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Film

What Makes the Movie ‘Cats’ So Perfectly Bad?

ARTIFACT: It’s the top Razzie award contender, and UBC’s Jared Aronoff has theories why.

David Beers 11 Mar 2020 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.

What makes a film famously terrible? Lousy enough, even, to lap up eight nominations for the annual Golden Raspberry Awards, or Razzies, to be held Saturday? That would be Cats, this year.

Jared Aronoff wrote his master’s thesis on bad cinema for UBC’s department of theatre and film, and spoke about Cats with the university’s media relations shop. Here are some of his insights.

“Within the realm of bad cinema, Cats is something kind of unique. Of all the films nominated for Worst Picture, Cats was the most watchable. The acting, direction, music and choreography are all there. They’re competently done and sometimes they’re even effective. Yet still the film has been widely mocked. What makes Cats stand out then largely comes down to two things: the first is the script, which makes no sense — but that was always a feature of Cats the musical — and the second is, you know, the cats.

“The cats themselves add a disturbing surrealism to the entire experience. Some cats show up clothed with strange fur coats, which is fine, but it becomes even stranger when later in the film they remove those fur coats. Then you’re thinking, ‘Are these cats now naked? Why is it more disturbing to see Idris Elba’s naked cat body than it is to see any of the other cats who have been naked the whole time?’ It’s odd.

“Somewhere along the production process somebody had to look at those cats and say, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, what are we doing?’ And at some point, [director] Tom Hooper had to respond, ‘No, you’re wrong. This is how we’re doing the cats.’ Which is fascinating in itself.

“However, it’s not necessarily the content itself that makes something bad, it’s the viewer’s response to it that identifies it as bad. When a large portion of viewership collectively identifies Cats as being ‘bad,’ they’re not just making an evaluative statement about the film, but are communicating something about how they perceive cinema as a medium.

“In this case, what I see being communicated is a cynicism around Hollywood remaking and reimagining existing properties, and a discomfort around uncanny CGI human-animal hybrids. A thing that makes bad cinema especially interesting to me is how it has the potential to reveal stuff like that.

“‘Bad’ is an entire category of film as a medium, yet it’s often dismissed within the context of film studies. Film studies is about understanding how film can be informative on culture and how culture can be informative on film.

“Within that back-and-forth dynamic, there’s a bit of a blind spot where bad cinema rests. It’s not necessarily taken seriously enough to be studied but it has influences on culture because we still watch bad cinema. It also influences other works within the medium, because we can look at something and go, ‘That was poorly done, but I can do it better over here.’”

Aronoff seems to say bad films are sort of like compost for good films. There’s plenty of fertilizer this year. Swing a dead Cats and you smack into Worst Picture Razzie competitors The Fanatic, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, A Madea Family Funeral and Rambo: Last Blood. It’s a rich field for study.  [Tyee]

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