Why Is Cats?
January 3, 2021 8:39 PM   Subscribe

Why Is Cats? No, but, seriously, Why is Cats?! [Previously: Why Is Cats?]

Hello. At the time of my writing, it's been 380 days since the release of the film, Cats.

Why Is Cats? is a limited-series podcast by Cameron James and Ben Ellwood, whose very first experience with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical was at the Australian premiere of the movie in 2019. Amazed, thrilled, overwhelmed, and downright gobsmacked by what they saw, they decided they had to get to the bottom of Cats, to find out, once and for all, why. Each episode has guests who are informative and (often) just as equally gobsmacked. They come from a place of love--confused love, but love.

Why the Music in Cats (2019) is Worse than you Thought is a video by Sideways (who has a wide variety of brilliantly informative videos on music theory and musicals, like this sister video, discussing Hooper's Les Mis), dissecting the questionable choices and musical foibles that made the film... what it is. He comes from a place of dismay--confused dismay, of course.
posted by meese (39 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why -- Is Cats! [DailyMotion Link of 1998 filming of stage musical, ~2h]
posted by hippybear at 8:54 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Mini_confusion just recently read the poems upon which the CATS franchise is based (we are a poetry challenged household) and both they and I were truly taken aback by the gratuitous stupidity of the verses. Mini_confusion discovered that literary analysis is very difficult when the object of study is exceptionally inane. This recent experience, coupled with my deep and abiding loathing of musicals, makes me very excited to pursue these links in depth. Thank you!
posted by pleasant_confusion at 9:17 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Cats don't let cats watch Cats.
posted by y2karl at 9:37 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


they had to get to the bottom of Cats

Sounds a bit unsavory, if you ask me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:57 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


#ReleaseTheButtholeCut
posted by hippybear at 10:08 PM on January 3 [13 favorites]


The Les Mis commentary is great. I don't understand why it's video, but it's really thoughtful audio.

(I still haven't seen the new Cats film yet.)
posted by eotvos at 10:35 PM on January 3


So, I just spent an hour and four minutes watching the Sideways rant about Cats, a movie I didn’t see and don’t care about, based on the live musical I didn’t see and don’t care about (much). But I have to say, I learned a lot!
posted by darkstar at 11:40 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Sideways' videos about the two Hooper musicals truly validated in academic language why I genuinely hated Les Mis and waited for Cats with what can only be described as trainwreck expectation.

Also, lol, 'Tomothy'.
posted by cendawanita at 12:13 AM on January 4


WHAT THE FUCK DOES JELLICLE MEAN?
posted by loquacious at 12:31 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]


they decided they had to get to the bottom of Cats

Narrator: GOOD LUCK. THEY DON'T HAVE ANY. IS THIS WHAT JELLICLE MEANS?
posted by loquacious at 12:48 AM on January 4


you have to say it in baby-english in the mouth of posh english people. it's just 'dear little'.
posted by cendawanita at 12:49 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]


OH DEAR, JELLICLE MOON SUDDENLY MAKES SENSE
posted by loquacious at 12:49 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Almost all cats are more jellicle than non-cats, but some cats are more jellicle than others. A few rare non-cat creatures are as jellicle as the less-jellicle cats.
posted by Sterros at 12:49 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


let me tell you what i think about the works of ts eliot they are trash
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:54 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]


If you still want to watch another very long but very good video about Cats, Maggie Mae Fish goes about it and also about why TS Eliot was such a heap of trash.
posted by sukeban at 1:13 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


obligatory Screen Rant video link

taquito boyfriend insists that their ascension to the Heaviside Layer means that cats are radio waves & I can't claim he's wrong
posted by taquito sunrise at 1:34 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]


Almost all cats are more jellicle than non-cats, but some cats are more jellicle than others. A few rare non-cat creatures are as jellicle as the less-jellicle cats.

Wait, this is still about lacking a butthole, right? Some Cats cats have even less of a butthole than other butthole-less Cats cats, but some non-cat Cats animals also are lacking more or less buttholes like the very extra jellicle cats who somehow have less than zero buttholes? And the jellicle moon is... OH. OHHHHHH.

