Thursday, August 30, 2007

Preparing For Exposure

Starting in the next few days I will began a long look at one of my favorite Nastassja films, James Toback's EXPOSED. The film is a bold, flawed, exciting and finally very haunting work that features one of Nastassja's greatest performances. I will be looking closely at the film, Nastassja's performance and Toback himself. I will also be posting some rare articles and scans to go along with my writings on it.
I have been greatly anticipating writing on this film and I hope everyone enjoys the upcoming posts.

Odds and Ends #9 (Spring Symphony)

Despite some acclaim, I think SPRING SYMPHONY is one of the least notable films from the golden period of Nastassja's career. At the end of the day it is a relatively small role in a minor film.
The usual amount of promotional material is available on the film although apparently not a lot. The usually reliable doesn't even have a poster for it and Nastassja KInski Jp only has a screen shot from the dvd. Occasionally some items pop up on ebay but overall material from this film is hard to find.
Nastassja hasn't spoken much about the film throughout the years, and I couldn't find too many more things to say about it so I am going on as her next film as it is one of her most interesting.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Critical Reactions #7 (Spring Symphony)

Here are a few vintage reactions to what I think is one of Nastassja's lesser films.

"What makes SPRING SYMPHONY a special experience is the gusto that director Peter Schamoni brings to the tale. The performances, camera work, and music score positively bubble with the heady German romanticism that Schumann and his epoch were steeped in...Kinski combines strength and sweetness, giving both qualities a touch of iron."
-David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor-

"The film impresses you musically and dramatically but it's done with a nervous, skittering rapidity...Kinski may be a matter of taste, this reviewer has a schoolboy crush on the gorgeous actress and is grateful for any chance to watch her."
-Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times-

"A promising way to a mishmash of short scenes in which neither Schumann's creative genius nor his relationship with Clara is much illuminated."
-Nick Roddick, Monthly Film Bulletin-

"enjoyable...careful, fragmented, convincing...Kinski is too old to play the teenage Clara with such doe-eyed innocence."
-Rex Reed, New York Post-

"Kinski continues to mature as an actress, and as she matures, she dazzles. She seems to be a person of many depths and currents, and all of these come to bear on the role of the young woman who must choose between father and lover. It's a brilliant performance."
-Mike McGrady, Newsday-

"as education, it's awe inspiring...Kinski does some impressive hand synching on the keys, but is so curiously subdued when she's supposed to be petulant that we long for some of the annoying mannerisms she had before she added the 'J' to her name...trifling, irritating, boring."
-Michael Musto, Village Voice-

"a remarkable attempt...Kinski is astonishingly convincing and moving...her best work since TESS."
-Howard Kissell, Women's Wear Daily-

"Schamoni's film is impeccably cast, with Hoppe as Wieck, his damp eyes suggesting incest here as chillingly as they did evil in his portrayal of Goering in Mephisto; Grünemeyer pale and intense as the boy-genius; and Kinski irritatingly placid as Clara. And the director captures perfectly the spirit of a Germany founded equally upon the tenets of stuffy burghers and high-minded student drinking associations, while cinematically echoing the Romantic style of Schumann's music."
Time Out Film Guide-

"It's a German film, and the Germans also have a word for it--kitsch. Frisky Nastassja Kinski is the pianist Clara Wieck; glum Herbert Gronemeyer (of Das Boot) is the composer Robert Schumann. They stare deeply into each other's eyes, bounce through flowery landscapes, and urge each other on to ever greater heights of artistic achievement. If only they'd urged writer-director Peter Schamoni to greater heights."
-Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader-

I was surprised to see some of the more positive reactions this film garnered but I am always happy to see Nastassja's work being acclaimed. SPRING SYMPHONY will always be a lesser Kinski film in my eyes but as you can see from above, the work did manage to captivate several critics upon release.

Rare Scans #11 (The Time Cover Story

Here is the cover of Time magazine that Nastassja appeared on in 1983 as SPRING SYMPHONY was opening in Europe. Richard Corliss wrote the article and it contains a pretty in depth interview with Nastassja. As usual I apologize for the poor quality of the text as it is a copy of a copy.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

