orson had taken it out because he didn't feel that was the way Kane would have behaved in the circumstances. We're asking the press to not give away what exactly happened because it is more fun for the audience if they don't know."

On hearing the story from Welles, Bogdanovich asked where he'd heard it. "He'd been told the story by a family member of Marion's, the screenwriter Charlie Lederer, who it turns out was Marion Davies' nephew," Bogdanovich replied. "He told it to Orson and it was confirmed by Charlie to me when I met him in the '70s. We didn't use it in the book. Then about 30 years later, amazingly, I was on an ocean voyage, significantly. It was kind of an extended Telluride Film Festival. We were on this voyage on the QE2 to Southampton and on the ship were Roger Ebert and Ken Burns and Chuck Jones and a few other people. One lunchtime I told Roger the whole story and it's maybe the second time in my life that I'd told the story to anybody. The reason I told it to him was (that) he was doing something about 'Kane' on the ship and I just thought it would interest him. He didn't know anything about it. His mouth fell open as mine had and he said, 'Wow, it sounds like it would make a good picture.' I thought, 'Well, I hadn't thought of that.'

"Now I'm not gilding the lily, but I got back to New York from that voyage and on my desk was this script. Just like that. I leafed through it and I saw these names -- Hearst, Ince, Marion, Chaplin -- and I thought, 'My God, maybe it's that story.' So, of course, I read it right away. I was curious and, basically, it was a quite well dramatized version of exactly what Orson had told me. I was struck by the coincidence of it. The producers who sent it to me and the writer had no idea that I had any knowledge of it apart from what I might have read in something like 'Hollywood Babylon.' My reaction was summed up a couple of weeks later when I told Roger what had happened. I said, 'Do you remember that story? I got a script.' He said, 'Wow. Sounds like you better make that picture.' And so I did. That's how it came about."

A lot of work was done on the screenplay, he said, "before we shot it and while we were shooting. I brought the writer with me to Europe and we all worked on it. When I say all, I mean the cast because everybody got involved in the rewrites a bit, particularly in the dialogue."

Each and every one of the principal roles in the film seems to have come to life with just exactly the right person to play the part. "We got really lucky," Bogdanovich observed. "I can't take tremendous credit for it except that I didn't say no."

Noting that things just came together well, he explained that, "Lions Gate was the first studio that it was sent to. My manager thought that Mike Paseornek and the Lions Gate people would like it. This was when they were still half-based in New York. So we sent it to Paseornek, whose name is on it as executive producer, and who is the head of production at the company. He liked it very much. We had lunch and talked about it. I think he only asked me one question, which was, 'How do you see this picture?' I said, 'As a suspense piece.' 'Oh,' he said . 'Okay.' And we entered into a deal. There was quite a long wait because Lions Gate went through all sorts of reshuffling. They moved to the coast and they acquired another company. There was just a lot of corporate changes that took time and slowed us up. During all that time, we were thinking about casting and we actually had a couple of people committed who ended up not doing the picture. For various reasons, they dropped out because of the delay. They were good actors, too, but I think what we ended up with is better.

"I think the first person we cast that ended up in the movie was Eddie Izzard. And that, again, was a piece of luck because I didn't know who he was. My manager called me in the summer of 2000 and said, 'What are you doing tonight?' It was a hot day and I said, 'Not much. I'm trying to keep from sweating to death.' He said, 'Well, listen, do you want to see Eddie Izzard at Town Hall tonight?' And I said, 'What's that?' He said, 'No, no. It's Who's that? Eddie Izzard is an English comedian. I said, 'Oh. I've never heard of him.' He said, 'Well, he's at Town Hall tonight at the end of a triumphant tour.' I said, 'Well, it's air conditioned. I'll go.' So I went and was bowled over by him. In fact, I had concluded that the character of Chaplin was the hardest part to cast because I couldn't think of anybody for it. We thought of one English actor, who maybe would have been okay, but he turned it down. I wasn't 100 percent thrilled with him either so I wasn't unhappy when he turned it down.

"Anyway, so I'm sitting there watching Eddie and laughing along with everybody else and then it struck me that this guy is a hell of an actor. He doesn't do stand-up (comedy). He does a kind of performance. He plays several roles and he kind of acts when he does it. And it hit me in the middle of it -- 'Wow, maybe he could play Chaplin.' I thought, 'Maybe an English comic playing an English comic is not that big a stretch. Maybe it'll work.' And besides, I have a conviction that people who can play comedy well can do anything because it's the toughest thing to do. In fact, you'll notice that in the cast a number of the leading actors are noted for comedy -- including Joanna Lumley and Eddie and even Kirsten has done a lot of comedy and Jennifer. I met with Eddie a couple of days later and said, 'Do you have any interest in playing Charlie Chaplin?' He said, 'As a matter of fact I do because I've just become a fan of Chaplin. Having not been a fan of Chaplin, I've been studying him a lot in the last year or so.' Anyway, he was the first person who was locked in. Then other people fell in."

Another key role to cast was Marion Davies. "At one point a few months before this, Drew Barrymore had said she wanted to do it, but then things got out of hand with her," Bogdanovich told me. "She decided to do 'Riding in Cars With Boys' and she had 'Charlie's Angels' and she owed Fox a picture. It didn't work out. The studio wanted somebody with a bit of a name. I got a call later in the summer. It was John Feltheimer at Lions Gate. He said, 'Listen, Kirsten Dunst wants to do the picture.' I said, 'How'd she get the script?' He said, 'We sent it to her because her manager told us that she was looking for a more mature role and would like to do a period picture.' I said, 'Gee, she's a good actress, but isn't she kind of young? How old is she?' He said, 'Oh, she's about 18.' I said, 'Well, the character's 25.' 'Well, she's a very good actress.' I said, 'Are you saying you're going to do this picture if she's in it?' He said, 'Well, yeah.' She was in a hit that summer called 'Bring It On.' So we talked to her on the phone and I saw a couple of other things she did and I thought, 'Okay, let's go with it.' I told her she had to play older and get her voice down a bit because that would help to indicate an older person. And, God, she did great. She's just extraordinary. She's wonderful to work with, a real pro. She may have been pushing 19 when we did it, but she had the experience of a 30 year old in terms of show business and acting."

Of course, the lynchpin of the film is Hearst. "Yes and as we approached shooting we didn't have a Hearst," Bogdanovich said. "Again, I'm telling you, we had so much good luck with this picture that I thank my lucky stars every day. We had another actor -- I don't want to say who it was -- who had agreed to do it. He was a somewhat bigger name than Ed Herrmann. In fact, I had thought of Ed Herrmann early on in the conversations because I thought he looked a bit like Hearst and he's a very good actor, I thought. The studio was not sure (because) they wanted a bigger name. So we tried to get other names. We had a name and he backed out of it about a month before we were supposed to start shooting because he was exhausted. He'd done three films in a row and he just couldn't handle it. So then we were stuck. We were approaching our start date and we didn't have a Hearst. And then somebody said, 'Well, what about Ed Herrmann?' And I said, 'I think he's great, but will they go with him?' Well they did and that was that."

Another key role is that of Thomas Ince, one of Hollywood's pioneer producers, who was down on his luck by 1924 and desperately hoping to merge his company with Hearst's well funded Cosmopolitan Pictures. Ince's studio, by the way, is the present Culver City Studios lot now owned by Sony, which put it up for sale earlier this week. Over the years the studio, which is a short drive from Sony's own lot (the old MGM studio location) has had a number of owners, including David O. Selznick, RKO and Desilu Productions. Among the classics filmed there are "Gone With the Wind," "Citizen Kane" and the original "King Kong."

"I believe it was Mike Paseornek who said, 'What about Cary Elwes? We've just worked with him,'" Bogdanovich said. "And I said, 'Well, he's a good actor. Is he too good looking?' I didn't audition him. I just thought he could do it and that was that."

Although the film is set in 1924, it doesn't have the ancient times look that period piece films that take place 70 or 80 years ago typically have. "It's interesting you should say that because I have to admit we did try very much to (achieve that)," he explained. "I said to the costume woman, 'You know, usually in period pictures they try to accentuate the differences in the costumes and (show) how quaint and funny people used to dress.' I said, 'Let's not do that. Let's try to accentuate the similarities because I don't want this to seem distant to the audience.' You know, they had radio. They had records. They had phones. And (they were) rich people. So I thought life hadn't changed that much. That was a major intention of ours to try to show the fact that things haven't changed all that much -- power is power, corruption is corruption, people feel entitled."

Indeed, Ince when we first meet him on board Hearst's yacht is putting on a successful front although we learn quickly enough that his studio is on the verge of collapsing. "It's the same thing (today in Hollywood). That's why I didn't think it was a big stretch for people," Bogdanovich said. "I could identify with so many of the things in the picture."

Bogdanovich, of course, is no stranger to making period films, having previously made films like "Paper Moon," which was set during the Depression, and "The Last Picture Show," which took place in the '50s. "We got very fortunate with our choice of costume, production design and camera (people)," he said. "All three of them happened to be French. And they're all brilliant. We didn't have enough money or time to build all those costumes so (Costume Designer Caroline de Vivaise) actually went looking and found clothes from that period. Virtually everything except a couple of suits of Ed Herrmann's (was from the period). He's such a big guy that we couldn't find one from the period that fit. But almost everything else is from the period. I said to her, 'I don't want any color in the costumes. I want black, white, silver and various shades of gray,' the reason being that I didn't want to call attention to the costumes. I think most period pictures overdo it and you end up looking at the costumes. I didn't want anybody to look at anything but the actors. You're not supposed to notice it, but if you look (at the film again) you'll see that there's no color in the costumes.

"In fact, there's very little color on the yacht. Gold and mahogany (are the basic colors used). Jean-Vincent Puzos did the Production Design. He's one of the best I've ever had, if not the best. He's extraordinary and did a wonderful job of recreating the yacht -- actually, inventing the yacht because we had no idea what the interiors looked like. There were no pictures of the interior. We had pictures of the exterior, but not very many -- two of the exterior, but virtually nothing of the interior. He did these designs and I thought they were superb."

From Rolling | 04.25.02

Elegant, funny and unexpectedly touching, this whodunit about a murder aboard the yacht of William Randolph Hearst represents a bracing comeback for Peter Bogdanovich. The director of The Last Picture Show, What's Up, Doc?, Paper Moon and Mask hasn't made a feature since The Thing Called Love in 1993. As an actor, Bogdanovich can be seen playing the shrink to Lorraine Bracco's shrink on The Sopranos. But it's his rep as a film historian (This Is Orson Welles, Who the Devil Made It) that makes him an inspired choice to direct the film of Steven Peros' play.

Hollywood has buzzed for years about what really happened that weekend in November 1924 when media mogul Hearst (Edward Herrmann), the inspiration for the character of Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' masterpiece, Citizen Kane, hosted a yachting party. The guests included silent-screen genius Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), film innovator Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) and British novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley). The married Hearst is violently jealous of his young mistress, the actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), and suspects she and Chaplin are carrying on in secret. Bogdanovich cuts through the artificiality of high-style glamour and bitchy laughs with generous emotion. As for his request that critics refrain from naming who is shot, no big deal. The kick of the film isn't in solving the mystery, which is still shrouded in speculation, but in enjoying the atmosphere established by Bogdanovich and the camera magician Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie) - and in the scrappy, layered performances. Izzard, the comic who often works in drag, makes a riveting, dangerous egotist of Chaplin. And Tilly plays Parsons with humor and backbone. Herrmann digs deep into Hearst, going past the megalomania to etch a brave, wounded portrait of a fool for love. Still, the revelation is Dunst; the teen queen of Bring It On and Crazy/Beautiful is showstoppingly good, finding humor, heart and surprising gravity in a character often dismissed as a gold digger. Bogdanovich knows old Hollywood, a place the script describes as "a land just off the coast of planet Earth," and his rendering of this poignant piece of time shows us how little things have changed.

