From the London Film Festival screening of The Cat's Meow
(thanks Kinga and Claire!)
Eddie Izzard Made My Life Hell: A Review of Cat's Meow (Sort of)
"I think I'll fly from New York to Los Angeles to see a movie."
This is not the type of thought I am known to have on a regular basis. Certainly, it is not the kind of thought I would be expected to act on. I do not jet set, light cigars with hundred dollar bills or date rock stars (although I'm willing to give that last one a shot in the interest of science.)
Then again, these have not been normal times. Blame my madness on Osama Bin Laden, why not? In all honesty, however, it's more fitting to pin the blame on another insidious villain, comedian Eddie Izzard.
In the wake of the September 11 awfulness, I decided to seek out something positive and I found myself on an Eddie Izzard Web page (Cake or Death) where I learned about a special sneak preview of the film The Cat's Meow
which was to be shown at American Cinemateque's Egyptian Theatre as part of a "Great Hollywood Murder Mystery of 1924" weekend. The screenwriter, producers, and a number of cast members, including Eddie Izzard who plays Charlie Chaplain in the film, would be on hand to discuss it.
Eddie Izzard is my favorite comedian, although I'm not sure he should necessarily take this as a compliment. A friend once said I had a "British sense of humor." I asked her what she meant and she said, "You know, dry
and not very funny."
Despite this encouragement, I actually worked as an improvisational comic for a time. If you aren't funny, and you would like to have "comic" on your resume, the best thing to do is to surround yourself with funny people and
then to take over all the boring tasks involved in running an improv troupe. Be sure you're the one to pass out the checks and no one will dare kick you out, even if you stand on stage and say "a priest and a rabbi
walked into a bar and, um, would someone like to take over from here?" My dream was that some day one of the naturally funny guys from my group would become famous and when A&E did the biography they'd show a photo of his humble beginnings and I'd be somewhere in the background. So suffice it to say, I am deeply jealous of Izzard whose British sense of humor is rarely described as "not very funny."
Since leaving the glamorous world of comedy, I have worked as a freelance writer and consultant on ramen noodle preparation and amassing debt. As I awaited the release of my latest book, my finances drained away to
nothing. I had taken a day job doing public relations for Moscow Ballet and a weekend job at a friend's dress shop while working on writing assignments at night. I was already well exhausted when 9-11 rolled around and made us all exhausted together. In my weakened state, I allowed Eddie Izzard's humor and the glamor of Hollywood's past seduce me.
"I bet I could get a cheap flight now," I thought. I should have stopped thinking right there and saved myself a great deal of misfortune, but the idea of flying at this time appealed to my defiant streak. I decided to use the Cat's Meow screening as an excuse to take a much needed mini-vacation and do my part as an American citizen to bail out the airlines.
It would be a whirlwind trip (I could only take a day off work). I planned to arrive late Thursday night, spend Friday seeing the sights or relaxing by a hotel pool, see the screenings Friday and Saturday night, and spend
most of the day Saturday relaxing by the ocean where I could write. I'd return to New York on Sunday tanned and rested.
If it is true that life imitates art, I should have known this was not to be my destiny. You see, I am the author of the books Bad Predictions and The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation. Frankly, I should have seen it coming.
Flying is a unique experience these days. I arrived at Albany International Airport two hours before my scheduled flight and learned a new definition of "air lines." The ticket line was as long as I'd ever seen it despite the fact that the added security consisted of only one new question. The last time I had flown, I arrived at the counter and knowing the drill, handed the clerk my driver's license and said, "I packed my own bag and it has been in my possession since then. No one unknown to me has given me anything to take on board."
"I have to ask you anyway," she said, and proceeded to ask if I had checked my own bags, if they'd been out of my care since I packed them and if anyone unknown to me had given me anything to take on board. You don't
joke with these folks, but it was all I could do to keep myself from answering, "yes."
The new question this time around had to do with sharp objects, which apparently varies based on the gender of the passenger. The guy in front of me was asked if he had any sharp objects in his carry on, "for example
knives, razors or nail clippers." When I got to the counter I was asked if I had sharp objects like "knives, nail files, sewing kits or crochet needles." "Er, no, but I have a razor..."