9. Spring Symphony (1983)

SPRING SYMPHONY (1983) is a real odd film in the early career of Nastassja Kinski. It differs from nearly all of the other films she made at the time in that that it isn't controversial, nor unfortunately is it very interesting.
The film very much does seem to be a personal project for Nastassja as she had some involvement in getting it produced but it suffers at nearly every turn with flat direction, a dull supporting cast and poor pacing. SPRING SYMPHONY's biggest flaw though is just how much it under uses Nastassja, who is essentially featured in just a supporting role and the work goes for long, dreadfully dull, stretches without her appearing.
SPRING SYMPHONY was advertised as a look between Robert Schumann and his mistress Clara but the reality is that the film mostly centers on Schumann alone, who is portrayed a dull lifeless bore by German actor and rock musician Herbert Gronemeyer. Gronemeyer's filmography is very small and he is probably best known cinematically for his work on DAS BOOT (1981). The relatively inexperienced actor (who is also credited with the film's score) is asked to carry this film and he simply doesn't have the charisma or acting chops to do it.
Director Peter Schamoni worked consistently throughout his career on a number of documentaries and shorts to some acclaim, but his work here is as lifeless as his leading man. The film suffers majorly from his extremely erratic pacing and his poor script that often just relys on musical performances to pad out its running time.
Cinematographer Gerard Vandenberg had worked mostly in television and it shows here as the film's look is rather flat but thankfully the production design by Alfred Hirschmeier is well done as is some of the costume work.
Nastassja, who barely appears in the first half hour, is okay in her small role. As the part is woefully underwritten there was no chance of it being one of her more accomplished performances. Her piano recital scenes are strong though and it is obvious that she put a lot of work into making the playing look as authentic as possible. She looks lovely at the very least and her very presence gives the film more kick than it has any right to.
It is easy to see what would have attracted Nastassja to the film, as she is a huge music fan and it is a fascinating story. Unfortunately the screenplay by Schamoni feels like a group of disconnected scenes thrown together without much thought and it is regrettable as this film really could have been something special.
SPRING SYMPHONY remarkably one two awards when it was released including one for Nastassja at the German Film Awards and incredibly one for Schamoni at the Bavarian film awards.
This West German production played for a brief time in Europe in 1983 but wouldn't get a Stateside release until 1986. It remains one of the lesser films of the first half of Nastassja's career and is recommended only for hardcore fans. It is available in a bare bones dvd release, which at the very least offers the superior German track as an alternative to the old VHS's English dub.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Odds and Ends #8 (Cat People)

I feel like I have presented a pretty exhaustive look at CAT PEOPLE here in the last couple of weeks. I apologize for the sporadic nature of some of the posts as my vacation interrupted things a bit.
Fans are advised to check out the 1982 cover stories on CAT PEOPLE from Film Comment and American Film for more information on the film. Also an article in American Cinematographer is fairly exhaustive and essential.
CAT PEOPLE remains probably Nastassja's most famous film. It is hard to believe it didn't do well upon initial release as it has been a film that has never gone away. Despite some minor flaws, it is a film I love very much. I hope those reading have enjoyed my tribute to it.
I will begin my look at Nastassja's next film, SPRING SYMPHONY later this weekend.

Nastassja On Cat People

Nastassja's bad experiences on the set of CAT PEOPLE have left her a little cold on the film throughout the years. At times she seems to admire it, while other times the experience behind the scenes clearly spoiled the film for her. Here are a few random quotes by her on the work.

"It was very strange I should come to make this film. As a little girl we always had cats and I was fascinated by their grace, their mystery. I liked that about the film. I also liked the whole aspect of sensuality and aggression. Then, too, I love horror stories-so it was all those aspects that intrigued me...Irena is a character who fights for and with her destiny."

"What it really is about is love, the impossibility of love...that's what is interesting and special about it."

"CAT PEOPLE had some perfect moments...I have to be free. Like cats, you know, they're very independent. They cuddle when they want to."

"Schrader is very shy. He's cautious with people and doesn't open up to say very much. But what he does say is very precise. With Schrader, it's wonderful because you inspire each other. It's like a ladder. You and he hold each other's ladder. That lets the other climb higher and higher. That's what trust does. You can take those risks."

"If I were an animal, I'd be a fish or a bird."

"I didn't agree with the way the film was done. Overall I didn't like my performance in CAT PEOPLE at all. I wanted to do the movie in a much rougher way, getting more into the souls and passions of these people. Who cares about blood and flesh smeared all over the place? I blame myself because I listened to the director. I should have rebelled. I followed his path. I sort of melted into what Schrader thought was right. I used to think you had to do what the director tells you to do, but you can't. You have to put your own individuality into it, your own thoughts. I didn't. I let myself be trapped. I don't regret it, except that we didn't go where we had to go...Schrader should have taken all that other shit out that wasn't necessary and gone more deeply into the souls of the characters...he lied to me after all we'd been through. He knew exactly what he was doing."

"This movie was a big disillusionment to me. I'm not just a piece of meat they can use."

and finally this little bit from an Interview with her friend, Jodie Foster.

Jodie Foster: "What disappointed you about CAT PEOPLE? I love that film.

Nastassja: "You're kidding. My mother thought I showed too much nudity in CAT PEOPLE. You can still hint about the sexuality without seeing anything. It destroys the fantasy element of the film."

Rare Scans #10

I might be mistaken but I don't believe these striking early eighties shots of Nastassja are available at the Kinski JP gallery or any other site. Like I said I could be mistaken but in case I am right, here they are.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Soundtrack #5: Cat People (Giorgio Moroder)