(April 25, 2002)

Sex and Death at Sea
'The Cat's Meow' speculates  on a hushed-up Hollywood scandal from 1924

By JOHN CLARK | NY Daily News 03.31.02 | thanks Marian

Most people know the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, actress Marion Davies — if they know them at all — as the bully Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) and the embittered Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore) in Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941). But what they may not know can be glimpsed in director Peter Bogdanovich's new film, "The Cat's Meow" — which suggests that Hearst and Davies, while not as miserable as Kane and Alexander, may have been involved in a murder.

"Peter has told me that he heard the story from Orson Welles 30 years ago," says "Cat's Meow" screenwriter Steven Peros. "Apparently, Welles had told Peter that [Herman Mankiewicz, Welles' co-writer on "Citizen Kane"] had written a scene or sequence inspired by that event in the screenplay of 'Citizen Kane,' but Welles removed it because he didn't feel Charlie Kane was a killer."

The event that Peros is alluding to is one of the great mysteries of early Hollywood — the death of producer-director Thomas H. Ince in November 1924. Supposedly, he died of heart failure induced by indigestion, but rumors have swirled for decades that he was a victim of foul play aboard Hearst's 220-foot yacht, the Oneida, during a weekend voyage along the California coast. The incident earned the Oneida the fetching nickname "William Randolph's Hearse."

The passenger list on the cruise, according to Hollywood lore and Bogdanovich's movie, was a glitzy one. It included Hearst (played in the film by Edward Herrmann), Davies (Kirsten Dunst), Ince (Cary Elwes), Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), future gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley).

And the things they got up to! — according to "The Cat's Meow," at least. Bootleg whisky was drunk, reefers smoked, the Charleston danced and backs stabbed. In the movie, this is all very naughty and innocent at the same time. But things take a more serious turn when Ince, who has brought along his disgruntled mistress, begs Hearst to shore up his flagging producing career. Meanwhile Chaplin, who has impregnated an underage leading lady prior to joining the cruise, is avidly pursuing the conflicted Davies, to Hearst's mounting rage.

Inevitably, these agendas and passions violently intersect. And Parsons is taking notes.

Did any of this really happen? Who knows? Some people have said that Hearst killed Ince. Others insist that Chaplin did. And Davies was rumored to be having affairs with both Chaplin and Ince. And why did the San Diego district attorney put a lid on the investigation? And why did Hearst's people initially say that Ince was visiting Hearst's ranch? And how is it that Parsons, alone among Hearst's employees, was subsequently given a lifetime contract?

Peros researched the story extensively — he first heard about it in a film class — wrote the screenplay in 1990, turned it into a play in 1997, and then rewrote it for this movie. He says the only people who can be said with confidence to have been on the trip were Hearst, Davies, Ince, Glyn and a handful of lesser lights.

"There's an old joke that if as many people were on the Oneida as were rumored to be, it would have sunk," he says. "I think the only thing that is certain is that something unusual happened on that boat that people wanted to cover up. I think it's important not to position the film as some exposé. It's a whisper. To me it's more about the characters anyway."

There have been a lot of whispers over the years about the characters primarily because of "Citizen Kane." Herrmann insists that Charles Foster Kane was as much Welles as he was Hearst, and that Welles "used this character Hearst to — in the words of [George Bernard] Shaw — hang his own cynical commonplaces on."

If "Citizen Kane" is to be believed, Hearst's personal life was an extension of his professional life. He was a control freak who, as Susan Alexander Kane said of Charlie, never wanted to have any fun. In fact, says Herrmann, Hearst enjoyed parties and loved to dress up in costumes. Actually, as Herrmann plays him, he's a guy who wants to have fun but doesn't know how. He pulls rank when he's annoyed, and he's a bit of a nerd. Clearly, though, he's in love with Davies and dotes on her, whereas Kane gives Susan everything except what she needs and treats her like an employee.

As tough as Hearst has had it over the years, the person most in need of rehabilitation is Davies. In "Citizen Kane," Susan is depicted as a talentless, gold-digging alcoholic. Davies, though, was a gifted comic actress whose relationship with Hearst short-circuited her promising career because he insisted on her starring only in dramas. Davies was also smarter and more generous than Susan — and a lot more loyal: When Hearst ran into financial troubles in the late '30s, Davies sold her jewelry and real estate to help keep him afloat. Hearst would have married her had his wife given him a divorce.

Rosebud Rumors

The most salacious bit of mythology concerning Davies was the talismanic use of the word "rosebud" in "Citizen Kane," which was Kane's last word before dying and the cryptic key to his tortured psyche. The late film critic Pauline Kael speculated that it was the name of Mankiewicz's own boyhood sled, but rumors persist that it was Hearst's nickname for a part of Davies' anatomy.

Except for this oblique reference, the Hearst-Davies sexual relationship was given the Victorian treatment in "Citizen Kane." "The Cat's Meow" doesn't really explore it, except for showing brief displays of affection. Significantly, Davies calls Hearst "Pops," almost as if their relationship were that of father and daughter.

Ironically, according to Herrmann, Dunst seemed to share this squeamish attitude. "I'm not sure she was comfortable with the idea of a younger woman enamored of an older guy," Herrmann says. "It may be that she didn't find me very attractive. But we had the one scene when she kissed me and she ran to the monitor and looked at it and said, 'Oh, that doesn't look stupid.'"

"It was definitely a little bit of a daddy situation," says Dunst, who watched a documentary about Davies and read her autobiography. "She was never that close with her [own] dad."

Dunst fizzes wonderfully in the film — her Davies is a flapper incarnate. Perhaps most impressively, she has a heart — and her physical indifference to Hearst notwithstanding — sex appeal. It's a long way from the preadolescent vampire Dunst played in "Interview With the Vampire" or even her teenage cheerleader in "Bring It On." It helps that there's something about her that belongs to the jazz-baby era.

"I've always loved that period, the women, their faces, how they're made up, what they wore," she says. "I have a face that's pretty good for it. I play older in the movie. I just want to get into more adult movies and get out of being a teenager."

The sparks really fly between Davies and Chaplin in the film as they flirt brazenly under W.R.'s nose. Whether or not they actually did this, it is true they appeared together in public — Hearst is seen reading a newspaper account, taken from a real Daily News article of the period, trumpeting this fact. It also seems likely that Hearst tolerated Davies' many dalliances but not her liaison with Chaplin, whatever it was, perhaps because he perceived the Little Tramp as a real threat. Nevertheless, Davies in the film is leery of Chaplin because he is such a notorious ladies' man.

Despite Chaplin's sexual success, he was not reputed to be an especially charming man. Izzard is the first to admit that he made Chaplin more attractive than he actually was. What's shrewd about his performance is that he didn't play the world's most famous comedian for laughs. Of all the characters, Chaplin's aims are the simplest, yet he wreaks the most havoc. "I just played him as a guy who wanted to get l--d over two days on a boat," Izzard says.

Close to Home

All of this is orchestrated by Bogdanovich, who is not only a Hollywood scholar but has had a personal and professional life that echoes many of the themes and incidents in "The Cat's Meow." He had a famous extramarital affair with actress Cybill Shepherd; his May-December romance with Playboy Playmate-turned-actress Dorothy Stratten ended when she was murdered by her jealous husband, and he suffered a fall from grace when he stopped making hit movies.

"I think what Peter has been through both personally and professionally gave him a great entry point to the characters," Peros says. "He knows what it's like to have been on top, to feel it all falling away. He understands carrying on with somebody, which became very publicized. He thinks the film is about success. For me it's about choices. Everybody on the boat make choices on that weekend that define them."

A Who's Who of 'The Cat's Meow'

William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951)

The politically influential newspaper baron, whose life was the model for "Citizen Kane" (1941), met Marion Davies in 1917, made her his mistress and founded Cosmopolitan Pictures to showcase her talents. Though never married — his wife, Millicent, refused to grant him a divorce — they remained together until his death.

Marion Davies (1897-1961)

A Brooklynite, Davies made her stage debut in a Broadway chorus line in 1916 and her first film in 1917. She was a terrific screen comedian, but Hearst's insistence that she play fragile virgins in dramas kept her from box-office success. She retired in 1937 and became a savvy business executive and generous founder of charities. After Hearst's death, she married Horace G. Brown.

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

At the time of the Ince affair, Chaplin was scandalously involved with aspiring actress Lita Grey. That year, she became the second of his 16-year-old brides, and in 1925 she gave birth to Charles Chaplin Jr. Their second son, Sydney, was born in 1926; they divorced shortly after. Following the failure of 1923's "A Woman of Paris," which he directed but did not appear in, Chaplin embarked on one of his greatest triumphs, "The Gold Rush" (1925).

Thomas H. Ince (1882-1924)

A former actor, Ince retired from directing after making his 1916 pacifist epic "Civilization" to become a prolific and successful producer-screenwriter and ruthless Hollywood mogul. Cultivating a stable of stars (including William S. Hart) and directors, he turned out authentic Westerns that made him the single most important pioneer of the genre. The fateful Oneida cruise was held in honor of his 43rd birthday. His widow, Elinor (mother of their three sons), remarried in 1930.

Elinor Glyn (1864-1943)

The former Elinor Sutherland began writing sentimental romance novels after her marriage to Clayton Glyn in 1892. In 1907, she made her name and her fortune with the sensationalistic sex novel "Three Weeks," the first of her many stories to be filmed. A flamboyant Hollywood celebrity, she is best remembered now for coining the term "It," meaning "sex appeal" — as defined by Clara Bow and explained by Glyn herself in the 1927 film of that name.

Louella Parsons (1893-1972)

Parsons wrote the scenarios for two silent films of 1912. Shortly after Ince's death, she graduated from East Coast movie critic in Hearst's papers to all-powerful syndicated West Coast gossip columnist: one who issued venom and smarm in equal amounts. She played herself in a handful of movie cameos, though her on-screen career paled beside that of rival columnist Hedda Hopper. Married three times, Parsons was the mother of producer Harriet Parsons.

Margaret Livingston (1896-1985)

This dark-haired actress — Ince's spurned mistress in "The Cat's Meow" — gave her definitive performance as the city woman who seduces George O'Brien's country boy in F.W. Murnau's 1927 masterpiece, "Sunrise." Livingston entered movies in 1916 and, often playing vamps, enjoyed an 18-year career without becoming a top star. In 1931, she became the fourth wife of bandleader Paul Whiteman. Their marriage lasted until his death in 1967.


The Cat's Meow (2002)
from | thanks Peggy | added 03.11.02

Peter Bogdanovich is at his best when he presents an elitist attitude. He doesn't quite understand the common man because, quite frankly, he has never been a common man. This is the trait that most helps him make "The Cat's Meow" a success.

The story is based on a purportedly true incident involving several personalities from the Jazz Age. Bogdanovich heard the story from Orson Welles when the maverick director befriended the young filmmaker. Welles would die a few years later. In the story, wealthy publisher William Randolph Heart throws a party for Hollywood mogul Thomas Ince. On board for the festivites is, most notably, Charlie Chaplin; Marion Davis, and actress and love interest of both Hearst and Chaplin; columnist Elinor Glyn and neophyte gossip columnist Louella Parsons, both Hearst employees; Margaret Livingston, Ince's mistress and Hearst's physician, Docctor Goodman.