After proceeding through the next security checkpoint to the waiting area, I had my first Hollywood moment and I hadn't even left New York. In movies you often see a person accused of a crime sitting in a store when a
newsflash comes on about that very person. As I sat in Albany airport, a television monitor broadcasted the local news. The lead story had to do with Albany airport being fined for security violations. On the plane I was seated beside a handsome man of Indian or perhaps Middle Eastern descent. He seemed very nervous. He later admitted that not only does he hate flying, but he was also afraid people would think he was a terrorist.
The flight was uneventful, pleasant even. I arrived at LAX at about 11 PM tired, but happy. It was here that the revenge of the aggravations began to kick in. One by one my fellow passengers picked up their bags and
left. There were three people left. Two people left. Then just me and a lonely suitcase, not mine, circling on the baggage claim. Then the conveyor came to a stop. I had arrived at page 141 in the Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravations- lost luggage. I got a claim number to track my bag and was then introduced to an aggravation of which I'd previously been unaware- Los Angeles cab drivers. Sure, they're more personable than many New York City cabbies, but from what I experienced, they seem to be selected on the basis of a lack of knowledge of Los Angeles destinations. I believe there is actually a law in L.A. that forbids you from making it easy for people to get places.
The taxi driver passed up my hotel and wound up on a dark
dead-end street. From there he called another driver on his cell phone, leaving the
meter running. He was speaking in a foreign language and I assume he was
asking for directions, but he may just as easily have been saying, "If I sit here a few more minutes, I can make a few more bucks off this out of town schmuck."
By the time I got to the hotel- sans luggage- all I wanted to do was get a complimentary toothbrush, take a quick shower and go to bed. I had not expected to come face to face with the aggravation from page 68- credit
card debt. One card after another, declined, declined, declined. I was forced to pay for the room with all my trip cash and then I had to wait for someone to go up to the room and remove the honor bar before I could go up
and sleep. I finally rode up in the elevator singing a Woody Guthrie song, "California is a garden of Eden, it's a paradise to live in or see, but believe it or not, you won't find it so hot, if you ain't got the do-re-mi."
An entry on hotel phone surcharges had not made the final cut of the Encyclopedia of Aggravations, but that was not enough to prevent the revenge of the aggravations from striking again. Tom Stoppard once wrote a radio play in which a man clocks up hundreds of dollars on a taxi meter as he rides from house to house trying to find a friend to lend him money for his cab fare. I suffered a similar fate. At $1 per call to my credit card's "800" numbers, by the time I found the card with enough credit to cover the room I no longer had enough credit to pay for the room.
The entire first day of my vacation was spent trying to arrange to pay my hotel bill, trying to track down a missing direct deposit from work, and trying to figure out where my luggage had gone. If I'd had a bathing suit,
maybe I would have had time enough for a dip in the pool before heading to The Cat's Meow. (Remember the Cat's Meow? This is a review of The Cat's Meow) Instead, I went to the gift shop and bought a hairbrush and t-shirt so I could clean up just a little bit. My taxi driver, of course, had never heard of The Egyptian Theatre and he dropped me at the Chinese.
At the theatre I had my first moments of calm and peace. The lights went down and the events of the day- the events of the past few months- were suspended. As the opening credits rolled, the audience applauded the names of all those who were slated to speak after the screening. It seemed odd to me to clap at opening credits- you haven't seen the film yet. How do you know they deserve it? There is another problem with applauding opening credits- when do you stop? There are an awful lot of names there. The young women seated next to me apparently felt as I did and the three of us cheered wildly for people like the casting director. I am a big fan of her work.
I enjoyed the movie very much. It did a great job of evoking the giddiness of that era. The dialogue was quick and witty, but the best moments came when the actors communicated with facial expressions. It is, of course,
possible that I thought it was wonderful because I was comparing it to how much I was enjoying the rest of my vacation. In any case, the Q&A was short but entertaining. When it finished, I hoped I might have a chance to
say a word or two to my favorite comEdian, but it was quickly apparent this was not going to happen. Fans surrounded him like metal shavings to a magnet. Interesting phenomenon. At home when I say "Eddie Izzard" the
most common response is "Eddie who?" In the circles where he is known, however, he appears to be quite well known. I might have been able to elbow in and mutter a quick "good job," but he didn't appear to be suffering from a lack of recognition, so I didn't bother.