Sometime during the recording of David Bowie's LOW, collaborator Brian Eno rushed into the studio holding a new 45 that he excitedly claimed was the future of modern music. The 45 was Donna Summer's hypnotic disco classic I FEEL LOVE and the sound that Eno, and eventually Bowie, latched on to was due to Summer's producer, Giorgio Moroder.
Moroder is one of the great lost pioneers in rock music and one of the most influential producers of the past thirty years. His hypnotic, repetitious beats and work with synthesizers heve been copied a countless number of times and he all but reinvented dance music.
Moroder was born in Italy in 1940 and got his start recording music in the early seventies, often with collaborator Bellote. His FROM HER TO ETERNITY album is one of the seventies great electronic recordings and his collaborations with Summer on Casablanca records made the Moroder sound one of the most distinctive of the period.
Starting with Alan Parker's MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1979), Moroder began composer and performing a series of extremely hypnotic soundtrack albums that would do much to alter the cinematic soundscape. His most notable soundtracks include Paul Schrader's AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980), which would find him scoring a massive hit with CALL ME by Blondie, Adrien Lyne's FOXES (1980) and Brian De Palma's SCARFACE (1983). Moroder was excellent at providing experimental electronic sound designs for directors while at the same time collaborating with many modern bands for a series of successful theme songs. The massive success of his FLASHDANCE (1983) album was probably his most commercially viable of the period, if no where near his best.
My favorite Moroder album is his score for CAT PEOPLE. Opening with the unforgettable Bowie collaboration, PUTTING OUT FIRE, the album is a really sublime and unique listen. THE AUTOPSY immediately follows PUTTING OUT FIRE and it is the most difficult track on the album, a short, droning sound effects piece that worked in the film but seems out of place on the lp.
IRENE'S THEME, the third track, really kicks the album into a hypnotic groove and it is easily one of the best themes ever written for Nastassja. With it's lovely synthesizer work and simple melody, it is one of Moroder's most infectious and prettiest themes. NIGHT RABBIT, like THE AUTOPSY, is another short track that is a bit difficult to warm to. Mostly made up of animal noises and one of Moroder's more intense sound schemes, it is an incredibly inventive if short burst of sound.
The album gets back on track with LEOPARD TREE DREAM, which provides one of the film's most memorable scenes with another seductively hypnotic theme.
PAUL'S THEME returns Moroder to the stomping beat of his club work in the seventies and it is the most propulsive track on the album, one can practically hear Moroder reinventing the decade again in just under four minutes.
THE MYTH is the longest track on the album and hear we find Moroder again collaborating with Bowie, who contributes some of the most sinister and mournful background humming ever. The album's previous themes, including PUTTING OUT FIRE, are replayed a bit slowed down and Moroder adds a really wonderful backdrop of dread throughout.
TO THE BRIDGE, with it's playful time signatures and a background that sounds a bit like Roxy Music's FOR YOUR PLEASURE, leads into another droning track (TRANSFORMATION SEDUCTION) before the album concludes with the short and menacing BRING THE PROD.
The biggest problem with the original CAT PEOPLE soundtrack is that it is too short. One feels that much of Moroder's score was left off due to time and a double disc special edition of it would be most welcome.
Giorgio Moroder is often overlooked these days but along with Can, Kraftwerk and indeed Bowie and Eno, his contributions to electronic music should not be ignored. He did much to shape the modern music landscape and he made the unjustly maligned Disco movement a real art form. His soundtrack albums have also been massively influential and his type of soundscapes are sorely missed in today's' film world where movies are to often just scored with random songs. CAT PEOPLE is one of his great works, one hopes that one day it will get a proper re-release with added material.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Shooting Kinski #10 (John Bailey)

While CAT PEOPLE can rightly be called a near equal collaboration between Schrader and Scarfiotti, that shouldn't take away from the contribution of cinematographer John Bailey.
Missouri born Bailey has had a prolific career since staring out as a camera operator on Monte Hellman's incredible TWO LANE BLACKTOP in 1971. In 1972 he was hired on by Robert Altman protege Alan Rudolph for his early film PREMONITION but he wouldn't begin working steadily until Paul Schrader hired him for his influential AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980).
Bailey's crystal sharp and slick photography on AMERICAN GIGOLO would mark him as one of the most in demand D.P's of the eighties and his best films, CAT PEOPLE (1982), RACING WITH THE MOON (1984), THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE (1984), and MISHIMA (1985), remain some of the most memorably shot films of the period.
Bailey's career in the nineties was a bit disappointing as most of his assignments were strictly commercial and increasingly bland Hollywood projects. He did score big with the fascinating Schrader film FOREVER MINE in 1999 where he got to photograph the exquisite Gretchen Mol and his work on Jennifer Jason Leigh's THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY (2001) was also notable.
It is his work with Schrader that will mainly be remembered though. While it is hard to argue that the glass cutting coldness of AMERICAN GIGOLO isn't his best work, his shooting of CAT PEOPLE is just about as good. My favorite Bailey moment in the film is without question the swimming pool sequence where he expertly uses the lights reflecting off the water to create a real labyrinth of shadows and suspense. Bailey is also an expert at photographing faces and whether it's Kinski in CAT PEOPLE or Sean Penn in RACING WITH THE MOON, or the aforementioned Mol, he manages to bring out their very natural glamour with seemingly ease.