Bogdanovich imagines the story, which has never been more than gossip and rumor, unfolding in the manner it is most often discussed. This is the manner that Steven Peros used for his stage play of the incident that the writer reworked for the screen here. In it, Hearst, madly jealous of Chaplin's interest in Davies, accidentally kills one of his passengers in a blinded rage.

Plot is secondary here, however, to Bogdanovich's intererst in creating the period and peopling the film with the most marvelous actors. First and foremost, the film is all Bogdanovich. He does remarkable work here. Unafraid to be creative, he uses the camera perfectly. He provides the most opulent gilded settings for his cast to create in. It is a visual delight to bask in the film the director creates here.

And the actors love it. Kirsten Dunst is fantastic as Davies. She gives the most textured and perfect performance of her career thus far. Cary Elwes is marvellously subdued as dandy and troubled Ince. Joanna Lumley (Patsy on TV's "Absolutely Fabulous") is drag chin fabulous as droll Glyn. Edward Herrmann may have played the wretched cuckold once too often but he still seems wildly perfect as Hearst here. And cult icon Eddie Izzard is brilliantly subdued as Chaplin. Izzard is making a name for himself in indie film and his performance here is flawless. He is Chaplin, the man. He makes Robert downey Jr.'s performance seem laughable.

But the true delight of "The Cat's Meow" is Jennifer Tilly as Parsons. With her trademark giggling schoolgirl voice, Tilly makes Parsons the giddy curled rattlesnake that she surely must have been. It's a delightful performance and the screen simply crackles with energy whenever Tilly appears.

The dialogue in the film is particularly brisk and delightful. Bogdanovich may have rewritten much of Peros, but it seems much for the better. In a Q&A at the showing of the film I attended at SXSW2002, Bogdanovich praised his actors for their ability and diligence in working out the dialogue until it was just right. Izzard seems to have been particularly involved in this but the director seemed to have allowed all of his cast the luxury of improvising and working on their parts to make them work.

"The Cat's Meow" is a marvellous film. Aimed particularly at film fanatics, like Bogdanovich himself, the film is nonetheless perhaps the best look at the prohibition era elite ever made. Bogdanovich creates a cinematic "Great Gatsby" that forges a society bent on imploding upon its own vapidity. Its elitist attitudes and luxurious styles mask only emptiness and heartbreak. The film exposes this and almost silently asks us if, perhaps, in 2002 there has been much change.


Shot in Berlin and Greece.

In color with a few segments in B&W

There are over 50 songs in the film.

There have been at least 3 other films with this title.

Report Card

Script: A-

Acting: A+

Cinematography\Lighting: A+

Special Effects\Make Up: A+

Music: A+

Final Grade: A+

Reviewed by Harvey Karten | thanks Peggy | added 03.08.02
Lions Gate Films
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Writer: Steven Peros
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Cary Elwes, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, Victor Slezak, Jennifer Tilly Screened at:Review 1, NYC, 2/28/02

If you called a teenager's baggy pants "the cat's meow" he'd think you were awfully uncool, and yet, ironically, the term "cool" is itself a direct descendant of the feline expression that was all the rage during the roaring twenties. And how appropriate that Peter Bogdanovich's new film is so called because "The Cat's Meow" is not only a riveting recreation of one of America's most exciting decades seen in the microcosm of William Randolph Hearst's huge yacht but is a terrific showcase for some actors who are not all that well known to Americans and yet are exquisite in their roles. Most notable of all is the twenty-year-old Kirsten Dunst, up from comic roles in teen movies such as "Dick," "Drop Dead Gorgeous," and "Bring It On" now performing as Marion Davies--who at the age of twenty-seven actually took part in the festivities on the Hearst yacht in November of 1924. Dunst is so drop dead gorgeous in this absorbing picture that she could wipe out the whole popularity of toga parties among college guys today who would cheerfully replace them with '20's themes. If the real Ms. Davies looked anything like Ms. Dunst, one could see how Orson Wells got the inspiration for "Citizen Kane," still considered by connoisseurs to be the greatest American film of all time, in part about the romantic affair between Davies and Mr. Hearst.

Peter Bogdanovich is in his element a man noted for directing period dramas like his notable "The Last Picture Show" in 1971 (about how characters' lives intertwine in a Texas town during the 1950s), and the less-than-successful "Daisy Miller" three years later (brought down by Cybill Shepherd's mediocre performance and an altogether cold ambience).

The story is based on an actual event that took place on William Randolph Hearst's yacht in November 1924, an endless party featuring guests who are prominent in various fields and who join the newspaper magnate for a cruise around the California coast (with outdoor scenes actually filmed off the southern Peloponnesian town of Kiparissia). Hearst, one of the richest men in the world at the time, was prominent not only in the newspaper business and the instigator (through the news media reports of brutalities) of the Spanish-American War, but had formed Cosmopolitan Pictures for the sole purpose of producing films starring the love of his life, Marion Davies whom he had met in 1917 and with whom he maintained a long, sincere relationship marred by Hearst's wife's refusal to grant the man a divorce.

Played stunningly by Edward Hermann who looks quite a bit like Hearst at the age of sixty-one the large, powerful man keeps an eye on his passengers, principally Ms. Davies (Kirsten Dunst), but also on famed producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), who had made his reputation producing expensive Westerns but whose prominence had sunk of late; Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), who was to become the most celebrated gossip columnist of her day; Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), madly in love with Marion Davies, who is attracted in turn but refuses to chuck her relationship with Hearst; and British novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), the Maggie Smith of the movie who feeds us acerbic one-liners.

Through the interaction of the personalities on deck, we become aware of Mr. Bogdanovich's theme: Hollywood (like the corporate world in general) is corrupt. Sincere friendships are rare. Individuals are out to milk one another for what they get, offering something in return that they hope will satisfy those who can favor them with privilege, power and money. Ince, for example, is down on his luck and wants Hearst to merge his studio with Ince's and promises, in return, to keep on eye on Davies who appears to be tight with Chaplin. Davies, of course, wants to continue leading the rich life and particularly to keep the parts coming to her from Hearst's studio though her affection for the large man is sincere. Parsons, who acts the bimbo for most of the tour around the California coast, wants to leave her job with a paper in New York to cover the Hollywood scene for a Hearst paper on the West Coast.

As the group of favored persons dance frenetically to Charlestons, party and orgy the night away with the help of bootleg booze and marijuana, a shot rings out. A guest is shot in the head and Hearst's entire career is about to go down the tubes. Unless...unless...

As stated, the story is based on truth. A murder actually did take place in that very vessel, one which was superficially examined by the San Diego authorities but which the Los Angeles police department refused to investigate further. Hearst is off the hook, but a viewer of this astonishing picture which, like Steven Peros's play on which it is based has to wonder how the estates of some of these Hollywood personalities will take it. Did Louella Parsons really become famous because she manipulated Hearst into granting her a lifetime job in L.A.? Is William Randolph Hearst actually a murderer? Did Thomas Ince, who produced the masterpiece "Civilization" a pacifist allegory in support of President Wilson's international policy sink so low that he sought Hearst's backing only to offer his services as a private eye in return?

Whatever the fallout after the movie's April 2002 U.S. opening, the story's significance as an exposition of some fascinating cinema history may slip your mind, but you're likely not to forget Kirsten Dunst's intense, convincing, gorgeous performance. Meow.

Not Rated. Running time: 112 minutes. (C) 2002 by Harvey Karten,

‘The Cats Meow,’ tale of murderous newspaper publisher

by Ryan McCormick Price, Esq. | added 03.07.02

William Randolph Hearst was a genuine force of history in America for over half a century. As a publishing magnate with newspapers from coast to coast and a tyrannical overlord of the news industry, he wielded power that few could hope to match. The Cat’s Meow, a film recently released by Lion’s Gate Entertainment under the direction of Peter Bogdanovich, demonstrates this most effectively, portraying a hypothetical scenario in which Hearst accidentally shot and killed movie director Thomas Harper Ince and had the matter brushed away.

Bogdanovich, a capable Mannhatanite who is mostly notable for decades-old movies such as Paper Moon and Mask, has not been at the helm of a feature film since The Thing Called Love, a 1993 film starring the late River Phoenix. He does a remarkable job with The Cat’s Meow, smoothly drawing the viewer into a conspiracy theory so convincingly that one forgets it is, indeed, only a theory. The cinematics are rich, although this probably mostly thanks to the prop master and to the shooting location aboard a magnificent yacht in the Greek isles.

Edward Herrmann, a workhorse notable for his numerous narrations and portrayals of Franklin Roosevelt and Nelson Rockefeller, does a very admirable job of playing Hearst. Hearst is a hard man to play, and while it is a tinge disappointing that Bogdanovich and writer Stephen Peros take the easy way out and portray him as a neurotic Charles Foster Kane, Herrmann still turns in a remarkable and subtle performance. Beloved British comic Eddie Izzard is a very passable Chaplin, with all the right mannerisms and smooth dialogue although very little of the raw lechery that Chaplin exuded when not being the Little Tramp. I was torn on Kirsten Dunst’s Marion Davies. Davies was indeed a beautiful and vivacious and downright lusty young blonde starlet, and Dunst manages to capture those nymphet qualities in spades. But Marion Davies, despite her seeming dependence on her sugar daddy Hearst, was a much more mature woman than Dunst is yet capable of portraying. Cary Elwes, as the doomed Ince, does a very impressive job of portraying Ince’s desperation as he tries to work an agreement out with Hearst to save his studio.

One of the true grace notes of the movie is omniscient presence of Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous as author Elinor Glyn, the narrator of the film and a character of no little importance. She adds a bit of metaphysical weight to the otherwise tawdry hypothetical drama, commenting acerbically on Hollywood’s decadence and the illusions one lives with in such a dreamland.

It is a balm to see a film about William Randolph Hearst released for the general public, since most people have no idea who Hearst may have been outside of some vague ideas about newspapers and Citizen Kane. It is unfortunate, perhaps, that the chosen subject matter was a bit of darksome Hollywood conspiracy, but it was cinematically competent and a few bits of excellent acting made up for any lag in the script. I would certainly commend this movie to the attention of anyone who wishes to learn a bit more about the darker side of one of America’s most powerful figures, or to anyone who wants to see Kirsten Dunst and Eddie Izzard do a very lewd version of the Charleston.

Spank's LFF Diary, Thursday 08/11/2001
12.30pm: The Cat's Meow

The first full day of the LFF starts at 12.30 today: within seconds it's already twenty minutes behind schedule, thanks to the traditional First Day Ticket Computer Cock-Up. Still, once it's all sorted out and everyone's safely seated, we're treated to the happy bonus of an appearance by director Peter Bogdanovich - it's not very often that afternoon screenings have a Q&A attached, let alone one with someone of Bogdanovich's standing. He's in fine form, answering questions in good humour with a couple of impersonations of John Ford and Orson Welles thrown in. The latter is significant, as The Cat's Meow is based on a long-standing rumour involving William Randolph Hearst, the primary model for Welles' Citizen Kane. As Welles once remarked to Bogdanovich, he was aware of the rumour at the time of the making of Kane, and even considered using it for a subplot. If he had, he probably wouldn't have got into so much trouble with Hearst, who would have been much more reluctant to associate himself with the fictional Kane.