It was oddly reminiscent of the scene that bookends the action of Cat's Meow, in which autograph seekers surround the rich and famous mourners at Thomas Ince's funeral. It struck me that autographs are more analogous to post cards than anything else. A souvenir of a trip to a celebrity. What does that make the celebrity? I was too tired to think too much more about that. I bought a ticket to the silent film double feature that followed Cat's Meow. The second picture was Thomas Ince's melodramatic Civilization which tells the tale of a naval officer who ends up in Purgatory which is populated by naked men carrying boulders. I was so jet lagged and tired that I began to write my own dialogue. Christ appears before the officer and says (in my version), "Why don't you take off your clothes and pick up a rock? Everybody's doing it this season." I knew it was time to go back to the hotel. I drew my taxi driver a map.
Day two. Welcome to Aggravation number 126: Getting Lost. I began my Saturday journey at the Visitor's Information Center. The person at the desk did not seem to have time to talk about directions to places. I guess
they have a lot to do at the Visitor's Information Center and it's understandable that giving information to visitors might get in the way of that sometimes. She handed me a piece of paper with directions to Santa Monica by bus and disappeared into the back. I showed the directions to a man in a nearby store, and he pointed me towards a bus stop. I got on the bus with no idea how long the trip would take. I assumed the beach would be the end of the line because you'd run out of road after that. So I sat and waited as stop after stop came and went. When the signs started to change from English to Spanish it did vaguely cross my mind that I might be headed East. I also had the vague notion that the coast was probably to the West, but I waited. I stayed the course until I found myself at a deserted Rapid bus terminal. I had never felt so ridiculously alone in my life. There was nothing to do for it. I took the next 720 back in the other direction and by the time I got back to where I'd started, it was too late to go to the ocean.
Instead, I decided to go to the only place where things had gone well the entire weekend, The Egyptian Theatre. I knew its location well enough by now to direct taxi drivers right to it. I left my stresses outside the door and retreated into the world of flickering black and white images. My disastrous solo adventure was forgotten. I was no longer alone, but part of the group laughing at the antics of Marion Davies. It didn't matter that I was sitting on my own. It wasn't just me. We were audience. And I understood at that moment what movies could mean to people having a rough time- why, for example, the Great Depression spawned what we now call "The Golden Age of Hollywood."
The film and its discussion ended and I took a moment to congratulate screenwriter Steve Peros on Cat's Meow. Then I kicked around the lobby a bit, once again aware of my solo status. I thanked the organizer for putting on the series and said I'd enjoyed it.
"That's why we do it, so people can enjoy it," he said.
"Yes," I said.
Then I headed back to my hotel for the last time. My luggage had finally arrived.
The Cat's Meow
Great Murder Mystery Festival
Los Angeles CA
October 19, 2001
I went to see this movie not expecting much but was
pleasantly surprised to find it was a light gaudy slightly malicious but brightly told
tale of the rumored murder of Thomas Ince, It was great fun to watch, beautifully shot,
with some very sharp dialogue and tasty performances.
First a summary of the plot. William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) hosts a birthday cruise party for movie mogul Thomas Ince(Cary Elwes), among his guests are Charlie Chaplin (Eddie!), writer Elinor Glyn (Joanne Lumley), one of his gossip reporters, Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), and a couple of party girls. Though it seems a festive party, in fact all the partygoers have their own hidden agendas. Ince, struggling with a failing film studio, is hoping to get Hearst to buy into a studio partnership. Louella is hoping for a big promotion. Chaplin wants to bed Hearst's young mistress, Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst). And Hearst, the genial host, spies on all of his guests; as a newspaper man, he just wants to know the truth, especially the truth behind those rumours of the budding friendship between his Marion and Charlie. The festivities go on through the night, inhibitions are shed, humiliations suffered, machinations, passions, and betrayals pile up until finally Ince ends up shot in the head by Hearst in a case of mistaken identity. In the end, the murder is covered up, all are made complicit and everyone leaves the boat with a secret they take to the grave.
