Is "Cats" the next Rocky Horror Picture Show?
The year is 2049.
Though half the world has been decimated by the hurricanes and fires of the climate crisis, the Green New Deal we instituted was enough to keep us plugging along.
Elon Musk and Grimes' child, C93489#_, has invented the first four-dimensional holographic teleportation device, so you and our family are gathered together via simulation. Right now, you're being projected onto your kids' rooftop garden, and you're staring out over our flooded and steadfastly rebuilt city. Your grandkids cluster around you, dressed in cat ears and cat whiskers, wearing a variety of pearls and tuxedos, long shag coats, and high heels.
"I was there," you say, with a far-off look in your eyes. "I saw it."
"Grandparent," they say (the gender-neutral term, because gender is no longer considered real). "What was it like?"
"It was like nothing I'd ever seen before," you say, rocking back and forth.
As their parents look on anxiously, the kids leave for the midnight showing of the greatest cult classic film since The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Tom Hooper's visionary, warped, dreamlike rendition of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats.
Flashback to the year 2019. As we know, Cats flopped in theaters, sapping NBCUniversal of some $70 million and chilling audiences everywhere with its bizarre nonsensicality and mutated CGI fur technology.
Then the midnight showings started.
In January 2020, just as Bernie Sanders was beginning to sweep the Iowa polls, the Alamo Drafthouse Theatre in Brooklyn set up two "rowdy" midnight showings of Cats. They sold out. Audiences had a blast singing along. Two more events were set up; the same happened.
At the showings, "call-outs" and traditions were already emerging. Someone yelled "TISSUE" whenever Jennifer Hudson's snot trail emerged, which was every time she was onscreen (and soon enough, they'll start throwing them). Each time the camera lingered on Judi Dench's face, someone would shout, "BIG DEUT."
"I love the interactive experience," a Cats midnight showing attendee named Hailey told Spectrum News. "I love being able to really be part of this group together watching the film. Coming up with new ideas, you often improvise as well, so it's just a lot of fun being together in that experience."
All in all, Cats seems poised to become the next big midnight cinematic masterpiece. In many ways, it possesses all the necessary characteristics needed to make it one.
Cats As the Archetypal Midnight Movie
Cats has a lot in common with great cult films of the past, dating back to the origins of cult moviegoing. "Midnight Movies [by J. Hoberman] finds the origins of late-night moviegoing in different strains of obsessive cinephile fandom dating back to the early 20th century," writes Matt Singer for Screencrush. "They compare cultists to the surrealists of the 1920s who 'courted disorientation' and watched movies for their 'dreamlike latent content that could be precipitated by deranging or bypassing the manifest content of its storyline.' The surrealists would have loved Cats, which provides its own disorientation for the viewer. It basically has no story, so nothing needs to be deranged or bypassed. It's pure dreamlike insanity."
If a cult movie needs to appeal to a desire for drug-like disorientation by replacing any semblance of a storyline with scattered dreamlike images, then Cats fits the bill. There's something of a Dali-clock drippiness to Cats, something oozing behind its kitschy exterior.
Typical midnight cult classics are also generally rejected by mainstream audiences. Left in the dark, they often grow popular for celebrating some form of taboo, queer, or otherwise restricted identity or sexuality—which Rocky Horror exemplified. While Cats lacks Rocky's heart (and most of its quality), it occupies a different but necessary niche.
Cats As Posthuman Cinema for the TikTok Age
Though it aligns with traditions of the past, Cats is also uniquely suited to the future. In the coming decades, we'll be looking at ecological collapse combined with exponential developments in artificial intelligence. We're heading for a truly posthuman age, where the boundaries between the human and the digital wear thinner and thinner and where, if we wish to survive, we have to deconstruct our ideas of humanness and learn to work and live with the rhythms of the natural world.
Cats is the ultimate posthuman film. Its characters are cyborgs, digitally engineered to be neither human nor cat but something else entirely—and their glitchiness, their shifting sizes and changing, distorted bodies—might be read as representations of the scarier, less predictable aspects of this impending shift.
The Cats cast inhabits an apocalyptic London, one that looks like it's been washed away by chemicals and nuclear warfare. Yet still, in the ashes of civilization, the cats find a peculiar form of community, embodying a futurity that is queer, sublime, and horrifying all at once. They use rituals (albeit deadly ones) to maintain hope for the future. And they dance—oh, how they dance.
As the world shifts and changes in these coming years, we will dance one way or another, because that's what humans do. These decades might see impossibly strange metamorphoses that change our world down to its very DNA, but Cats is the perfect midnight classic for our times because it mirrors the oddity of this world and celebrates it, in all its warped glory.
In its oddness, its fundamental wrongness—almost seemed to approximate the weirdness that many of us feel while reading the news, or even while simply being alive and in our bodies. Being alive has never not been strange, and since the dawn of cinema, we've never not had cult classics to shock and horrify our elders while giving a voice to weird, unruly youth subcultures.
Cats may already be doing this. It resembles the warped, distorted images that we see on apps like TikTok and Snapchat, where technology is capable of distorting facial features, turning humans into wide-nosed, shaky-voiced children, heart-eyed clones, or—of course—furry CGI cats. Yet the film also illuminates the horror, and the loss of humanness, that accompanies our increasingly digitized, pollution-choked world.
Back to the future. You're gazing at your grandkids as they skip down the road, singing Memory and taking the last hits from the tobacco industry's latest attempts at repackaging its product.
You're caught up in your own memories… of a time when you were all alone in the moonlight, not a sound from the pavement except your own horrified, quietly delighted reactions to seeing Cats in all its grotesqueness for the first time. You were beautiful then… You remember a time you knew what happiness was. Now the memory lives again.
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