It's 1924, and Hearst (Edward Herrmann) is throwing a party on his yacht for Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), a film producer who's keen to do a deal with him. The guests are a motley collection of writers, artists and socialites: most notable among them is Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), who has been having an affair for some time with Hearst's mistress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst). With everyone cooped up on the yacht with nothing but booze and jazz Woodbines to keep them company, it's inevitable that tensions will start to rise.

The Cat's Meow is slickly shot entertainment, and a fine all-star cast keeps things buzzing along nicely. The main problem is that once the carefree mood of the first half has been established, Bogdanovich finds it difficult to change it, and the descent into tragedy towards the end is lacking in the emotional impact it really deserves. It's adapted by Steven Peros from his own stage play, and some of the dialogue and narration has a particularly stagey feel to it: a flaw that Bogdanovich tries to cover up with lots of overlapping lines, which ends up making them sound even more self-conscious.

But the cast give it all they've got, and Eddie Izzard and Kirsten Dunst both stand out in particular. Izzard gives his best acting performance since he played Lenny Bruce in the West End: in both cases, he's combined the personality of a well-known comedian with his own to produce something that's not quite either of them, but is wholly convincing in its own right. And Dunst is a revelation, playing beyond her years in a fine portrayal of Marion Davies. Good support from the rest of the cast too, including Joanna Lumley's terrifically bitchy turn as writer Elinor Glyn. Slightly hollow, but a good film to start the day on.  From

What really happened on William Randolph Hearst's yacht off the California coast in November 1924? One person ended up dead, but nobody ever told the full truth. This film is based on the accepted version of events (although it still contains the "all characters and events are fictitious" disclaimer). Here, Hearst (Herrmann) is good-hearted and paranoid that his mistress, the actress Marion Davies (Dunst), is having an affair with notorious lothario Charlie Chaplin (Izzard). Meanwhile, a struggling studio head (Elwes) is trying to negotiate a business partnership with Hearst, while carrying on with an actress-mistress of his own (Harrison). The story is narrated by the British novelist Elinor Glyn (Lumley), who delights in baiting the brash New York journalist Louella Parsons (Tilly). When something awful happens, everyone is forced to examine their fame ... and what it costs. With its focus on thematic subtext and bedroom bingo, this feels more like a play than an film, carefully examining the characters and period with a studious blend of fact and fiction. The result is thoroughly entertaining and utterly fascinating for anyone with even a passing interest in film history. The constant chatter, sneaky liaisons and outrageous antics are all orchestrated beautifully by Bogdanovich. It also helps to have an ensemble cast this good at bringing out the subtlety or wit in every line. A few scenes are absolutely hilarious, while others resonate with black humour. Strangely, the film was made in Germany and Greece, and this shows in some rather wobbly accents and awkward staging. But as a glimpse of early Hollywood decadence--and even more importantly, as an expose of how easy it is to jettison morality when in pursuit of success--this is wickedly good stuff. [adult themes and situations, language] 26.Oct.01 lff

Excerpt From
Peter Bogdanovich returns to form with the very funny The Cat's Meow, his fictional recreation of a famous scandal that occurred during a weekend party aboard William Randolph Hearst's boat in the 1920s. Similar in tone and pace to Bullets Over Broadway, it is more affectionate in its cynicism than Robert Altman's The Player. Everyone is good, from Joanna Lumley as the sanguine novelist Elinor Glyn and Meg Tilly as the ambitious columnist Louella Parsons. Kirsten Dunst excels (yet again) as the newspaper magnate's mistress, Marion Davies, believably re-imagining the actress's affection for Hearst and her infectious energy. Eddie Izzard plays her would-be lover Charlie Chaplin with cheeky aplomb.

London Film Festival Special

Festival Diary:
Tonight's main event in Leicester Square was the screening of "The Cat's Meow", attended by the cast and director Peter Bogdanovich.

"The Cat's Meow" follows the business and sexual intrigues of invited guests aboard newspaper magnate Willam Randolph Hearst's luxury yacht during jazz age Hollywood. Among the guests aboard are Charlie Chaplin, legendary gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and British novelist Elinor Glyn.

"It was a difficult picture to make," Bogdanovich explains, "because I had very little time and money to make it. With those restrictions it forced me to be more creative, doing it economically and quickly without making the actors feel that there is no time."

Joanna Lumley calls Bogdanovitch "a most extraordinary man, a brilliant director and editor. He knows exactly what he wants, so just cuts to the chase. He's a most accomplished and exciting person to work with and extremely good fun."

Eddie Izzard, who plays comic legend Charlie Chaplin in the film, told us: "Though I play Chaplin, I decided to dump all the visual knowledge that we have of Chaplin, because all that is such a distance away from him in his private life. I didn't want to do a caricature, I wanted to humanise him... and I'm very happy with the result." Check out the full video interview.

UK/Germany/US 2001
director : Peter Bogdanovich
script : Steven Peros
cinematography : Bruno Delbonnel
lead actors : Kirsten Dunst, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes
112 minutes

Remember those all-star, big-budget Agatha Christie murder-mysteries from the 70s and 80s – Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under The Sun..? Taken semi-seriously at the time, they’re just trashy TV fun these days. The Cat’s Meow is like one of those pictures, but without the trashy fun. There’s a murder (of sorts), but there’s no mystery – which is just as well, as there’s no detective around to solve it, even if there were. Instead, the film tries to fill in some long-standing historical blanks, taking real people and real situations as a springboard for fanciful speculation –  Michael Apted’s Agatha tried similar things with Christie herself.

This time, the facts concern a yacht trip organised by megarich publisher W R Hearst (Herrmann) off California in the early 1920s. On board: his young mistress and protégé, actress Marion Davies (Dunst), her secret lover Charlie Chaplin (Izzard), swaggering producer Tom Ince (Elwes), a ditzy but ambitious journalist named Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), and expat English novelist Elinor Glyn (Lumley, also the narrator). There are wild parties, feasts, orgies, jealous arguments – and a death under extremely mysterious circumstances…

Indie production company Lion’s Gate scored an arthouse hit – and an Oscar nomination – with Shadow of the Vampire. They’re clearly trying to work the oracle again with yet another speculative tale of silent movies and death, with Elwes, Izzard and Ronan Vibert popping up in both casts. Shadow didn’t quite come off, but at least it was imaginatively freaky and featured some lively all-stops-out performances. Meow, however, is just dead in the water - if ex-wunderkind Peter Bogdanovich really wants to break back into the Hollywood big time, he’s going to have to try a lot harder than this.

The film looks like it could have been made any time in the last 30 years – it has a flat, boring look and, worse, Bogdanovich never uses one shot when he can get away with three. If he shows us Hearst glowering with jealous rage, he shows it a hundred times: every character’s emotion, every plot turn, is rammed home in the most rudimentary way imaginable. It’s all so cumbersome – the ‘murder’ scene is an especially clumsy contrivance – and this dispels any tension the script might otherwise generate.

The actors do their best to keep things watchable, with Izzard, Herrmann and Tilly given the most meat to chew and top-billed Dunst – when she resists some very actorish stammering – coping well with the very tricky role of Davies. As the history books (and recent TV movie RKO 281) show, the glamorous Davies really did love the much older Hearst, no matter how unlikely it seems today to audiences who won’t have a clue who these ‘legendary’ Hollywood figures are, Chaplin excepted. It’s easy to see why the biggest film buff among directors would be attracted to the material, but he can’t give it enough life to make viewers share his enthusiasm. Sad to say, Targets and The Last Picture Show seem a very long time ago - in Hollywood, Bogdanovich really is history.

27th October, 2001
(seen Oct-26-01, National Film Theatre – London Film Festival)

by Neil Young

A Right Charlie
09/11/2001 |

Following Robert Downey Jnrs award-winning performance in Chaplin might have undone a lesser man, but Eddie Izzard seems to have nailed the role in his new film The Cat's Meow. The film, which had its UK premiere at the London film festival last night (8 November 2001), is a 20s set murder mystery based on a true-life scandal of shipboard murder aboard the luxury yacht of newspaper bigwig Randolph Hearst.

"In the end I did it by ignoring every visual record we have about Chaplin," Izzard told Empire Online of playing the legendary screen icon. "I must admit I was never into his comedy, I thought it was a bit weird that 80 years ago his comedy was found hysterically funny and I didn't find it funny at all. But after a while I got to understand him a bit more and it really is funny."

Izzard's portrayal of Chaplin is something that earned more than a passing nod from his co-stars who were singularly impressed by his ability to bring the actor to life as a real person. "He's extraordinary," Joanna Lumley told us. "He doesn't do Chaplin - All of us were asked in the beginning not to try to impersonate ideas of the people we play, because that's a stupid way to go. It's extraordinary, he becomes a Chaplin we can know and believe, because we've never seen Chaplin, we've only seen him acting. We've seen the Little Tramp but we've never seen the real Chaplin and that's what Eddie shows us."

The Cat's Meow

Marking a significant comeback for director Peter Bogdanovich, The Cat's Meow is a 20s set murder mystery based on a true-life scandal. Set aboard the luxury yacht of newspaper bigwig Randolph Hearst, the film dallies between the sexual shenanigans of Hearst's guests and the squabbles that eventually end in a shipboard murder. Among the invited revellers are Hollywood starlet Marion Davies - played by an excellent Kirsten Dunst - Joanna Lumley's Elinor Glyn and Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin.

 "In the end I did it by ignoring every visual record we have about Chaplin," Izzard told Empire Online of playing the legendary screen icon. "I must admit I was never into his comedy, I thought it was a bit weird that 80 years ago his comedy was found hysterically funny and I didn't find it funny at all. But after a while I got to understand him a bit more and it really is funny."

Izzard's portrayal of Chaplin is something that earned more than a passing nod from his co-stars who were singularly impressed by his ability to bring the actor to life as a real person. "He's extraordinary," Joanna Lumley told us. "He doesn't do Chaplin - All of us were asked in the beginning not to try to impersonate ideas of the people we play, because that's a stupid way to go. It's extraordinary, he becomes a Chaplin we can know and believe, because we've never seen Chaplin, we've only seen him acting. We've seen the Little Tramp but we've never seen the real Chaplin and that's what Eddie shows us."

Taking the role of celebrated English novelist and playwright Elinor Glyn, Lumley confessed to being over the moon when the chance of joining the project presented itself. "The project appealed to me because of Peter Bogdanovich, that's the truth of it. I've respected him as a director ever since his first film, I've watched him work all the way through and I thought he was a giant. So the chance of appearing in one of his films just made my heart jump. So I said I'd do it, and they said 'how much will you pay us?' He's a thrill to work with."

The two stars were joined for the gala screening by Bogdanovich himself, who was greeted warmly by fellow auteur Mike Figgis, before entering the cinema along with his stars to introduce his latest masterpiece to the gathered audience.

THE CAT'S MEOW (R) ** 1/2 
Miami Herald | Nov. 2, 2001

In The Cat's Meow, former Hollywood turk Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) takes a stab at revealing what really happened during a notorious 1924 weekend outing aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht -- an outing that, according to Hollywood legend, ended with the shooting death of one of the passengers, which was immediately covered up.

Hearst, the newspaper magnate whose life inspired Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, was fond of fraternizing with Hollywood stars, using his newspaper empire to further the careers of those who treated him with respect and ruining those who dared cross his path. As played by Edward Herrman in the film, Hearst was also a paranoid, insecure man, obsessed with discovering whether or not his mistress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), a film actress, was cheating on him. High on his list of suspects: Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), who makes little effort to conceal his crush on Marion, even


as Hearst tracks his every move.