Bailey, who has also directed, continues to work with his most interesting recent work being Werner Herzog's audacious INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS (2004). He is a talented man and his contributions to Schrader's best films are often overlooked.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kinski By Scarfiotti

When Italian born Production Designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti died in 1994 he left a relatively small but incredibly influential legacy that includes some of the most visually astonishing films ever made.
The Oscar winning Scarfiotti was born in 1941 in Marchesa and exploded onto the cinematic scene with his incredible work on Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST (1970). Outside of how truly original and striking his work was on THE CONFORMIST, perhaps the most incredible aspect of it was that Scarfiotti was relatively inexperienced at the time.
Bertolucci was suitably impressed with the young theatre based Scarfiotti and he quickly signed him up for his follow up film, LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972). Scarfiotti's work on these two films is simply beyond compare and they remain two of the most iconic and thoughtfully designed films in cinema history.
Scarfiotti's major talent, outside of his obvious technical skills, seemed to be in understanding the exact thematic feel of the film's, and characters, he was assigned. THE CONFORMIST. LAST TANGO IN PARIS, DAISY MILLER (1974) and SCARFACE (1983) would be unthinkable without Scarfiotti's design schemes. It was this thematic intelligence that makes his work on Paul Schrader's AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980) and CAT PEOPLE (1982) so intriguing and individual.
While his collaboration with Bertolucci is his most acclaimed, I believe his work with Schrader is perhaps just as important. The design in AMERICAN GIGOLO kick started the entire slick, commercial and ultimately corrupt look that so many filmmakers would copy throughout the eighties. Many of the eighties best (Michael Mann, Luc Besson) and many of it's worst (insert your selection here) would come directly out of the collaboration between Scarfiotti and Schrader in GIGOLO.
CAT PEOPLE might not have been as brilliant as his work with Bertolucci or as influential as GIGOLO, but his total understanding of CAT PEOPLE'S themes of sexual suppression and Irena's internal struggle mark the film as one of his most intelligent and bracing works.
Everything in CAT PEOPLE, from the odd dream and flashback sequences to the startling and at times suffocating interiors, has Scarfiotti's mark all over them. As the film progresses and Irena becomes more and more confused and anguished so does his design work. Perhaps the most telling scene in the film is the moment after the night hunt when all Irena can do is literally destroy the light that is showing what she is capable of.
As I noted before, Schrader initially want the film to be co-credited but the director's guild refused. For a much more detailed and knowing look at the importance of Scarfiotti give a listen to Schrader's commentary or seek out the vintage America Cinematography issue dedicated to CAT PEOPLE.
After CAT PEOPLE Scarfiotti would design just a hand full of films including Sting's great BRING ON THE NIGHT (1985) and two more works for Bertolucci. He would win the Oscar for THE LAST EMPEROR in 1987 and tragically pass away in 1994. Much more than just a Production Designer, Scarfiotti would involve himself in multiple aspects of each film ranging from minute details in costuming, lighting and most importantly motivations of not only the filmmaker but also performers.
CAT PEOPLE is one of the most visually arresting films Nastassja Kinski ever got to appear in and that can be, in no small part, partially credited to the brilliantly original Ferdinando Scarfiotti.

More of these beautiful lobby cards can be found at the fantastic Nastassja Kinski JP and as my vacation is one day from wrapping up, regular postings will pick up again in the next couple of days. Thanks for your patience and continuing support.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Off On Vacation

Postings throughout this next week will be very sporadic as I am going to be on vacation and away from my main computer. I have several more articles on CAT PEOPLE coming up and I hope to get at least a couple up this week but my look at SPRING SYMPHONY will have to wait another week. Thanks to my readers of this so far and I hope you enjoy my remaining CAT PEOPLE posts and I apologize in advance for the upcoming week's inactivity.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cat People: The Novelization Tie In

Well worth searching out for fans of the Paul Schrader's CAT PEOPLE is Gary Brander's (author of THE HOWLING) tie in novelization that came out in 1982. I must admit that I am a big fan of these sorts of tie ins as not only collectibles but at times as valuable extensions of the film, as often they are based directly on the screenplay and feature material removed from the final cut.
It has been years since I have read the CAT PEOPLE Tie in but I remember it reading really well and feeling quite different from the finished film. I need to revisit it one is available used very cheaply from Amazon and other vendors.

Rare Scans #10 (Peter Biskind Interviews Kinski)

The April 1982 Issue of American Film featured an in depth look at CAT PEOPLE as well as this piece by journalist Peter Biskind. This is a nice interview in which we find a very open Nastassja talking about everything from her career to father and admiration for people ranging from Romy Schneider to Andrzej Zulawski.

Rare Scans #9 (More Avedon Photos)

I'm afraid I have no information on these rather poor quality scans. I just came across them going through some old clippings and they are quite different from either the Serpent or Rolling Stone sessions. I don't believe I have seen them online before and since they are so striking I had to post them. My apologies for not knowing their origin (I would guess they are from Vogue) or if they have appeared before at another site...

Schrader On Cat People

The currently available edition of CAT PEOPLE features two lengthy interviews with Paul Schrader as well as an in depth audio commentary so hearing Paul Schrader's thoughts on the film is not difficult. I thought though that a few quotes from the very valuable SCHRADER ON SCHRADER would be worth putting up for those interested.

"I became obsessed with Kinski. So the story of the film started to become very personal, so much so that I wasn't really aware of how perverse it was getting."

"It's the opposite side of the coin from the 'We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place' feeling, an idealized version of what our shining goal is, and that may take the form of the redemptive moment, or, in sexual terms, the form of Beatrice, the female equivalent of Christ."