THANKS. THAT MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE NOW.
posted by loquacious at 1:58 AM on January 4


LINK, THE JELLICLE MOON IS RISING

BE CAREFUL, LINK

posted by DoctorFedora at 2:31 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]


Thanks, sukeban, for the link to the Maggie Mae Fish video. Whether for good or for ill, fascist-sympathizing authors are not a deal-killer for me when it comes to literature. Wyndham Lewis, for instance -- whom Fish mentions -- wrote some novels imo worth reading although extremely misanthropic. But Eliot's Old Possum's Book is just irredeemably unreadably awful from every angle. What never occurred to me about it is what Fish explains; that its overcooked faux-cute-language verse and its relentless racist stereotyping reflect it's being part of a tradition of children's books whose purpose is teaching global stereotypes to children. Still, though teaching global stereotypes -- to both adults and children -- is obviously still a going concern, I don't think I've run across anything of the sort quite as odious as Old Possum's Book.

I've heard it said that Eliot emigrated from the U.S. to England and Auden from England to the U.S. and that the U.S. plainly got the better part of the bargain.
posted by bertran at 3:19 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Old Possum's Book is like someone trying to be delightful -- and thinking they are succeeding -- who has never known delight themselves.
posted by bertran at 3:25 AM on January 4 [10 favorites]


This is certainly the covfefe of musicals.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:24 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


WHAT THE FUCK DOES JELLICLE MEAN?

Ooh, I have an answer to this one. A year and a half ago I wrote up this musing:
Engaging in some amateur Eliot scholarship this morning in the shower (you know, as you do), and thinking about the fairly well-known feline adjective "jellicle" and its lesser-known canine counterpart "pollicle". These words are used, as far as I can tell, in three places in Eliot's complete writings. One is in a birthday note to his four-year-old godson, inviting "All pollicle dogs & jellicle cats" to the celebration. Another is in three Shakespeare-citing lines of his somber but trifling poem "Lines to a Yorkshire Terrier": "Pollicle dogs and cats all must/Jellicle cats and dogs all must/As chimney sweepers, come to dust". The final use of these words, of course, is in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, particularly in the poems "The Song of the Jellicles" and "Of the Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles".

Before I get into that, though, it's worth noting that the two previous uses of both terms are utterly generic, applicable presumably to all cats and dogs, which somewhat supports the (AFAICT poorly substantiated) claim that these terms derive from said godson's lisping mispronunciation of "dear little" and "poor little". But in Old Possum's the terms are much more narrowly used. Jellicle Cats [the capitalization is in the poem] are "black and white", and variously "rather small", "not too big", and "of a moderate size". Pollicles are also a much more narrow class, for "your Pollicle Dog is a dour Yorkshire type", set up as a kind of extraordinarily English dog in opposition to the (rather racist) depiction of the Pekingese and all their "Heathen Chinese" brethren.

One practical upshot of all this is that if you take Old Possum's as a unified work, then, contra Weber, many of the cats in Old Possum's are not Jellicles! Jellicles are smallish and black-and-white. Mr. Mistoffeles is "black/From his ears to the tip of his tail", Macavity, the Mystery Cat is "a ginger cat", the Old Gumbie Cat is "of the tabby kind, with tiger stripes and leopard spots", and Bustopher Jones, the Cat about Town (who is one of the few illustrated as a tuxedo) is "remarkably fat". If the Gorey illustrations are to be trusted, there is not a single Jellicle among the cats who get their own poems except possibly Gus, the Theatre Cat (hard to tell from the shading if his coat is meant to be black), and maybe Bustopher Jones if you relax the size requirement.

Anyways, I have no real point here, except that Andrew Lloyd Weber is wrong. And that the word "pollicle" is criminally underused.
posted by jackbishop at 5:24 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]


Because all your base are belong to us and you have no chance to escape make your time?
posted by acb at 5:46 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]


(AFAICT poorly substantiated) claim that these terms derive from said godson's lisping mispronunciation of "dear little" and "poor little".