The Cat's Meow
re-creates the luxurious decadence of 1920s Hollywood in beautiful detail, mining wicked humor out of the vainglorious self-importance these celebrities wrapped themselves in. In a radiant turn, the increasingly impressive Dunst conveys Marion's confusion, torn between her love for Hearst and Chaplin's flattering advances. In supporting roles, Jennifer Tilly brings a broad comedic bite to her portrayal of gossip-columnist-to-be Louella Parsons, and Cary Elwes is good at portraying the unctuousness of film producer Thomas Ince, who is trying to land Hearst as a partner in order to save his flailing career. The actors do a good job of overcoming the stagebound feel of The Cat's Meow, which, for all its charms, sometimes feels as self-obsessed as the characters it slyly mocks. -- R.R.
Bogdanovich: A Font of Film Knowledge
Robert Denerstein|Rocky Mountain News | 10.24.01

If Peter Bogdanovich had never made a movie, you'd still want to talk to him. The director of such films as The Last Picture Show happens to be a walking history of the movies. He has interviewed directors such as Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang.

In Denver this weekend to receive the Denver International Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award, Bogdanovich not only can speak about these directors, he can speak for them, offering pitch-perfect imitations that capture flashes of their personalities.

"It's sort of like channeling them. I enjoy it," said Bogdanovich in a recent phone interview. "It helps me remember them."

Bogdanovich's latest movie, The Cat's Meow, will close the festival Sunday with a 7 p.m. showing at the Continental Theater. The Cat's Meow tells the story of a mythic party on the yacht of William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate and model for the title character in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.

On a wild night in 1924, something terrible happened. See the movie to discover precisely what, but know that Cat's Meow looks at the reckless rich at a moment when it was possible for iniduals to amass obscene amounts of power.

"Orson told me about it (the movie's pivotal incident) in 1970," said Bogdanovich. "I was flabbergasted. He told me Mankiewicz (Herman Mankiewicz, author of the Kane screenplay) had a version of it in the first draft. Orson said he took it out. I asked why? He said he didn't think Kane would behave the way Hearst had. That was that."

Flash foward 30 years to a movie cruise sponsored by the Telluride Film Festival after its 25th anniversary.

"When I got back, I saw this script. I flipped through it. I said, 'This must be that story." I read it with great interest to see what the writer (Steven Peros) had done with the incident. I thought he'd done a good job. It needed some work, but every script needs work, as Orson once yelled at me."

Cat's Meow boasts a cast led by Edward Herrmann (as Hearst), Kirsten Dunst (as Hearst's mistress Marion Davies) and Eddie Izzard (as Charlie Chaplin).

"Ed is such a good actor, and he looks like Hearst. He's a little younger than Hearst was at the time. He's better looking, but he has some of the same characteristics. He's a very large man. His hair falls over his forehead in the same way."

Cat's Meow marks a breakthrough for Dunst, lifting her out of the teen-movie ghetto. She was 18 when the film was shot.

"It's her first adult role," said Bogdanovich. "She really got into the part. She got her voice down an octave. She played it like someone who drank a lot more than she has."

Casting a figure as widely recognizable as Chaplin proved difficult.

"Everyone has their own idea of Chaplin. The general public doesn't know what Chaplin looked like without the mustache and the tramp thing . . . He didn't wear a mustache in civilian life. By his late 30s, he was gray, but he darkened his hair for the movies. The mustache was fake. And, of course, the funny walk was fake. On screen, he usually wore the hat, which in life he didn't. . . . I felt it had to be somebody English, so it became a question of who.

"I kept thinking it ought to be someone who can be funny, even though the part isn't funny. (Bogdanovich has a theory that if you can do funny, you also can do serious.) In the summer of 2000, I went to one of Eddie's concerts in New York. I'd heard about him, but hadn't seen his stuff. My wife said, 'You're not going to like him.' (Izzard does gender-bending comedy.)

"I thought he was brilliant -- funny, witty. I arranged to meet him. I asked him if he wanted to play Chaplin. He said, 'Funny you should say that, I've done a lot of research on Chaplin.' He really had a bead on it."

A generation of young people may not remember Bogdanovich's breakthrough films of the '70s, Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and What's Up Doc? That doesn't mean they wouldn't recognize him. They might know him as Dr. Melfi's shrink, a role he plays on the HBO series The Sopranos. He thinks he'll do more episodes.

"You never know until you get a script. I'll probably be in one or two. It's a lot of fun. The show is so well-written you just have to say the words right and it's fine."

Bogdanovich decided to learn about directors to become one. His father was a painter and pianist, "a walking encyclopedia on music and painting." ("I got the impression that that was necessary to be good in any field, to have a really solid foundation in what had preceded you.")

"I thought it (doing interviews with important filmmakers) would not only be interesting for the public and future historians, but would be useful to me as a potential filmmaker. Once I was a filmmaker, I still continued to do it."

Many people believe Bogdanovich made the transition from film critic to writer following the model set by French directors such as Francois Truffaut. Not true, he says. He studied to be an actor, directed theater on Broadway and knew he wanted to make movies. He did, however, come to public attention for his writing.

"I first came to fame -- minor fame -- writing for Esquire. Esquire was the magazine for what was called the new journalism in the '60s and '70s. It was the hippest, cutting-edge magazine at the time."

Having known practically everyone, it's difficult not to wonder whether Bogdanovich has favorites among the pantheon of directors he has interviewed.

"I got to be very close with Orson for some years. We had a little falling out, but we ended OK. It was a difficult relationship but very rewarding and continues to be rewarding. The problems were minuscule compared to the gain and knowledge and inspiration he provided . . .

"Also Jean Renoir. I knew him from '65 until he died in '79. That was a great privilege. He was a beautiful man. He was the only director I've ever met who I coud say was really like a saint. That doesn't mean he wasn't witty and feisty, but he had an aura of holiness around him. His work continues to hold that special level of achievement that hardly anyone ever gets to. He was Orson's favorite director. We agreed on that from an early time.

"Then, of course, Hitchcock was a great teacher and (Howard) Hawks and (John) Ford in his own way. They're the ones who come up when I'm making a picture. If I'm confronted with a problem, I wonder how they'd handle it."

Bogdanovich isn't entirely pleased to be receiving an award with the word "lifetime" attached.

"I'm not fishished," he says. "I have just begun to fight."

At 62, does he reflect on his career?

Sure. He says the point is to avoid past mistakes and remember what one did right. Besides, he always can look back on some impressive achievements.

"Picture Show sort of has been deified, but it is a pretty good picture. I watched it recently. There was some pretty good acting there. The dialogue. You don't get much better than (novelist Larry) McMurtry.

"It's helpful to have made pictures like that. People say, 'He may be a putz, but he did make those pictures. Let's give him another shot.' I've made some enemies. I'm trying not to make anymore. I'm tending to my garden."

thanks Georgia | 10.24.01

"A generation before the Coens were making their movie-inspired pastiches, Peter Bogdanovich specialized in the same kind of self-conscious homages to old genre pictures.  Bogdanovich scored a big success with What's Up Doc? but also hatched some monumental misfires like At Long Last Love and
Nickelodeon.  He hasn't made a feature film since 1993's The Thing Called Love, but now he returns with The Cat's Meow, in which he puts his interest
in Old Hollywood lore to good use. The movie tries to solve a legendary Tinseltown mystery - a murder that occurred aboard the yacht of William Randolph Heart during a weekend sailing party that included such notables as Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, producer Thomas Ince and budding gossip
columnist Louella Parsons.

This is definitely a specialized film but for those in the know, it's engrossing and entertaining. Although Davies's underwritten role doesn't offer enough for the talented Kirsten Dunst to do, several of the other
actors etch vivid characters. Edward Hermann makes Hearst rather touchingly childlike, as well as dangerously megalomaniacal. Eddie Izzard provides a
smooth, magnetic impersonation of Chaplin. Best of all is Cary Elwes, who nails the role of the tough, lusty, slightly desperate Ince, one of the
casualties of the cutthroat shenanigans of early Hollywood."

(part 2)
by Mark A. Altman

... Fortunately, I didn’t miss Peter Bogdanovich’s latest, “The Cat’s Meow” (***). While I seemed to be in the minority in adoring the veteran auteur’s witty and savvy indictment of William Randolph Hearst’s ill-fated outing aboard his magnificent yacht in which sybaritic delights lead to murder, the film is so suffused with wonderful performances and expedient storytelling despite its claustrophobic mis en scene that I can’t see how anyone except those completely perplexed by the cast of real-life characters couldn’t be fascinated by the shenanigans. Eddie Izzard is particularly noteworthy as the lovestruck Chaplain as is Cary Elwes playing the ill-fated Thomas Ince. I’ve always found Bogdonavich a fascinating character; a brilliant film scholar, storyteller and rancouteur who seems to have an unerring ability to piss people off with his excessive ego bordering on the comical (I actually found the lengths he went to acknowledge his collaborators on the film a welcome reprieve from the days when he would refuse to appear on a panel together with ex-wife Polly Platt during appearances on behalf of “Targets” and “The Last Picture Show” at L.A.’s American Cinematheque). His fall from grace seems to suffuse the film throughout and if you’re keen enough to be in on the joke, it ultimately comes off as the final, loving tribute of a brilliant protégé to his mentor, Orson Welles, by soundly skewering Welles’ eternal nemesis, William Randolph Hearst. Film buffs will dig it and those who aren’t can just get off on Kirsten Dunst’s delightful turn as Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies or Joanna Lumley’s wickedly wry Elinor Glyn.


(CoD frequent contributor and ace researcher, Peggy, was fortunate enough to catch a screening of Cat's Meow at the Telluride on the Sea festival in New Hampshire this past Friday. This is an excerpt from her email to me)

Back from N'Hansha and Cat's.  We loved the film, the audience reaction was positive, only complaint I heard was that bits of conversation couldn't be understood. I forgot Eddie was Eddie, I don't know from anything I've seen   what Chaplin was like as a person, but apparently he was very charming, charasmatic, sexy, obviously since he shagged a million chicks.  Well, Eddie was all those things, I would have hung out with him if I was on that boat.  He was fun, and funny, and the audience reacted to him. There was a charleston scene, and he looked like he was doing the auction dance from Unrepeatable.  Couple of hot scenes with Kirsten, she was fabulous.

...I don't see huge numbers, but I don't understand the "eh" Telluride reaction.  It is a very talk-y film and that could be a major turn-off.  And some of the characters are so blah, but they were there and were part of the story. So if anyone's looking for zippy and pizzazz, stay away.

So, that's it from here.   I'm really interested in izzardite esponses, except the "Eddieisgodandcandonowrong" crowd. Now, Joanna Lumley can do no wrong, she was AbFab. I had a laugh watching Kirsten~~she was offered the role in American Beauty of the teen tart Kevin Spacey was after. She made the public statement that kissing him would be gross. That was a couple of years ago, but she gave Edward Herrman a smooch or two nothing too passionate, but he could be her grand dad (eeeuuuwww) and then her scenes with Eddie, who's maybe 3 years younger than Kevin.  So, maybe it's him.   Sorry to ramble on, I hope you enjoy this movie. Not for everyone, but
I'm anxious to see it again.