"The original had a very conventional ending. There was a big, dark house and the monster was killed and the house was burned down. So the big change I made was that he doesn't kill the monster, he makes love to her and puts her in a shrine and lives with her."

"I like existential horror. I think the greatest metaphor in the cinema is in THE EXORCIST, where you get God and The Devil in the same room arguing over the body of a little girl...I mean THAT'S a horror film, that is truly great. In the same way, ROSEMARY'S BABY has deep spiritual connotations. I like those kind of horror films."

"When you shoot any film there are always a couple of tapes with you lug along with you and you play them in your office continually with the sound off...On CAT PEOPLE the tapes I took along were BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ORPHEUS...there will never be another Cocteau."

"New Orleans is the most unAmerican town in America...I tried to reflect that in the casting, to have a gumbo kind of cast to tune in with New Orleans's gumbo pot of races and nations."

"I don't think much of the original film. It was interesting in its use of shadows and so forth, but I didn't find it very good and I was pertrubed that people were trying to compare the two...I wish I'd changed the title because then there wouldn't have been the comparisons."

"AMERICAN GIGOLO was (financially) succesful, but CAT PEOPLE wasn' was an attempt to have things both ways, which is to have a classy film and a horror it really wasn't satisfying to the audiences."

Shooting Kinski #9: Richard Avedon

"Avedon laughingly described another of his triumphs with model and beast: his famous 1981 Vogue portrait of actress Nastassja Kinski entwined with a boa constrictor. It was Kinski's idea to create a kind of Eve and serpent tableau, and a snake wrangler was duly hired to bring one of his (tame) charges to the shoot.
But one does not direct a boa constrictor. For all of the sensuous glamor of the pose, Avedon said during a PBS interview, "Nastassja spent two hours on a cement floor naked."
"They anchored the snake around her ankles," Avedon said, clearly enjoying the recollection, then waited to see what the critter would do. Shot after shot did not work. Then finally, after many takes, the boa undulated across Kinski's hip and
slowly made its way toward her head.
"Natassja, this is it," Avedon said in a hoarse whisper, "Just try to relax!"
Seconds later the snake came to within inches of the actress' ear, then almost languorously extended its fangs, as if in a kiss.
Another classic; another Avedon moment.
"She [Kinski] rose to the occasion," Avedon exulted, grinning, "the snake rose to the occasion. I rose to the occasion" – all in a moment that would have been impossible to plan."
-Frank Van Riper, Washington Post interviewing Avedon-

Anyone who was around in the eighties will surely remember the famous shot of Kinski and The Serpent taken by Richard Avedon. The photo, taken while Kinski was shooting CAT PEOPLE, first appeared in a 1981 issue of Vogue magazine and was quickly made into one of the best selling posters of all time. The image appeared everywhere throughout the decade and it remains one of the most iconic shots of the period.
The late Avedon was one of America's great photographers and anyone interested in his remarkable career should check out his official site at

While the photo of Nastassja and the snake is the most famous of their collaborations I am even fonder of the striking series of shots Avedon took of her for Rolling Stone in 1982. These are some of loveliest photos of Nastassja ever taken and among the most provocative the once great Rolling Stone ever published.
A few years back Nastassja's lovely and talented daughter Sonja Kinski recreated her mother's most famous shoot for a Photo magazine spread. The full article can be found at the great Nastassja Kinski JP site that is linked to the right. I am including one scan below from it along with two black and white shots of Nastassja from that Rolling Stone session.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

David Bowie's Cat People

"Among the finest Bowie recordings of the eighties, the original cut of CAT PEOPLE (PUTTING OUT FIRE) is a brooding monolith of a song that finds Bowie in fine vocal fettle; the pure adrenaline rush as the sepulchral intro denotes the line, "I've been putting out the fire-with gasoline!" is among the most thrilling moments he has ever committed to tape...quintessential Bowie."


The murder of John Lennon in 1980 hurt David Bowie spiritually, mentally and artistically and by 1985 the man, who had given rock music some of its greatest and most experimental work, was releasing the lame and artistically corrupt TONIGHT album. It would take Bowie nearly a decade to recover fully from the creative low that hit him in the eighties, a period when ironically he would sell more than ever, but there are a handful of post SCARY MONSTERS eighties tracks that are among the best of his career. At the top of this list is his mind blowing Giorgio Moroder collaboration, the CAT PEOPLE theme.

The original version of CAT PEOPLE is one of the great lost David Bowie singles, a chilling and explosive number that could have fit easily on any one of his many great albums. In Moroder, Bowie met the man he probably should have continued working with at least for awhile. Imagine the polished sheen of Nile Roger's produced LET'S DANCE tracks erased in favor of Moroder's pulsating and propulsive style and you've got a very different decade for David Bowie.

It wasn't meant to be though and CAT PEOPLE remains a blazing one off collaboration between the two great men. Moroder had already delivered his score when Schrader had the idea to get Bowie to sing the title track. Bowie, a major film buff, was called in and quickly agreed. He came up with a set of lyrics that not only seem narrated by Kinski's Irena but also show his own paranoid and frantic state in the wake of Lennon's death.