I think the best part of the movie was the sense of malice in the light hearted jostling conversations. Parsons fawning on Chaplin while she stabs at him about his latest sex scandal and his latest film flop, Chaplin and Hearst circling each other like boxers, Hearst with a bullying heartiness, Chaplin with arrogant wit, and I especially enjoyed the cat and mouse dialogue between Hearst and Ince which sparkled with venom and wit. I didn't care for Herrmann's scenes with Kirsten Dunst, he seemed too bumbling and maudlin to me. Kirsten I thought was quite lovable and good but still too young - I didn't believe she was Marion Davies, but more like a teenage version of Marion. Eddie Izzard was a charming, cunning, self assured Charlie Chaplin, but I didn't see the lechery that should have oozed out of him. Joanne Lumley was delicious as the jaded Elinor Gyn.
I did notice a slight frustration with some of the scenes. I wanted a bit more emphasis or drama to accent some of them, they all seemed to play at the same intensity and some of the reaction shots could had more omfph. But still I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Then the next day I started critique it more and noticed more flaws in the movie. The story didn't seem to gather momentum as it went on, but seemed too even in tone and pace. I imagined better ways to shoot some of the scenes and wished for a more mordant tone because the story is a pretty dark one after all. I thought, this seemed to have been shot with the budget and schedule of a TV movie, and was there no time or money to shoot alternative shots, or second takes for the actors?
But then something about the ending made me go back and reassess many of the scenes. Perhaps because I was caught up in the sort of flappergirl feel of the movie, I did not see that there were secrets, competitions, all sorts of hidden things going on below the gaiety. It's kind of like Memento, maybe you don't know quite what you are seeing. I wish I could watch it again, because I'm not sure if it's my imagination or if there is really something else there.
Now for my Izzardite mates, on to Eddie. I never got used to his make-up, I kept wanting his eyes to show more! How can you make Eddie's eyes seem small? His wardrobe made him look bulky, and we all know that in the right clothes he can look very svelte. But that's just a small quibble. The camera still loved him, his face still flitted with a myriad of expressions. He captured Chaplin's playfulness, his arrogance, his self involvement and his predator sexuality. As I said, I didn't really see the lechery that was implied in the script and so I read his chase of Marion as more of an ego trip and a love of the hunt. I don't know if Eddie meant to show passion for Marion but that is not what I saw, instead I felt he just wanted the conquest. I didn't buy it when he threw a fit of anger during the seduction scene, but then I think I missed some of the action, maybe I was daydreaming about Eddie, but I sort of missed the seduction! There were some great scenes where Eddie, without dialogue, was able to convey Chaplin's ironic awareness of all the undertones lurking below the festivities. But then, much of that came from Bogdanovich's framing of scenes, which was a pleasure to watch.
Like I said I had some quibbles with some of the shots, some of the stagings, some of the editing. Interesting, someone asked about Bogdanovich's style or something and Eddie said that it was a challenge because some of the scenes were long, two or three script pages, and often he only took one take. I thought that was telling because I felt in some of the scenes, one actor was great while another was flat, and that is the sort of thing that happens when you have only one take, or haven't got parts of another take that you can cut in. So I sort of have that reaction of 'what if', what if they had more money, more time, would it have made big improvements? Probably. but with all that, I still find myself admiring it as a damn fine piece of work.
One more thing, I wonder how much of Bogdanovich's own life went into this movie. He knows about messy affairs of the heart, love triangles ending in murder, the highs and lows of a movie career. I wonder, because I picked up a lot of melancholy lurking in the shadows of this witty piece of fluff and that's why I seem to be unable to sort this movie out. I keep wanting to see it again, to see if I missed something or if I am dreaming up my own movie out of the memory of the movie I saw.
The Cat's Meow
Great Murder Mystery Festival
Los Angeles CA
October 19, 2001
Eddie in LA -- BZC, 11:10:39 10/21/01 Sun
The Cat's Meow debuted in LA Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, a theatre built in the 1920's I believe and has been redone. It is a beautiful elegant theatre and was so appropriate a place for the movie to be shown. I won't speak of the movie itself for you've already had to wade through my review in September from the film festival in Telluride. But I came away with the same impressions after seeing it again.