Oh, I don't know about the godson claim, but 'ickle' for example, is very common cutesy/baby talk word back in Ol' Blighty (mind you, I think I first spotted it in my cultural consumption of the seminal mag of my yoof, Smash Hits). The other two words being contracted the way it's done by Elliot is also fairly common in speech.
posted by cendawanita at 7:04 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Oh, I didn't mean to imply that I found the story implausible, merely that I couldn't find better sourcing for that claim of what "jellicle" and "pollicle" meant than "It seems to make sense". Clearly, from their inclusion in the letter, Eliot believed that those two words were some sort of mutually understood thing with Thomas Faber, but exactly what the in-joke was isn't entirely clear.
posted by jackbishop at 7:41 AM on January 4


So, I just spent an hour and four minutes watching the Sideways rant about Cats, a movie I didn’t see and don’t care about, based on the live musical I didn’t see and don’t care about (much).

Reading the commentary and imaging what people are talking about is actually better than actually watching the movie and seeing what they are talking about, because the movie is boring.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:30 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Wife and I finally settled in to watch the film "Cats" a few weeks ago. We were expecting a rollicking good time of movie-awfulness. But it really wasn't all that bad. It is indeed sort of boring, and some of it is truly bad. The characters do change size in proportion to each other and their environment. But... it wasn't even a very enjoyable "bad" movie.

The musical just doesn't have many memorable tunes. Jennifer Hudson played Grizabella too much as an outright grim, suicidal tragedy in a genuinely depressing way. Too real for what is a movie about cats singing songs. Other than that it was almost completely forgettable.

I certainly wouldn't watch it again, nor would I recommend it to anyone looking for a "good" bad movie.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:37 AM on January 4


If the Gorey illustrations are to be trusted, there is not a single Jellicle among the cats who get their own poems except possibly Gus

Several years ago I visited the Edward Gorey House and one of his cats was still alive and sleeping on a shelf in the gift shop tucked in between piles of t-shirts.

To date this has been the only time that I've ever had the chance to meet a famous person's cat.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:09 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]


i always presumed Jellicle was just another hyper local nickname for cocaine, the obvious and only explanation behind the existence and popularity of this show.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:10 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]


I read that "Jellicle" is a joke on a posh/cutesy way of saying "dear little" and "Pollicle" (for dogs) is a posh way of saying "poor little."
posted by SoberHighland at 11:14 AM on January 4


Jellicle Cats [the capitalization is in the poem] are "black and white", and variously "rather small", "not too big", and "of a moderate size".

Based on this I conclude that two of my cats, who both have tuxedo markings and are small or moderately sized, are in fact Jellicle Cats.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:51 PM on January 4


yeah honestly it kind of cannot be overemphasized that unless you are watching Cats in a theater with a group of friends or something, it is mostly boring and not especially fun as a bad movie

Mrs. Fedora described it immediately afterward, very aptly, as having felt like spending two hours scrolling aimlessly through her Instagram feed
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:51 PM on January 4




After sampling more of these Why is Cats videos, I had another look at the Eliot source poetry and for the record I believe I was unduly harsh in my comments above. It's more innocuous than I had remembered. Mostly just silly really, and anthropomorphizing, which aren't the worst things that can be said of a collection of children verse, and are surely what Eliot was aiming for. There are a few racial slurs -- which is off-putting, but that doesn't seem central to what the book about. So, while not to my taste, I retract my claim that these poems are 'odious'.
posted by bertran at 3:13 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


A group of friends and I watched CATS on New Year's Eve via group chat and it was exactly as I expected, for better or for worse. However, the background scenery of the final scene turned out to provide the geographical clue that my partner needed to solve a puzzle he was stuck on in Watch Dogs 3, which would not have happened had we watched this movie at any other time between its release and that day.

As such I can only conclude there was some sort of weird fate at work and I am at peace with the two hours of my life I spent watching digital fur technology TM.

I've seen the Sideways videos and they're a delight but had not seen the Why is Cats, I look forward to digging in to that!
posted by Stacey at 5:09 AM on January 5


taquito boyfriend insists that their ascension to the Heaviside Layer means that cats are radio waves & I can't claim he's wrong
Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn't give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new E-layer will begin
posted by eotvos at 4:39 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Why is CATS?

It's because of the dancing.

Like that's what the entire show was conceived to be -- a dance recital.

That's the answer.

I haven't seen the movie yet. How is the dancing?
posted by hippybear at 9:57 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


there's about 40 seconds of the movie where you can tell what is going on, dancing-wise

those 40 seconds are the highlight of the movie, no question
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:08 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I'm sure Ian McKellan was stellar in his aerobic hip-hop inspired musical number.
posted by hippybear at 10:16 PM on January 6


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