The American Cinematheque at the restored Egyptian Theatre (6712 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., CA) will host a three day fild festival entitled "The Great Hollywood Murder Mystery of 1924?".  It will include the first L.A. public screening of "The Cat's Meow" plus two personal appearances by Eddie Izzard, schedule permitting.  For additional information on the festival, log on to

Friday, October 19 – 7:00 PM

Benefit Sneak Preview! Cast & Crew In-Person!!

THE CAT’S MEOW, 2001, Lions Gate Films, 112 min. Dir. Peter Bogdanovich. From the play by award-winning writer Steven Peros comes a delectable, behind the scenes look at a fateful excursion of "fun and frolic" aboard William Randolph Hearst’s private yacht in November of 1924, that brought some of Hollywood’s best known personalities of the day together and resulted in a still-unsolved, hushed-up killing. As Hearst (Edward Herrmann) and his lover, actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst) set sail from San Pedro Harbor early one Saturday morning, hosting a small group that includes the brilliant but self-absorbed Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), film pioneer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) preoccupied with his recent financial setbacks, ambitious gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and the eccentric British novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), it becomes clear that although witty repartee and double entendre are the order of the day, deceit, deception and finally murder are also on the menu ...

Discussion following with director Peter Bogdanovich, screenwriter Steven Peros, actors Edward Herrmann, Cary Elwes and Eddie Izzard, producers Kim Bieber and Carol Lewis and other cast & crew (schedules permitting.) [Special Ticket Price of $15.00 General, $12.00 Cinematheque Members.]

Sunday, October 21 – 12:00 Noon

Kids’ Matinee!

THE GOLD RUSH, 1925, Kino, 72 min. Dir./writer Charlie Chaplin. Coming off his first major financial failure, A WOMAN OF PARIS, Chaplin responded with what many consider his finest feature length film. The Little Tramp travels to the Far Yukon in search of gold, but ends up falling in love with dance-hall girl Georgia Hale. The classic "dance of the dinner rolls" and "boiled shoe leather" scenes show Chaplin’s gift for poignant comedy at its very best. (We will be screening Chaplin’s re-edited 1942 version of the film, with pre-recorded soundtrack and commentary by Chaplin himself.) THE CAT'S MEOW actor Eddie Izzard ("Charlie Chaplin") to introduce the screening.  (thanks maureen!)



From Boston Globe

A taste of Telluride: Teen queen Kirsten Dunst, who's shown a knack for playing both cheerleaders and bad girls, stretches considerably in her next big part. Dunst portrays Jazz Age actress Marion Davies, the famed mistress to newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst and Davies figure in the wild party chronicled in ''The Cat's Meow,'' a new film by Peter Bogdanovich. It's about a fateful trip on Hearst's yacht, filled with Hollywood royalty such as Charlie Chaplin and Louella Parsons, after which film producer William Ince was found mysteriously dead.

Due out later this year, ''The Cat's Meow'' shows at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, N.H., this Friday at 7 p.m., part of ''Telluride by the Sea,'' a selection of six films first programmed at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.

Two others slated to screen next weekend (''Lantana'' and ''No Man's Land'') were also part of the Boston Film Festival. (''Lantana'' closes out the festival tonight at 7:15 and 9:45 at the Loews Boston Common.) Also showing in Portsmouth are ''The Fat Girl,'' from director Catherine Breillat; ''The Mystic Masseur,'' directed by Ismail Merchant; and ''A Song for Martin,'' directed by Bille August.

Ticket information is available at 603-436-2400.

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From Ain't It Cool News

The Cat's Meow is based on the infamous murder aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht in November of 1924. The murder was covered up and has been a infamous hollywood legend ever since. Of course you know all of this by the beginning of the movie, or perhaps you know more as this "Hollywood Legend" was not exactly as secret as the director would want it to be. See if you are either a Citizen Kane fan, someone interested in Hearst, or just one of the millions of people that watched RKO 281, then you already know the entire story and murder victim in The Cat's Meow. This story was originally going to be a small sequence in Citizen Kane, but Orson Welles removed it from the script as he did not feel that Kane was a murderer.

For those that do not know already I'll set the story for ya. In November of 1924, to celebrate the birthday of movie mogul Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) put on a cruise to San Francisco on his yacht, some of the attendees were Hearst's girlfriend Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), and Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly). During the cruise Charlie Chaplin begins to leave hints of a romantic fling with Marion Davies, this begins to infuriate Hearst. Then you have Ince, who seems to be there just see if he can get Hearst to get into some business dealings with him and Louella who is on the trip to ask him for a transfer to Hollywood.

Overall the film just did not seem to work for me, having known the entire story going into it. The casting choices seemed a bit off for just about every character in the film. The only two actors that actually seemed to get off on a high-note were Cary Elwes and Eddie Izzard, Cary having delivered a up-to-par performance and Izzard continues to streach his talents more so than his work on Shadow of the Vampire. I really think the main problem for the film is that there really is not enough to this story to make a "good" film out of, perhaps as a sequence in citizen kane it would have been perfect, but as a 112 minute feature it just does not seem to work.

Cat's Meow came out being the one MAJOR dissappointment at Telluride, it seemed like nobody afterwards said anything about it above "mediocre". This is one film that might have benifited by NOT being played in a film festival.


The Cat's Meow
Emanuel Levy in Locarno 
August 13, 2001 
(thanks Spoot)

Dir: Peter Bogdanovich. Germany-UK. 2001. 111 mins.

Despite some moments of nasty, old-fashioned fun and a shining performance by Kirsten Dunst (pictured), The Cat's Meow, Peter Bogdanovich's eagerly awaited comeback after close to a decade without a theatrical feature to his name, is a disappointment. Assuming the shape of a trashy Sunday Night television movie, it offers a weightless, gossipy account of a fateful weekend in 1924 aboard William Randolph Hearst's private yacht, during which film pioneer Thomas Ince was critically shot under the most bizarre, never-resolved circumstances. Receiving its world premiere at the Locarno Festival, Cat's Meow will travel the road of other major festivals, such as Telluride and Toronto, due to Bogdanovich's stature as a director and the film's scandalous "inside Hollywood" theme. However, domestic distributor Lions Gate faces an uphill battle in marketing a period picture, which may appeal to movie buffs and older viewers still intrigued by the era's dramatic persona, but whose subject matter means next to nothing to today's predominantly young patrons. Prospects in ancillary markets seem brighter for what's truly a curiosity anecdotal item.

It's good to see Bogdanovich, a major force of American Cinema in the 1970s, behind the cameras, after a long absence from feature moviemaking, during which he directed for TV and worked as an actor. A former critic/essayist, Bogdanovich, whose undisputed masterwork is still The Last Picture Show (1971), has written most eloquently about Orson Welles and Citizen Kane, the shadows of which loom large when watching Cat's Meow. His new movie that centres on the obsessive love affair between Hearst, the inspiration for Citizen Kane’s protagonist, and the actress Marion Davies. In one of her strongest parts to date, Kirsten Dunst shines as Hearst's mistress, and so does Edward Herrmann, as her powerful mogul benefactor. Nonetheless, two players are miscast: British stand-up comic Eddie Izzard, as a self-absorbed Charlie Chaplin, and a grotesquely caricaturistic Jennifer Tilly, as influential gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

The chief problem is Steven Peros' incoherent, dissatisfying script, based on his New York play, which can't make up its mind whether it's a comic satire of Hollywood's influential players circa 1924, at the height of the silent era, or a romantic melodrama, structured around the triangle of Davies, torn between two vastly different lovers, Hearst and Chaplin. As a result, the film's tone changes from scene to scene, vacillating between deep cynicism about tinsel town and schmaltzy melodramatics aimed at eliciting sympathy for the central characters that the movie suggests are "flesh and blood," just like the audience.

Framed by a black-and-white opening and closure, Cat's Meow begins with Ince's funeral, in what seems like an homage to the noirish satire, Sunset Boulevard.  Whereas in Billy Wilder's 1950 picture, the narrator was a corpse (William Holden, dead in a pool), here it's Elinor Glyn (Lumley), the popular British novelist who lived in Hollywood and was a guest of Hearst that weekend. In a sobering voice, Glyn claims that of the 14 passengers aboard the yacht, invited to celebrate Ince's birthday, only one was interrogated by the police, and that the official report concluded that Ince died in his own bed of "heart failure," caused by ill-digestion. Moreover, no evidence (photos, records) survived the ominous November 15, 1924 weekend. As Glyn says: "everything was told in whispers, and this is the whisper most often told."

Switching to colour and the main locale, the story proper resembles a mystery novel of Agatha Christie's (And Then There Were None, filmed by Rene Clair in 1945, or Murder On The Orient Express), introducing the inidual characters as they arrive at San Pedro Harbor off the Los Angeles coast. Inexplicably, Glyn's voice-over narration is dropped after she poignantly observes, "I'm not certain if I'm visiting a zoo or am one of the animals," which sums up the writer's grubby attitude toward his material. And what a human zoo the yacht is. 

If the first reel is intriguing, it's mostly due to the eccentric, colourful aggregate of guests. Very much in the spirit of the time -- the jazzy, swinging 1920s -- married producer Ince (Elwes) is there with his nagging mistress, Margaret Livingston (Harrison). Unlike Hearst, who carries an open affair with Davies, Ince is foolish enough to believe that his affair is clandestine, quietly rushing to her cabin in the middle of night.

¡It takes only a minute to realize that this excursion of "fun and frolic" will actually become the playground for power clashes, unfulfilled romantic yearnings, and both manifest and latent agendas. Arriving with his manager, Ince, realizing his financial problems, comes up with a series of business propositions that are based on wishful mergers with Hearst's operations.

The film's most pathetic figure -- and the real villain of the piece -- is Chaplin, who is depicted right after the commercial failure of his Woman Of Paris and in pre-production for The Gold Rush, which will become one of his most renowned comedies. Fighting rumours that he has impregnated his 16-year-old ingénue, Lita Grey, the selfish genius declares love for Davies, pursuing her with film offers, staring at her, and finally getting her into the sack. In what becomes an incriminating piece of evidence, Chaplin writes an intimate letter to Davies, then tosses it in the can, where it's later found by the insecure, Iago-like Ince. 

It's in these scenes, where the characters are eavesdropping and snooping around their neighbours' cabins, that Cat's Meow recalls an Agatha Christie's whodunit – but without the acumen, grace, and playfulness of such mysteries. Not helping matters is the film's abrupt cutting, which accounts for numerous brief scenes, often revolving around spiteful one-liners, some of which are imitative of the kind Norma Desmond has made notoriously famous in Sunset Boulevard.

The film's worst portraiture (and most hideous performance) belongs to Louella Parsons, then a young, ambitious columnist, unaware of Hollywood's rules of the game, prominent among which is "never mix business and pleasure." Like Izzard, who physically doesn't resemble Chaplin, Tilly comes up with her own interpretation of the real-life frumpy, fat Louella. According to Peros, over the course of 48 hours, Parsons changes from a timid, uncouth guest and star-struck columnist, to a shrill manipulator, demanding at the last scene that Hearst grants her a lifetime contract and expanded syndication as his favoured journalist.

Fortunately, the film improves and the third act, which is the best, dwells on the tragic love affair between Hearst, marvelously played by Herrmann (who looks like the mogul) and Davies. However, one again, the performers are defeated by the shallow and trivial script. If one is to believe this version's accuracy, Davies was not particularly ambitious as an actress and she truly loved Hearst, who, with all his power, was obsessed with her, fearing he might lose her to Chaplin (and other men). 