There was a panel discussion after the movie with key figures including Steve Peros(writer), Carol Lewis and Kim Bieber(producers), and actors Edward Hermann, Cary Elwes, and Eddie and also the music director though I never caught his name(he played us a couple of live tunes before the show which was fun). Apparently Peter Bogdanovich is receiving an award in Denver tonight at the film festival there.
The panel discussion was very interesting and animated. My overall impression was that Eddie was the star in the theatre that night, he came on as a star and left as one. Eddie was the second to the last person to be introduced and ushered down to the front of the theatre, and the seats were one director's chair short, so a stool had been brought up to accomodate the last person. So Eddie had a director's chair located for him to sit in, but in such a aware, polite, and gracious manner, Eddie switched chairs so that he was sitting on the stool and the music director got the remaining director's chair. What a lovely, person...
So questions were asked of each of the panel members and then general questions from the audience were taken. It was delightful ofcourse when the questions got around to Eddie, and he was more than ready to be involved, and so he was. He was so sharp and funny and spontaneous and absolutely pure delight. I think he could have taken off right then and there and done a two hour show. It was obvious he wanted to talk and he did! It was great. He had the crowd cracking up constantly. One of the questions was how the actors got into their characters and Ed Hermann responded and then commented how Eddie was the master really of getting into so many various characters in his stand up routines. Eddie commented that he couldn't portray Charlie Chaplin physically so he focused on portraying his randiness in the film....and that he found it fucking fantastic(his words) working with everyone and he finally had a role he could do more than just point in, and that he was just a baby in terms of knowledge as an actor, but felt this film was his best work so far. During the general questions to the panel, Eddie usually had a insightful and funny comment, and a few questions that seemed fairly pretentious, Eddie's responses were so funny, disarming, and painlessly took the wind out of the questioner's sails. He's amazing. What a bright and talented being. I've concluded that people that don't follow Eddie and his career are truly missing out on the best life has to offer...
As the panel discussion concluded, the front of the theatre was crowded with people as folks spoke and took pictures of the panel members. But Eddie by far had the biggest crowd. He was literally mobbed(really mobbed!) with people taking his picture, wanting his autograph, wanting a moment to speak with him. People have a great love and respect for Eddie, that was obvious. He transcends boundaries so effortlessly and brings people together. People in the theatre were asked to leave to prepare for the upcoming show and it was so funny to watch from a distance a mob of people move out with Eddie at the nucleus. The mob moved to the theatre lobby where he continued to sign and chat. Then again, people were asked to go outside, and again the mob moved with Eddie. He seemed intent on connecting with as many people as possible at least for brief moments, and I had the feeling he was ok with the mob and just fine with where he was at. He had two opportunities he could have terminated the autograph session, but he didn't. I felt Eddie not only wanted to interact with his fans, but enjoyed it. When he doesn't want to interact, he simply doesn't, but he did Friday night.
For those interested, Eddie was wearing blue jeans, black t-shirt, and his brown leather jacket. His hair cropped short, appeared to be its natural ginger color(nice), no makeup(but a mustache), and those electric sky eyes seemed so blue...wow.
...so now that your heads are on the keyboard(jesus shutup bzc!), I will close in saying that I was grateful to be there to attend such a delicious evening(thanks spooty)with Eddie there. He was the shining star, he stole the show, it simply doesn't get any better. People left that theatre feeling fucking fantastic, Eddie is fucking fantastic, what a gift we have in him/her....thank you Eddie...
The Cat's Meow was very enjoyable, much
better than I expected, a delicious malicious romp, like dishing dirty gossip over a
neighbor's fence. I con't know what all the tepid reviews are about. Granted, it's not The
Godfather, or even Cabaret, but it's great fun, with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Eddie was very good, had lots of fun with his role, needed more eye make-up! He held his own with the more experienced pros in the cast. I have to see it again to get a more discerning critique of his acting but I think he can stand proud.
He was brilliant, quick, charming as per usual at the question and answer session. He got the biggest applause, huge in fact, and he was definitely the star of the evening!
The Cat's Meow
Olympia Film Festival,
October 12, 2001
Eddie's name appears on the screen I am not the only one cheering. I love
Olympia. The Characters are wonderful. The director Peter Bogdanovich
has done an excellent job. Joanna Lumley is fantastic, giving a performance
that I would compare to Judi Dench. Jennifer Tilly has really turned into
a fine actress. That guy who was in Shadow of the Vampire is in it too,
um Udo Kier? Excellent.