The original version, with it's slow foreboding build up, is a real stunner and features one of the most explosive and cutting Bowie vocals on record. Moroder's propulsive beats and hypnotic production turn it into one of his great tracks as well, the equal of some of his finest revolutionary work from the seventies with Donna Summer. The slashing guitar work and background female singers would foreshadow some of the second wave of Goth rocker's that would begin filtering out through the early part of the decade, in much the same way Bowie had influenced all of the first batch with his material in the seventies.

The original track is available in several versions, including the soundtrack version, an alternate version for the film, and a handful of edited and extended single takes. It would be a relatively minor hit in The States and England but would have much more impact on Europe's charts. Bowie would soon after record the astonishing UNDER PRESSURE with Queen and CAT PEOPLE stands with that song as the last two reminders of the seventies, until his great comeback in the early nineties.

Bowie made an unfortunate decision with the song in 1983 when he re-cut it without Moroder for his massive LET'S DANCE album. The version used there is much more well known now and is completely inferior. All of the song's menace and intensity have been taken away and Bowie's undervaluing of the original would be a major sign that something was creatively wrong with him in the eighties. The song would become a major live staple for Bowie through his SERIOUS MOONLIGHT tour but unfortunately he didn't return to the Moroder's arrangement. The new version did work better live than on record but was still a long way from Moroder's original.

CAT PEOPLE is easily the best of any theme song for one of Nastassja's films and it is a perfect theme for this exciting portion of her career. The best place to find it is on Moroder's incredible soundtrack lp, which I will be covering later, or on the unfortunately small number of Bowie collections that contain it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Rare Scans #8 (Rolling Stone at The Premiere of Cat People)

Here is a very rare shot of Nastassja, co-star John Heard, director Paul Schrader and David Bowie at the premiere of CAT PEOPLE. This originally appeared in a 1982 edition of Rolling Stone and I don't believe it has appeared online before.

Critical Reactions #6 (Cat People)

Upon its initial release CAT PEOPLE was greeted with some violently different critical reactions. Some critics, such as Roger Ebert and Jack Kroll, really responded and gave it rave reviews while others, such as Richard Schickel and Andrew Sarris, had major problems and mostly trashed it. Whatever the reactions were it was a film that caused, and has continued to cause, much debate. Here is a sampling of some critical thoughts from the time and a few current views.

"Of all the qualities that work against eroticism, silliness is most injurious and pretentiousness a close second...the film stands or falls by whether audiences will love Kinski...with her slightly rounded child's stomach and her strong long-waisted, small-bosomed body, she is a very credible cat woman, and she has a steady intensity that lets her surmount the film's relentless silliness. She is also an original in this day of carbon copies."
-Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times-

"In the closing shots of CAT PEOPLE, Schrader makes his most perverse use yet of Bresson-to wrap up what is not only his most perverse but most wayward film to date."
-Richard Combs, Monthly Film Bulletin-

"You can laugh at this movie but you can't really make fun of beauty as powerfully singular as Nastassia Kinski...There are gaps in the narration, inexplicable lapses of intelligence...and too many climaxes."
-David Denby, New York-

"Kinski has really got it, no matter how many times she turns into a panther. Some will be turned on by the fear of a panther, others by the sight of Nastassja Kinski, who's every inch an actress with everything up front."
-Archer Winsten, New York Post-

"A pretentious and nasty little movie that is both too explicit and too murky to be fun."
-Joseph Gelmis, Newsday-

"A classic of this noble genre...scary sexy, has the quintessential cat-person in Nastassia Kinski...Kinski has brought back one of the screen's most potent archetypes-the disturbing woman. More than in TESS or ONE FROM THE HEART, her effect in CAT PEOPLE is the primal perturbation of flesh and spirit generated by the mythic female...Kinski is a stunning young predator who's bewildered by her own sexual power...Schrader's best work as a director...A Classic."
-Jack Kroll, Newsweek-

"The work of a solemn literalist (and a man with a taste for perverse ritual), not that of a cynic or a sensationalist...Kinski, flat of voice, spirit and chest."
-Richard Schickel, Time-

"Not a success on any level...the more I look at Kinski, the less I think she can do...there is little evidence that Schrader can go from low to high either...On the meat market centerfold level of discourse, it must be reported that Annette O'Toole is more amply endowed in the upper regions than Kinski."
-Andrew Sarris, Village Voice-

"Nothing works...Schrader even mishandles Kinski...her feline grace becomes merely listless."
-Howard Kissell, Women's Wear Daily-

"(Unlike frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese, Schrader was a non-fan of the Tourneur film.) Unjustifiably compared to the original film upon its release, Schrader's Cat People is more of an erotic reinvention of the Bodeen story...Though Schrader keeps the Fangoria crowd at bay with a series of grisly tableau's, he remains less concerned with the body-horrific than he does with the rituals of sex—mandatory and otherwise."
-Ed Gonzales, Slate-

"Schrader's most underrated film is a supremely stylish, sensual nightmare."
-James Sanford, Kalamazoo Gazette-