Bogdanovich, always adept at subtle mise-en-scene, accords gravity and dramatic weight, qualities which are missing from the rest of the yarn, to the scenes in which Hearst observes with Othello-like jealousy the flirtatious Chaplin carrying on with his mistress in public. There are wonderful point-of-view shots that convey the obsessive nature of this amour fou, which will ultimately result in the accidental shooting of Ince by Hearst, who presumably mistook the former for Chaplin because he was wearing the same hat.

¡Unfortunately, the few meaningful and touching scenes are surrounded by fluff, futile efforts at witty repartee and double entendres. Hence, among the passengers are two starlets/prostitutes, Didi and Celia, whose role is to punctuate the story with sex, gossip, and decadence. In its desperate attempt to be smart and bitchy a la Wilder or Mankiewicz (All About Eve, The Barefoot Contessa), Peros has given each character theatrical one-liners. (The whole film betrays its stage origins). Hence, when Davies rebuffs Chaplin's offer to read his love letter to her with, "Why don't you give it to Lita," the comic charges back, "she's not old enough to read." And when Livingston, tired and humiliated of endlessly waiting for Ince to show up at her cabin for semi-successful sexual escapades, is asked to identify herself, she "shockingly" declares, "I'm Thomas Ince's mistress." 

In its depiction of deceit, greed, and moral bankruptcy, Peros' coldly calculated narrative adds nothing new to what the public already knows about the Hollywood industry from countless pictures like Sunset Boulevard, Barton Fink and The Player, to mention few of the good ones (though none of these were a huge success at the box-office).

Restricted by his low budget, Bogdanovich has nonetheless given his movie, whose exteriors were shot in Greece and interiors in Germany, a credible period look, assisted by Caroline de Vivaise's lush costumes and Jean-Vincent Puzos' sumptuous design.

Cat's co-star Kirsten Dunst on Eddie:

She's now getting used to them, because in her next film, The Cat's Meow, she plays 27-year-old Marion Davies, the actress girlfriend of W R Hearst, the newspaper magnate who was the inspiration for Citizen Kane. Not only did she have to kiss the actor playing Hearst, but also Eddie Izzard, who plays Charlie Chaplin. Was there a clash of lipstick? "Eddie only wore lipstick when we went out to dinner," squeals Dunst. "He's awesome, I adore him."

Closing-night film
Denver Post | Steve Rosen | 10.21.01

The festival's closing-night film, being screened at 7 p.m. at the Continental Theatre, is Peter Bogdanovich's new "The Cat's Meow." Bogdanovich, who will be present, is receiving the festival's Mayor's Lifetime Achievement Award. (He also will appear at a 1 p.m. screening of his 1971 "The Last Picture Show" at the Tivoli.)

In the lively, entertaining "Cat's Meow," young Kirsten Dunst, so good at playing teens in movies such as "The Virgin Suicides" and "crazy/beautiful," plays an adult smashingly. A very famous adult - actress Marion Davies, the mistress of William Randolph Hearst.

In Dunst's portrayal, Davies is engaging in a Roaring Twenties flapper-girl and Charleston-dancer way, but also a gifted and bright comedian, as well as a romantic siren who drives powerful men wild.

Bogdanovich's film, a classy and visually inspired speculation on how producer Thomas Ince died aboard Hearst's yacht in 1924, offers a very different view of Davies than the fictionalized yet disparaging one in "Citizen Kane."

As "Gods and Monsters" did, "Cat's Meow" gains power and insight from its director's knowledge of early film (Bogdanovich is an outstanding film-history scholar) and insight into the motivations of the people who constituted a past era's "film community."

It also has some terrific performances besides Dunst's. Edward Herrmann is outstanding and unforgettable as Hearst. And as Charlie Chaplin, Eddie Izzard makes us put aside our preconceptions based on remembering Chaplin's own films and watch this actor create something new and worthwhile.


18th annual Olympia Film Festival, which kicks off tonight (10/12) with the first Northwest screening of Peter Bogdanovich's new film "The Cat's Meow," with Kirsten Dunst and Cary Elwes. Ticket info here.(

The Cat's Meow
8:30 PM
Director: Peter Bogdanovich

An aging newspaper tycoon, a young starlet, Charlie Chaplin and a dead studio mogul. What really happened on board William Randolph Hearst’s yacht in 1924? This spectacular speculation on one of Tinsel Town’s lingering mysteries is as close to the “truth” as we’re likely to get, and certainly much more fun. The words “Hollywood” and “Scandal” are synonymous with director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Mask), so the story could hardly be in more appropriate hands. Bogdanovich is also a film scholar, having conducted countless interviews with legendary directors like Orson Welles, John Ford, Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks and Fritz Lang. He’s heard all the stories, and knows how to get the details right (albeit with considerable poetic license). The much-rumored event at the heart of the film was in the first draft of the Citizen Kane script (loosely based on the life of newspaper publisher Hearst). The motley crew on board this crazy cruise includes Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), the young actress having a tumultuous affair with the much older Hearst (Edward Herrmann). When W.R. suspects the wily Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) of being Davies’ other lover, sparks really start to fly, leaving Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), the legendary movie executive who founded the “studio system,” dead. Also rocking the boat is novelist (and our narrator) Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley) and gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) who threatens to expose the murder. The Cat’s Meow is an intriguing expose of Hollywood, without compromising the glitter. One couldn’t hope for a better way to kick-off the 18th Annual Olympia Film Festival.
Sponsor: Olympia Food Co-op, Fishtale Ales, Capitol Florist, Archibald Sisters, The Wine Loft, Old School Pizzeria
Venue: The Capitol Theater

REVIEW FROM SLANT MAGAZINE | Ed Gonzales (09.23.01/thanks peggy)

If there is any delight to be found in Peter Bogdanovich's relatively lifeless The Cat's Meow it's the irony of Absolutely Fabulous alum Joanna Lumley being forced to skimp on the liquor. Poor Patsy has been transplanted from Jennifer Saunders' comedy-sphere to newspaper magnate William Randolph Heart's voyeuristic yacht, where her Elinor Glyn and a bevy of prohibition-era Hollywood power-players and wannabes are forced to reenact a lame game of cinematic Clue. Hearst (Edward Herrmann), whose literal and figurative affinities for rosebuds were waxed Freudian in Orson Welles's seminal Citizen Kane, is sucker du jour as his young wife, Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst, as a baby Jennifer Jason Leigh), frolics about land and water with the gawky, physically-endowed Charles Chaplin (Eddie Izzard). In the subjective hands of Bogdanovich and writer Steven Peros, the Hollywood scandal once snipped from Kane yearns for relevance as found-cinema; David Ince's death, though, amounts to little more than an unfortunate bout of mistaken identity.

Ince (Cary Elwes) learns of the Chaplin-Davies affair and seeks to clue in ol' man Hearst via one of the Little Tramp's unsent letters to his maid Marion (the note is left readily available for plucking within Chaplin's chamber garbage pail). Lumley's insightful monologues accompany Meow's luminous black and white scenarios, as Hollywood is evocatively painted as that "land just off the planet earth." Aboard the party boat, Hearst's pot-stoked guests do the Charleston while chumming up with the colored servants. At his best, Bogdanovich lends sensitivity to moneybag Hearst and the fascinating way the old lout falls just outside the Hollywood radar system. Then there is Jennifer Tilly, doing her always-funny helium-induced schtick, this time as a graceless writer who discovers her inner-opportunist, inexplicably learning to take Hearst by the horns. Lest you forget Hearst is a fool in a businessman's garb, Bogdanovich goes as far as to make a bumbling mess of the man while he sports a jester's hat. Meow, in the end, is too self-conscious and glib about its scandal to ever carry more weight than an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries." Indeed, Lumley's presence as outsider-observer is so delicately snippy that it shames the rest of the production; you might wish for Robert Stack to ominously open and close the saga.

If there is any delight to be found in Peter Bogdanovich's relatively lifeless The Cat's Meow it's the irony of Absolutely Fabulous alum Joanna Lumley being forced to skimp on the liquor. Poor Patsy has been transplanted from Jennifer Saunders' comedy-sphere to newspaper magnate William Randolph Heart's voyeuristic yacht, where her Elinor Glyn and a bevy of prohibition-era Hollywood power-players and wannabes are forced to reenact a lame game of cinematic Clue. Hearst (Edward Herrmann), whose literal and figurative affinities for rosebuds were waxed Freudian in Orson Welles's seminal Citizen Kane, is sucker du jour as his young wife, Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst, as a baby Jennifer Jason Leigh), frolics about land and water with the gawky, physically-endowed Charles Chaplin (Eddie Izzard). In the subjective hands of Bogdanovich and writer Steven Peros, the Hollywood scandal once snipped from Kane yearns for relevance as found-cinema; David Ince's death, though, amounts to little more than an unfortunate bout of mistaken identity.

Ince (Cary Elwes) learns of the Chaplin-Davies affair and seeks to clue in ol' man Hearst via one of the Little Tramp's unsent letters to his maid Marion (the note is left readily available for plucking within Chaplin's chamber garbage pail). Lumley's insightful monologues accompany Meow's luminous black and white scenarios, as Hollywood is evocatively painted as that "land just off the planet earth." Aboard the party boat, Hearst's pot-stoked guests do the Charleston while chumming up with the colored servants. At his best, Bogdanovich lends sensitivity to moneybag Hearst and the fascinating way the old lout falls just outside the Hollywood radar system. Then there is Jennifer Tilly, doing her always-funny helium-induced schtick, this time as a graceless writer who discovers her inner-opportunist, inexplicably learning to take Hearst by the horns. Lest you forget Hearst is a fool in a businessman's garb, Bogdanovich goes as far as to make a bumbling mess of the man while he sports a jester's hat. Meow, in the end, is too self-conscious and glib about its scandal to ever carry more weight than an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries." Indeed, Lumley's presence as outsider-observer is so delicately snippy that it shames the rest of the production; you might wish for Robert Stack to ominously open and close the saga.

From London Film Festival Site 

Based on a true scandal story at the heart of 20's Hollywood, The Cat's Meow is a glorious wallow in high society Tinseltown and the Jazz Age. Centring on a weekend soiree, hosted by multi-millionaire newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, on his luxury yacht, The Cat's Meow follows the business and sexual intrigues that occur between invited guests. The guests range from Hearst's own employees, such as legendary gossip columnist, Louella Parsons (played with unpleasant excellence by Jennifer Tilly), Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard - a revelation in the role), British novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley, a model of elegance) and Hearst's mistress, the actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst). These, together with other assorted starlets, a famous Hollywood film producer and associated servants and functionaries engage in various revels and prohibited activities. This louche atmosphere, combined with simmering tension between Hearst and one of the guests, who he suspects of paying rather too much attention to Marion Davies, starts off as decadent fun and then leads to accidental tragedy. A significant comeback for veteran director and cinephile, Peter Bogdanovich (Last Picture Show, Mask), /The Cat's Meow/ is sophisticated, adult entertainment, revelling in its period and gallery of real-life characters. Its glittering cast work perfectly together as an ensemble and this is destined to be loved by anyone with the vaguest interest in Hollywood's darker side.

Adrian Wootton



From the Denver Post

Telluride reels out fine film offerings
Everybody's a critic at Telluride
By Steven Rosen
Denver Post Movie Critic

Sunday, September 09, 2001 - Because I spent a lot of time in lines at this year's 28th Telluride Film Festival, I had plenty of time to listen to other filmgoers' comments.