Eddie's character oozes sex appeal. As you've probably seen, he has dark brown curly hair and brown eyes. A very different look, but that spark is still there. Kirsten Dunst is amazing. Her character is so innocent, she looks young, too. Of course the styles in the 1920's always made grown women look like little girls.
Despite the descriptions that I have read, the film is a comedy. At least it is here, where most of the crowd is getting the intelligent jokes. I don't know what Hollywood is going to make outta this. But, ya never know.
The Cat's Meow
Telluride by the Sea,
The Music Hall, Portsmouth, NH
Sept. 21, 2001
From the opening scenes of opulence and privilege-with hints of decadence- to the narrator's final summation of the fate of each of the characters, "The Cat's Meow" draws the viewer into the setting, the characters, the period, and the mystery of the story, and never lets go. Based on a true "incident"-still clouded with vagaries-that happened to living famous people who hung out together during the 1920's, the intrigue unfurls and the plot unfolds over a weekend cruise aboard a sleek, luxurious yacht.
The circle of characters board the yacht, dressed to kill in period costuming, greeting and embracing each other, excited to be alive and where they are, on a sparkling clear day. They all have common bonds between them,-they are all wealthy and they all like to party. None of them knows or even suspects that, by the end of the cruise, cut short by the "incident" that will soon take place, each of them will be sworn to secrecy and all but one will return to port in southern California. Wm. Randolph Hearst, aptly played by Ed Hermann, is an eccentric tycoon in the newspaper world and is the owner of the yacht. Elinor Glyn, a novelist and screenwriter, graciously played by Joanna Lumley, is the narrator who introduces us to the characters as they board the ship, and summarizes their destiny as they disembark. Kirsten Dunst beautifully plays Marion Davies, Hearst's lover and the
hostess of the week-end. Also in the party is Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons, played by Jennifer Tilly. Her byline will become a household word, through the Hearst newspapers. As the mystery plays out, we find out why. Thomas Ince, played by Cary Elwes, and other character including token "ladies of the evening" complete the ensemble.
Central to all the characters and around whom all other pivot and turn
is the silent picture comedian, Charlie Chaplin, brilliantly played by the inimitable
Eddie Izzard. From the dark sweep of curl over his forehead to the piercing
brown eyes, Eddie plays a most believable Chaplinesque role with droll wit,
boyish charm, and subtle hints of the tragic figure that Charlie captured in
each of his roles. Chaplin and Hearst also share a secret soon to be known by
all~they are both in love with Marion Davies.
The assembly of characters is now contained and inextricably woven together by a shared secret aboard a ship, just as the characters on the Orient Express were contained aboard a train by Agatha Christie. It's difficult for some actors to assume the roles of fictional characters. It's even more challenging for some to assume the roles of living people-each of whom had a famous significance in history and theatre. The roles of these people in The Cat's Meow are played expertly, artistically and to the fullest by each of the talents brought together in this superb film. The audience looked, listened, was intrigued, laughed, and loved what they saw and heard. Quite an
achievement for one film and one gathering of characters. At the apex of the talented cast is Eddie Izzard who fits into the fole of Chaplin like a smooth glove. Eddie hs a defintie flair for the styles and nuances of the day, and wears the role exceptionally well. Eddie's gestures, expressions, humor and words are all a most convincing
Charlie-the genius of each is barely contained he one role. Even while dancing a lively charleston as Charlie, Eddie can't resist putting his own comedic moves into the dance of that day. Perhaps if they had lived during the same time and had met, Eddie & Charlie would have liked each other and become friends, made each other
laugh, and shared some deep past stories of their own. In this film, the characters are real, the setting is appealing, the humor is witty is the story is strong.
As the yacht cuts through the calm blue waters, the turbulence among the characters slowly becomes evident. They wine and dine, exchange banter through a lavish dinner, and dance and love the night away. A secret
affair becomes obvious through clues, jealousy and rage ensue, and a crime is committed.
The Cat's Meow, in the jargon of the day, means "top of the line", the best of the best. This film is one of the best of the best, a must-see for audiences everywhere.
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