"The cornerstone of the piece, arguably, is Nastassia Kinski's performance as Irena. Schrader states, in his audio commentary, that he chose her for her unique appearance ("European rather than American," he says, and I can't think of a better way of explaining it), and while this undoubtedly plays a great part in her effectiveness in the role, it is her performance that sells it. She is extremely cat-like in her mannerisms, meaning that we believe that the beast is inside her despite the fact that we don't see her transform until near the end of the film."
-Michael Mackenzie, DvdTimes-

"Schrader tells his story in two parallel narratives. One involves the deepening relationships among the sister, the brother, and the curator. The other, stunningly photographed, takes place in an unearthly terrain straight from Frank Herbert's Dune books. The designer, Ferdinando Scarfiotti, and the veteran special-effects artist, Albert Whitlock, have created a world that looks completely artificial, with its drifting red sands and its ritualistic tableau of humans and leopards -- and yet looks realistic in its fantasy. In other words, you know this world is made up, but you can't see the seams...a good movie in an old tradition, a fantasy-horror film that takes itself just seriously enough to work, has just enough fun to be entertaining, contains elements of intrinsic fascination in its magnificent black leopards, and ends in one way just when we were afraid it was going to end in another...Kinski is something. She never overacts in this movie, never steps wrong, never seems ridiculous; she just steps onscreen and convincingly underplays a leopard."
-Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times-

I must say that I am sometimes amazed by certain things I occasionally come across in reading older reviews but Schickel and Sarris going out of there way to mention Kinski's breasts size floored me. It's amazing to think that these two inept and juvenile reactions masquerading as reviews actually appeared in publications like Time and The Village Voice.
I might post some other reviews on this film as I continue researching old articles in the next few days. I think these show fairly well though the polarizing effect the film had on many that saw it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

#8. Cat People (1982)

After writing 1976’s classic TAXI DRIVER, Paul Schrader turned his eye to directing and within four years delivered three of the most interesting and talked about films of the late seventies. These were the brutally powerful BLUE COLLAR (1978), the haunting HARDCORE (1979) and a film that clearly signaled the new decade, the flashy AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980).
By 1981 though Schrader found himself exhausted, stoned and suddenly unable to write so he decided working from someone else’s material might be a refreshing change for him. Universal studios had been in a remake mood and when they offered him a chance to make a very loose retelling of Jacques Tourneur’s classic 1942 film CAT PEOPLE Schrader jumped at the chance in the hope that it would break his writers block. Ironically CAT PEOPLE did indeed snap him out of his creative lull but the impersonal project would prove to be the most difficult and personal vision he ever put on film.
While prepping the film Schrader visited his friend Francis Ford Coppola on the set of ONE FROM THE HEART and caught a glance of Nastassja Kinski filming and knew immediately that she was the only one who could play the complicated leading role of Irena. Universal initially balked but soon gave in and the young Kinski was given her first lead in a film since Polanski’s TESS.

I must admit before I go on that I have a real bias towards Paul Schrader’s CAT PEOPLE. It is a film that I grew up with and the film that introduced me to Nastassja Kinski. While I was re-watching it the other night attempting to cast a critical eye towards it I found myself routinely just slipping into its hypnotic groove and my own memories of it. Viewing the film now I can see that it is not perfect and I will do my best to point out some of what I see as its faults, but at the end of the day Schrader’s film remains pretty special to me so I am not sure how successful this initial ‘review’ will be.

Schrader’s CAT PEOPLE is more of a film about sexuality rather than a typical horror film. The Calvinist born Schrader, who wasn’t allowed to even watch a film before his 18th Birthday, knew a lot about Sexual repression and the power and promise a sexual awakening could hold. It is really easy to draw parallels between the idea that losing ones virginity, or even having an orgasm, as leading to something unspeakable, primal and dark with Schrader’s extremely strict upbringing.
Shot on location throughout late 1981 mostly in and around New Orleans, with some studio shot material back in Hollywood, one of CAT PEOPLE’S biggest assets is indeed the sticky, humid feel of the American South. I have seen the film compared to the works of Anne Rice and while I am not sure how accurate that comparison is, the film’s location does give it a very distinct and primal feel. This is not an example of a film that could have been shot anywhere, as indeed New Orleans is one of the most important characters in the film.
Like many of the early eighties most iconic pictures, CAT PEOPLE is an overwhelmingly visual work. It has a very specific and striking look that makes many of today’s pictures seem particularly bland. While one would typically look towards the cinematographer to thank for this with CAT PEOPLE the story is a little more complicated.
A very talented director of photography, John Bailey, shot the film but Paul Schrader has acknowledged over and over again that the film’s unique, erotic and sinister visual scheme belongs to Production Designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti. I will be looking more closely at Scarfiotti’s work in a future post but it is worth mentioning here that Schrader at one point asked the Directors Guild to have CAT PEOPLE billed as, “A film by Paul Schrader and Ferdinando Scarfiotti.” That was denied but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this film is a true collaboration and without Scarfiotti’s remarkable work would have been a much less notable film.
Another of CAT PEOPLE’S key aspects is the music of Giorgio Moroder. I will be looking more at Moroder’s score in a later post as well but his pulsating score not only gives the film a driving unstoppable feel but would give the music world one of the most memorable soundtrack albums of the eighties. I will also be looking at the remarkable title track that would turn out to be a fascinating one off collaboration between Moroder and none other than David Bowie.
CAT PEOPLE can pretty easily be broken up into sections. The prologue clearly being a brief but memorable opening scene explaining the origins of the film’s title characters while the rest of the film could be broken up into four or five acts, with a haunting a quite tragic little epilogue. Viewing the film today it seems that the middle section is probably the weakest while the final two acts (roughly the last 40 minutes or so) is among the most memorable of the eighties.
Among the few problems I see with CAT PEOPLE is that at times it seems like Schrader slips and seems momentarily confused by what it is he is making. A couple of moments feel much more exploitive and B-movie like than the rest of the stylish, almost art house, feel of the film, like the odd zoom in to Lynn Lowry’s face after she is mauled and Schrader’s almost embarrassing filming of Kinski’s behind in short shorts during a pointless fishing scene. The film also has a few attempts at humor that don’t work typically referencing cats, Ed Begley singing WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT being one of them, but for the most part Schrader succeeds in making CAT PEOPLE a remarkably consistent film tone wise. Certain sections involving the police seem to drag a bit and a slight streamlining of the film would have probably been to its advantage but overall CAT PEOPLE holds up as well as almost an early Eighties film and certainly plays better than most ‘remakes’ since.