How maddening! Films that I thought were great, like David Lynch's visionary and epiphanic "Mulholland Drive," or at least greatly entertaining, like Peter Bogdanovich's lively, funny "The Cat's Meow," were slammed by others as confusing or trite.

"Cat's" lukewarm response irked me. This is a joyful yet dark inside-movies period piece with terrific performances from Edward Herrmann, Kirsten Dunst and Eddie Izzard as, respectively, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin.

(This is just an excerpt pertaining to The Cat's can read the entire article here)


From the Telluride Film Festival Program

Bogdanovich film premieres at Locarno (thanks Peggy)

In "The Cat's Meow", Charlie Chaplin tries to seduce W.R. Hearst's companion

“The Cat’s Meow” by US film director Peter Bogdanovich, which had its world premiere at the Locarno film festival, is set in Hollywood’s society of rich and famous celebrities.

The story, based on a play by Steven Peros, who also wrote the script, is played out on the private yacht of the billionaire media magnate of the time, William Randolph Hearst.

Among the small party of Hearst’s guests who set out on a two-day cruise off the southern California coast is comedy actor and director Charlie Chaplin, who is as brilliant and witty as he is narcissistic. The guests also include Hearst’s mistress, the actress Marion Davies; Hollywood producer Thomas Ince; Louella Parsons, an ambitious gossip columnist; and the eccentric British novelist Elinor Glyn.

"The story is basically about what happens on that yacht over a period of two days," Bogdanovich told swissinfo.

While all of these hardened 1920s party goers want and expect no more from each other than a jolly good time, the audience is quickly let into their various dark secrets. Each character follows his or her own scheme, driven by greed, passion or envy.

The film begins with a burial and a strong hint that the death that occurred during the trip was not accidental, but murder. However, the audience is left in the dark until well into the plot.

The story is based on the true acount of an “accident” that occurred on Hearst’s yacht in 1924. It formed the basis of rumours, but inexplicably – or explicably, given Hearst’s power – it was never investigated by police.

"The plot is authentic in so far as the basic outline of what happens in the film has been published in a few books and been whispered about for 70 years," the film director explained.

Bogdanovich said he was told his version of the events by the American movie icon, Orson Welles, who investigated Hearst’s biography when he made “Citizen Kane” in 1941. The film's main character, Charles Foster Kane, is based on the media magnate, who was still alive at the time and threatened to sue Welles if he didn’t shroud his film in fiction.

"Orson Welles first told me the story sort of under his breath literally 32 years ago, but whether it's exactly true as to what happened, nobody will ever know," he said.

“The Cat’s Meow” is set in the 1920s on a luxury boat characterised by its narrow hallways and steps, and thin walls between passenger compartments. The film could easily remind you of “Death on the Nile”, a 1970s thriller based on an Agatha Christie novel.

However, Bogdanovich succeeds in elevating the story to a parable about how success can destroy people’s ability to enjoy happiness.

In a sequence at the outset of the yacht trip, Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley) tells a fable about the “beast”, which symbolises the Hollywood movie industry.

She explains that the creature slowly took possession of people's minds.
As a result, they became preoccupied with money to the point where they sold their morality.

Glyn's audience is briefly gripped by silence. But these moments, which suggest why Bogdanovich (“What’s Up Doc’”, “Paper Moon”, “Nickeldeon”) was attracted to the story, are quite rare.

The film is charmingly entertaining and noteworthy as a thriller that doesn’t rely on “action”. "I would call it a suspenseful drama", Bogdanovich explained.

The director added that he followed Hemingway, who said you should write about what you know. Being well acquainted with the history of movies, Bogdanovich said he felt close to his characters.

"I felt a kind of connection to almost all the people in the picture", Bogdanovich said. "I understood Chaplin, who was incredibly successful and kind of dizzy with power and fame, as well as Ince who was desperate and losing power," he concluded.

"The Cat's Meow", however, is less convincing as a satirical parable.

The celebreties come away as rather kind and pleasant almost despite themselves. Compared to "Citizen Kane", the main character played by Edward Herrmann also does not reach Wells' classic portrayal of a Hearst-type media magnate in its evilness and cynicism.

by Markus Haefliger


From (thanks Peggy)


In November 1924, during a weekend party aboard the yacht of legendary tyrannical media mogul William Randolph Hearst, one of Hollywood's most famous movie-makers, Thomas Ince, met his death in mysterious circumstances. Novelist Elinor Glyn recalls the events that were subsequently hushed up and involved such darlings of the day as Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin…..


Director, producer, screenwriter, Peter Bogdanovich was born in Kingston, NY in 1939 and studied acting with Stella Adler. By 1959 he was directing plays off Broadway. In the 60s he published books on film monuments such as Fritz Lang, John Ford and Orson Welles. He entered filmmaking as an assistant director with none other than Roger Corman. In 1968 he made his first film, Targets, starring Boris Karloff and it was The Last Picture Show in 1971 that brought him his first commercial and critical success. Other familiar titles include Daisy Miller in 1974, At Long Last Love in 1975 and Mask in 1984.


For his first feature for the cinema in seven years, Peter Bogdanovich has lost none of his flair for comedy, timing, and ironic juxtapositions and he brilliantly choreographs the riotous Jazz Age proceedings with the same precision that he brought to his filming of the hit stage farce Noises Off. Here, his characters are among the greats of the day and he has cleverly cast mostly great English comedians of today.

Joanna Lumley is absolutely fabulous as that grande dame of semi-erotic semi-literature Elinor Glyn, who is the audience's witty but none-too-wise guide at the birthday party from hell. Meanwhile, Eddie Izzard, a stand-up cult comic in the UK and occasionally in France, makes a quite unusually convincing Chaplin - not at all a moustached caricature but still somehow evoking the restlessness - and certainly randiness - of the fabled English-born movie-star. As Thomas Ince, Cary Elwes is marvellously credible as an American, and makes a very attractive portrait of the pioneering Hollywood movie-maker then facing something of a fatal career crisis. On the Stateside side, Jennifer Tilly is wonderful as the gossip columnist Louella Parsons who turned her presence at the party to her evident advantage and Kirsten Dunst simply sparkles as Hearst's mistress the would-be actress but natural comedienne Marion Davies, and even the minor participants are permitted to turn in nicely polished cameos.

With its stage origins evident in the principal setting aboard the luxury yacht, Bogdanovich manages to give all the major and minor scenes a filmic fluidity and the production looks as rich as any of his previous, more expensive Hollywood excursions.-Yet, incredibly, it was entirely filmed in studios in Berlin, and not even in the grandiose Babelsberg complex but in the more modest Adlerhof Studio in East Berlin. The California coast and watery sequences were briefly recreated on locations in Greece.

As the jokes, insults and wry allusions come thick and fast in the excellent dialogue, there is a wealth of period music and classic songs that point up the emotions and intrigues that underpin this voyage of the damned. It is a definite feast for cinephiles and fans of the darker corners of public and showbusiness life, but so spot-on are the performances and so sharp the humour that it could well appeal to a wider audience with a taste for the naughtiness of the past that is still very much at play in the present.

Phillip Bergson


Interview with Director, Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich: The Cat's Meow

The undisputed "party piece" at Locarno 2001 was the world premiere of Peter Bogdanovich's first cinema film in seven years, The Cat's Meow. It shows he has lost none of his touch as far as directing actors is concerned, or capturing the spirit of a certain place and time. If it seems on one level to be another Hollywood anecdote or slice of sleaze (it colourfully imagines the events aboard W.R. Hearst's yacht in 1924, where director Thomas Ince mysteriously met his death during his own week-end-long birthday party, and whose other guests included Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin), it is suffused with a sense of irony, affection and regret that a lesser director could never have imported into proceedings. On his first visit to the Swiss festival, the movie-mad film-maker was interviewed, appropriately enough, on a hotel terrace high above the picturesque resort....

How did you come to realise you would be more at home behind the camera than in front of?

It wasn't an epiphany or anything, it just happened and I regret - I wished I'd kept acting more...I think directors who acted and kept on acting in films, like John Huston or Woody Allen had careers that were enhanced by their acting. It was largely because of Orson Wells who put me in a film called The Other Side of the Wind and said I was so good and would make such a brilliant actor that he didn't want me to make any other films until his came out....and it never came out. Then when Dorothy Stratton was killed, I just didn't feel up to acting any more and I turned down many parts - in The Big Red One with Sam Fuller, and the Dabney Coleman part in Tootsie. But more recently I did a couple of seasons on TV in The Sopranos - a small role but a nice one - and I am back again in the next season of the show. I love the theatre but I haven't done any of that since 1964. My professional career started when I was 15, on stage in New York.

But you still love the world of acting?

I always ask for a week's rehearsal on a film - it used to be two - as I do like to rehearse and build that sense of an ensemble, a company working together. There is a great line that Jean Renoir told me, it's kind of a "conspiracy, you've come to do something that's not strictly legal when you make a film!

Your last film was also based on a play - Noise Off, by Michael Frayn - and here, too, in The Cat's Meow, the original was produced on stage in Los Angeles and seems something of a farce in spite of its darker side.

I thought it had to have that tempo, and you don't want to anticipate the third act.These people are on a weekend yacht party, and they're all rather frivolous and all just having fun - Charlestonning and eating and trying to screw and all that, and it is a kind of a party. I think when you make a serious [picture, you don't want to hit people on the head with it. And I did really insist on a very quick pace to it. Joanna Lumley would joke and say 'Peter wants us to talk faster and it sounds like Swahili!' My main thing was,'Pick it up a bit!'

Most of the real-life guests at this hellish party, such as Elinor Glyn as well as Chaplin, were in fact of English origin - is that why your film has a largely English cast?

I have to say - and I don't want to denigrate Americans by saying this - but I have to say that the range of the English actor far exceeds that of any other English-speaking performer. It is extraordinary, and I was particularly impressed with it during this experience. Because it was a German-English co-production, financially, I was asked to use as many English as possible - also, it was cheaper to bring people from London than New York or L.A., and I was perfectly happy to go with that. People came to read for me in England and it was an embarrassment of riches - everybody was good. Eddie Izzard really found Chaplin in himself and wasn't doing an impersonation. I saw the revival of Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons' in preview at the National Theatre on the way to Locarno and it is amazing how brilliantly the English play American. In the film, Cary Elwes plays the American Ince and has a perfect accent.

Would you agree you are one of the most European of American film-makers?

When I made The Last Picture Show a critic said it was 'suprisingly French'! I think it's true actually and probably it's because I grew up with a very European home life. I was conceived in Europe. My mother was 7 months pregnant when she arrived in America with my father who was Serbian. My mother was Viennese and Jewish, but my father was Greek Orthodox, and when they didn't want me to understand, they spoke German. I spoke Serbo-Croat before I learned English at school. I grew up with a kind of intellectual home life because my father was a painter. Like many first generation Americans, I became very American and very in love with America and its popular culture. There was never a bigger fan of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, for example, than me! Sinatra and movies were very much part of my teenage life. But as I started to make pictures, I think the European influence started to come out. I was most attracted to Jean Renoir, of all the filmmakers...

You share his sympathy for the characters...

I don't like movies where the heavy wears a moustache and twirls it. Somehow I agree with that wonderful scene Otto Preminger has in Anatomy of a Murder, where James Stewart says 'People aren't all good or all bad- things aren't black and white, they're grey.' We tried very much in The Cat's Meow to keep the humanity of Hearst and Ince and all these people - even though they're dreadfully flawed, they're human.

Phillip Bergson

(click pic for larger view)




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