#156. Cat People (1942)

Cat People is only 70 minutes long but the brevity adds to its mystery, especially with a closing scene that might or might not suggest the main character’s death. It’s terrific. There’s no clear depiction of sex in the movie, obviously, but sex underscores everything, the main character having pledged abstinence before getting married, which leads to some strain in the marriage, and as a result it plays as the most erotic movie on the List to date (with the exception of the genre-defying pre-code weirdness of Haxan and the implicit sexuality to everything Mae West does or says in She Done Him Wrong).

It’s about Simone Simon (played by Irena Dubrovna Reed, whose mouth is held in this perpetual pucker that’s both adorable and seductive), from Serbia, who works as a fashion designer and believes that if she ever has sex with anybody, ever gets too passionate in any way, she’ll turn into a giant murderous cat. The film opens with Simone visiting a zoo and sketching a leopard, which is perhaps what director Jacques Tournier is tryna suggest she’d look like if she ever transformed. I was imagining, though, that she’d turn into something humanoid. A more voluptuous Larry Talbot.

But you imagination is all you’re left with, because Tournier never shows us the transformation. You can say that the reason we don’t see Simone transform into a cat person is because it throws some ambiguity on whetehr the transformation is actually taking place, or if she’s just imagining the whole thing, but I think that’s only a clever budgeting maneuver. I think she’s actually turning into a monster.

cat people simone

I’m writing this later than I should have. Last week I watched moviepicture n.242, The Bad and the Beautiful, in which Kirk Douglas plays a movie producer whose first gig is to make a movie about cat people. They’ve got a minor budget, though, and the costumes look ridiculous. So he and his producing partner decide that, since the thing people fear more than anything else is the dark, that’s where they’ll leave the monsters. Unseen. They end up producing a hit, turning a huge profit.

I’m guessing it’s the story of Cat People‘s production. The ostensible restraint or subtlety on the filmmaker’s behalf probably had more to do with being broke and embarrassed than it did with being profound.

No idea why it’s taken me like four days to write this essay when others are taking 20-40 minutes apiece. It’s the last week of the monthlong summer break I get from the college, we’re closing in on the second anniversary of the Project’s inception, and I’m scatterbrained across three different writing assignments, of which this should be the easiest. What’s really distracting me is this fucking novel I’m writing, which I know is not what I want it to be, but I’m marching through the pages just trying to make the best of it. I know that it’ll take another several hundred hours. I will finish and type and print and edit and re-type and re-print and re-edit it. The whole thing. Four or five full drafts. And then I’ll pitch it to a slew of agents and…wait for a response. Move on.

Last night I also had a 2.5-hour work call that went really well, I’m honestly excited for and interested in the assignment, but there was a one-on-one beforehand, just me and the boss, where I got some pointers about work I’d recently submitted and how I could improve it in the future. Verbal tics in my writing. A mistake here, a mistake there.

It’s fine. I barely passed grammar in college and I know it’s the case with lots of writers that their manuscripts are riddled with these sorts of errors. If you’ve ever downloaded an original screenplay, especially a Tarantino one, you know what I mean.

It’s fine. A learning experience. I’m just in a funk as the rent looms and I take stock of what I’ve been up to, where I am in life, where I expected to be. Seven years of rejection, the noose tightening each year as financial responsibilites and social expectations pile up, the investment of so much time into one project or another that yields no guarantees.

cat people posterI don’t mean to be mopey but I figure if I’m having trouble writing then I should probably try writing about that trouble. And all this shit about not being able to write, or to write well, or to find a solid writing-related bit of work — it’s an emotional cyst full of angsty goo and it only needs a soft nudge to burst. This feeling like I might not be a good writer, like the career might never take shape, freaks me out, but I never wanna talk about it in person because it only makes me feel worse and, in reality, it’s not accomplishing anything. It’s not like writing is this thing I’m only doing for the money and, since the money isn’t there, I’m wondering if I should try something else. This is what I’m gonna do, forever. I’m just angsty.

And maybe it’s not a coincidence that the angst surfaces so readily (so insistently) while I’m trying to write the Cat People essay because Simone herself, who fears turning into this raving cat monster if she sleeps with anybody, is pretty dodgy about this aggressive thing that she thinks lives inside her. Doesn’t want to provoke it. Certainly doesn’t wanna let it out. But in a moment of despair she finally does surrender to the advances of a smarmy dude with a cane and, in so doing, does in fact turn into the monster she feared. Kills him.

And it leads me to thinking about the utility of discussing this hangup. Is there any point in opening those gates and discussing these concerns. There’s nothing anybody can say that’ll assuage them, convince me that I’ve got a better chance of making this career work. I guess the best thing I can come across is content that reaffirms the fact that I’m doing all this because I like to do it. I’m growing when I do it. I’m happy. And maybe there’ll be recognition somewhere along the road, and maybe money. But ultimately I guess it doesn’t matter. So long as the work is still interesting.


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