Movie: Anyone who watches the news or goes grocery shopping knows that the American public is obsessed with the rumors and scandals surrounding the rich & famous of our culture. Whether it's the latest wedding rumor, the skeleton coming out of the closet from a dark past, or simply who's shacking up with whom, far too many people seem to think that movie stars, the rich, and otherwise famous people somehow lead fascinating lives. Perhaps it's a way to escape from our own dull, drab lives or maybe it signifies something deeper. Whatever the case, this obsession is not a new thing. In the movie The Cat's Meow, famed Director Peter Bogdanovich shows us a scandal that took place in the 1920's that involved some of the most important people of the day, in a situation that was reminiscent of some modern day events both in scope and in the level of duplicity.
The movie chronicles a tragic event in November of 1924. A group of movie stars, producers, and other newsworthy people were having a party on the yacht of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was not only rich but also powerful, having built a publishing empire that literally controlled the information people could obtain in those pre-television, pre-internet days. If Hearst wanted the public to vote one way or push government to do something, it generally happened as he wished. His own private life was a bit less controlled since he was attracted to women with strong independent streaks, such as actress Marion Davies. The country was in the peak of economic times and anything seemed possible to the masses after the end of WWI. The ultra rich and famous tended to view the masses as nuisances or boring, preferring the company of like-minded people as they reveled in their excesses.
Such important people as actor/director Charlie Chaplin, novelist Elinor Glyn, Hearst and his main squeeze Davies, and others set off on an adventure from the port of San Pedro. Little did they realize that one of them wouldn't be coming back and that was only part of the scandal. It was widely suspected that Davies cheated on Hearst with Chaplin and like the other scandals the film displayed, you're never quite sure which ones are real and which ones are dead ends. These people lived large and died young so anything was possible in their surreal world. The film takes one account of the events and embellishes it a bit to provide a moderately entertaining story, albeit not a murder mystery as advertised.
Okay, how would you know if this movie would be right for you? Well, that's a tough question to answer. The movie spent most of its time and energy with banter between the various cast members. Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard and Jennifer Tilly all turned in some fine performances here and Davies, Chaplin, and gossip columnist Louetta Parsons respectively. Edward Herrmann's portrayal of Hearst wasn't convincing for me but he provided enough of a canvas that the others could work against to make it his boilerplate performance acceptable. If you prefer well-written dialogue to car chases, you may well like the movie. I found a few sections (and they were long sections) to be boring and in desperate need of editing but those film fans who enjoy movie history in terms that could easily be converted into a look at current scandals may like it as well.
On the other hand, this might well make it too limited for most movie lovers to enjoy. Not knowing most of the characters in any depth (I'd argue that perhaps Chaplin was the only one most people would know in any meaningful way) made some parts of the movie obscure and had I not listened to the audio commentary, I'd be clueless about a full two thirds of the movie. Making an audience need to come into the show with a body of ancient history in terms of Hollywood scandals and personalities means it might be too much work for most to appreciate fully. I have mixed feeling about the movie but freely admit the extras really helped make this a decent buy. As such, I think it merited a rating of Recommended as long as you understand the audience it was made for.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen and looked very good most of the time. There was some grain and edge enhancement that popped out at me from time to time but overall it looked pretty solid. The dvd transfer itself was good and I didn't notice any artifacts in the two times I watched the film (once with the commentary on). The original dvd release of this remaster was in full frame so fans should be happy with this one.
Sound: The sound was remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 English. It sounded very crisp and clear with some decent separation between the channels. I think some real care was paid to the vocals and sound effects here. There were also optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Extras: This being a re-release of the movie, the extras become all that more important. The Director's commentary was pretty good but had long sections were I almost dozed off. I could tell that he appreciated the circumstances of the movie (he appeared fascinated by the parallels of the events to later scandals, having participated in a few of them himself) but he was way too dry during some scenes. There was also a decent Behind the Scenes feature where the various trials of the cast were shown as well as some of their perspectives. There was a restored newsreel from 1919 that helped lend some background to the characters themselves but it looked really bad for all the restoration that took place. There was also a Sundance Channel special on the movie, "Anatomy Of A Scene" which gave a hands-on look at the movie being made. Lastly, there was a restored Charlie Chaplin short, "Behind The Screen" from 1916. For those who care, there was a paper catalog by Lions Gate in the dvd case.
Final Thoughts: The movie was well made and interesting to it's intended audience but I wonder if most people would care enough about the subject matter to put in the time and energy to really appreciate it. There were a number of solid performances to enjoy but the event itself was not exactly high on my list of "great ideas for a movie". The technical aspects were certainly good enough and the extras were great for such an artistic movie but it won't please a lot of people looking for a breezy movie to watch on a weekend night.