Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cat People (1982 film)




Based on the original story by DeWitt Bodeen, Cat People is the story of a woman who travels to New Orleans to meet her long-lost brother as she discovers an ancient secret about her family that would threaten the new life she’s craving for. Directed by Paul Schraeder and screenplay by Alan Ormsby with additional work by Schrader, the film is an updated remake of the legendary 1942 film by Jacques Tourneur as it explores the world of eroticism and identity. Starring Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., and John Larroquette. Cat People is an eerie yet hypnotic film from Paul Schraeder.

Irena Gallier (Nastassja Kinski) arrives to New Orleans to meet her older brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) whom she hadn’t seen since they were children as he takes her to his home that includes the maid Female (Ruby Dee). Paul goes away for a few days claiming he has work to do as a minister as Irena looks around the sites of the city as she comes across a zoo. Irena is entranced by a black leopard that had just been taken after an incident that nearly left a prostitute killed as she spends her day sketching the leopard only to lose track of time as she meets the zoo’s curator Oliver (John Heard). The two become friends as Oliver gives her a job working at the zoo’s gift shop as she remains entranced by the leopard where it attacks one of the zoologists in Joe (Ed Begley Jr.). Later that night, the leopard escapes as Oliver and fellow zoologist Alice (Annette O’Toole) wonder what is going on.

Paul reappears to Irena revealing what he’s done as well as a dark family secret about who their parents really are as Irena refuses to believe him as she lives with Oliver who takes her to a remote place that he likes to be at. Upon her return home following another involving the black leopard, Paul reappears to Irena about what she should do to save them both as she refuses leading to Paul to try and attack Oliver. The attack falters where Oliver makes a discovery as Irena decides to leave New Orleans where she has a strange vision about her heritage prompting her to return. Through this new revelation, Irena would do something that would save herself and Oliver.

The film is a loose take on the original 1942 film by incorporating more themes about sexual repression and identity as it revolves around a young woman and her troubled life as she falls for a zoo curator while being pulled another way by her long-lost brother. Throughout the course of the film, she would have this strange connection to her brother as she would start to see things and behave erratically until she learns about what she really is as it would eventually complicate matters. Notably as her discovery about her heritage and who her parents really are would eventually change her point of view on the world and everything else around her.

Alan Ormsby’s screenplay explores this unique dynamic between man and creature where there’s this rare group of people who are one and the same as story begins with this prologue about the cat people who were these ancient creatures that were once considered gods. For Irena, she knows nothing about this world until she meets Paul as she begins to deal with these transformations in not just a physical sense but also an emotional one. She falls for this zoo curator who loves animals but becomes more confused as the story progresses leading to her wondering more about herself and who she really is. It’s a very captivating script that explores the world of a woman who is seemingly repressed sexually yet would eventually embrace this new revelation but with a heavy price.

Paul Schraeder’s direction is very stylish in its presentation as it starts off with this very sepia-drenched look of an old world where these black leopards are considered gods. The film then cuts to a present world set in New Orleans where it’s definitely exotic with its religious imagery and all sorts of places as it is a major character in the film. Still, Schraeder is interested in the characters and the world they live in as the house that Paul lives in is a place that features all sorts of relics from an old world while his maid seems to know a lot more than both of them realize as she would provide some important ideas in the third act that is crucial to Irena’s view of things.

While some of the compositions are straightforward, Schraeder dues infuse a lot of details into his framing from the way Oliver first sees Irena at night below his office to the chilling moment of Irena’s first idea where she’s not human. It’s part of Schraeder’s approach to suspense where he knows when to go for the kill as it includes some very chilling scenes with the black leopard such as a hooker’s encounter where she could be killed or not. Things definitely become more entrancing in the third act that includes a wonderful homage to the original 1942 by Jacques Tourneur when Alice dives into a pool and thinks that a leopard is looking for her. It plays to Irena’s own transformation and acceptance yet it would also have her do something that would be crucial to her own being. Overall, Schraeder creates a very fascinating yet provocative film about identity and sexuality.

Cinematographer John Bailey does incredible work with the film‘s photography from the hypnotic sepia-washes in the prologue scenes to the gorgeous colors of New Orleans locations along with some amazing nighttime scenes that are exquisite in its lighting schemes and set-ups to convey a mood. Editors Jacqueline Cambas, Jere Huggins, and Ned Humphreys do superb work in creating an element of suspense through the cutting while utilizing stylish cuts for some of the film‘s intense moments like the human to leopard transformation. Art director Edward Richardson and Bruce Weintraub do terrific work with the set pieces such as Paul‘s exotic home to the look of the old world with its caves and trees. Costume designer Daniel Parades does a wonderful job with the costumes as a lot of it is casual with the exception of Paul who often wears black while Irena wears more exotic white to convey her persona.

Special effects makeup by Thomas R. Burman does some amazing work with the makeup effects in the film‘s transformation scenes that really brings a sense of terror to the film. Sound editor Charles L. Campbell does an excellent job with the sound to create a mood in some scenes such as a moment where Irena hears a lot of things that plays out to her transformation. The film’s music by Giorgio Moroder is brilliant for its haunting and evocative electronic score as it plays up the suspense and its brooding tone as it‘s truly one of Moroder‘s best scores. The title theme song performed by Moroder and David Bowie is among one of Bowie’s best songs for the dark mood it conveys through Moroder’s synth-drenched presentation and Bowie’s haunting vocals.

The casting by Mary Goldberg is wonderful for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Frankie Faison as a detective leading the investigation, John Larroquette as a financial man for the zoo, Scott Paulin as a zoo supervisor, and Ed Begley, Jr. as Oliver’s zoologist friend Joe. Ruby Dee is terrific as the strange Female where Dee maintains a very low-key approach to her role as she only returns briefly in the third act with some very crucial information. Annette O’Toole is excellent as Alice who is intrigued by Irena while becoming concerned for Oliver’s obsession towards Irena.

John Heard is superb as Oliver as he is intrigued by Irena’s beauty and shy personality as he starts to wonder what is going on with her along with the mysteries of the leopard. Malcolm McDowell is brilliant as the very mysterious Paul as he displays a bit of charm to his role but also a chilling intensity to a man who carries a very dark secret. Finally, there’s Nastassja Kinski in a mesmerizing performance as Irena as she displays a very quiet and restrained performance early on as it progresses into a woman filled with fear and uncertainty where she delves into dark territory as it is really one of Kinski’s best performances.

Paul Schraeder’s version of Cat People is a remarkable yet brooding film that features a radiant yet harrowing performance from Nastassja Kinski. While it’s a very different film from the original 1942 film by Jacques Tourneur, it is still a very interesting one for its interpretation in the way it explores a woman’s identity. In the end, Cat People is an exotic yet captivating film from Paul Schraeder.

Paul Schraeder Films: (Blue Collar) - (Hardcore) - American Gigolo - (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) - (Light of Day) - (Patty Hearst) - (The Comfort of Strangers) - (Light Sleeper) - (Witch Hunt) - (Touch) - (Affliction) - (Forever Mine) - (Auto Focus) - (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) - (The Walker) - (Adam Resurrected) - (The Canyons)

Related: Cat People (1942 film)

© thevoid99 2012

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