I have gone out of my way to not give too much mention to the fact that CAT PEOPLE is billed as a remake. With the swimming pool sequence and some of the film’s themes excepted, Paul Schrader’s CAT PEOPLE is less a remake than a personal re-thinking. Schrader has admitted that the original meant very little to him so it isn’t like he had any notion of actually remaking it. CAT PEOPLE, in actuality, would have played a lot better to its critics had it not been labeled a remake at all, but Universal demanded marketing it as such and it continues to be labeled a strict remake by many.
The cast is uniformly good in the film with special mention going to Malcolm McDowell’s chilling performance as Irena’s brother Paul and Annette O’Toole’s fresh-faced Zoo assistant Alice. The casting of O’Toole was interesting and quite a coup for Schrader. He needed someone distinctly American looking to contrast with Kinski’s dark and exotic European look. O’Toole is fine in the role and the scene between her and Kinski in the spa is one of the film’s most erotic and memorable.
McDowell is awesomely menacing in the role as the incestuous Paul. The amazing CLOCKWORK ORANGE and IF star is one of Britain’s’ greatest actors and I think Pail is one of his best performances. Everything from the way he stares longingly at Irena to the way he moves is striking. Most importantly McDowell manages to make the character sympathetic and suggests that his life is as much of a nightmare to him as it is his unfortunate victims.

CAT PEOPLE belongs though to the 23 year old Nastassja Kinski, who gives one of her greatest and most complex turns as Irena. The arc of her character is fascinating; from the incredibly naïve and innocent aspects of her character in the first half of her film to her increasingly sexual, paranoid and finally deadly second half performance. Kinski is breathtaking in the role and takes a lot of chances with it.
While she had had nude scenes before, most notably in STAY AS YOU ARE, Schrader was the first director who used Kinski’s body as much as her face and CAT PEOPLE remains one of the most forcefully erotic films of the eighties because of this. Had the film been made today, the amount of nudity, fetishism and its overwhelming adult nature would be impossible. Indeed when the film did premiere on TV in the mid eighties the entire last act was completely taken out and a much tamer, and less effective, ending was utilized.

Kinski’s best moments in the film come when she is called upon to suggest that there is something internal, that she isn’t completely aware of, pulling her towards an inescapable destiny. Some of the most notable scenes for her are the scene in the rain where she looks down at Paul and screams realizing how she might end, the brutal “Don’t look at me” sequence, her menacing moment by the pool with a terrified Annette O’Toole and finally the last forty minutes of the film where she portrays a woman who has nearly given up fighting her destiny completely. It’s a remarkably assured performance and remains a highlight in Nastassja’s 30-year career.
CAT PEOPLE would open up in 1982 to a lot of publicity and controversy. While it wasn’t the hit that the studio wanted it wasn’t a bomb either, but it failed to earn back its budget. Critical reaction was violently mixed but at the very least CAT PEOPLE caused a lot of conversation and it did manage to get one of America’s most interesting filmmakers juices flowing again. Schrader would follow the film with the unforgettable MISHIMA (1985), a film often considered his masterpiece.
CAT PEOPLE has never been out of the public eye and the image of Nastassja standing in the rain was reprinted on many posters and t-shirts throughout the eighties. The film would prove most popular on home video and has never been out of print. The current dvd of it contains a nice selection of extras including two revealing interviews with Schrader, as well as his commentary, and a handful of other valuable if short featurettes.
CAT PEOPLE continues to divide film fans and critics between people who love it and those who absolutely despise it. There isn’t a lot of middle ground with it, something that I think often symbolizes the greatest of art. Whether you are a fan or not, CAT PEOPLE is a uniquely personal film by one of our most controversial filmmakers. It isn’t a film that belongs to our overly sanitized and politically correct world though, and that adds yet another intriguing layer to an already multi-layered and important work.