Cat as Star

I suppose there are a number of possible excuses for what he did! With a milky diffused moon-glow beaming in through the bedroom window, Leopold could have mistaken it for that other thing – couldn’t he? Watching the first sequence of the movie ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, it bought it all back to me in vibrant flashback.

Leopold is a fine, feisty feline who came to stay, along with endearing canine Oscar, when my son Richard moved in to share my Burnie abode in the long years I was parted from my DLP (Darling Loving Partner). Both pets came very quickly to find a place in this old fella’s heart and to this day I miss their constant presence in my life. I am expecting to be reunited with them when I go north to pet/house sit for Rich and partner Shan when they venture to the Northern Hemisphere for six weeks during our winter. The animals’ home now is a grand house in the picturesque coastal village of Bridport, up in the north-east of the island. The pair of pets lead a salubrious life there with new addition Memphis, an Alaskan malamute. Like them, I have now moved away, but for me it’s to the south to be with my beloved DLP.

As cats are prone to, Leopold soon worked out the most comfortable spots in his new Burnie residence to own as an area for lolling. Beds figured prominently. The rest of the time he was out and about the neighbourhood, tomming – even if he no longer possessed the necessary essentials. He’d often return home in disarray, with parts of his anatomy rearranged requiring expensive visits for veterinarian remedies. Sometimes, as part of his recovery, it was often necessary for Leopold to remain housebound – not to his liking. On such occasions it was important that the unhappy animal had a clear and unfettered pathway to his kitty-litter tray in the back laundry. It was during such a period of enforced confinement that the incident occurred.

One of the beds Leopold took a shine too was the queen-sized one that served as my home for the night. In these early days, pre-incident, Leopold would saunter in, lord of all he surveyed, to home in on a suitable cosy spot on the doona towards the bottom of my mattress. I had no objection to this – in fact I found it quite comforting to have the tabby animal quietly purring away somewhere around my feet. It became habit to have the retractable door to my room slightly ajar to allow for his nocturnal comings and goings. I was lulled into a false sense of acceptance of him as my night-time companion – what could possibly go wrong????

Nothing – would be the answer till that particular night with, as a result of incident, he never setting paw into my chamber again. In the week leading up to it Leopold was yet again in a period of convalescence, getting over one of his many confrontations with a similarly territorial local moggy. He was on medication, perhaps another reason for said incident.

On the night in question I awoke in the wee small hours to find my face, hair and surrounding pillow covered in moisture. Still half groggy, I looked heavenwards to see if a hole in the roof had mysteriously appeared as explanation. Even if it had, there was no rain about, so it soon became evident to me that that was not the answer – that and the piquant and tangy aroma that simultaneously was starting to afflict my nasal cavity. I had been peed on – I reeked of cat piss. I leapt into action to make my feelings clear to the offender. Leopold, an intelligent animal, no doubt only temporarily addled by medication and moonshine, soon realised that my head was not his usual ablutions tray and thought it would be in his best interests to find a quick hiding spot before his sleeping buddy awoke to find and act on his misfortune.

That morning, around four in the a.m., I had my earliest bath ever before a school day, fired up the washing machine and exchanged the linen on the transgressed bed. The cat still had not appeared, in fact I did not lay eyes on it until I returned home that evening from my teaching duties – by that stage I had calmed and no doubt ‘the incident’ had been erased from our puss’ mind.

On that night our mutually satisfying cohabitation ended, but as ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ began the slumbering folk singer front and centre of this offering was similarly cohabiting with a cat, this time a big orange mog. The animal stirred itself and began a slow progression up the bed towards the folkie’s cranium. My first reaction was, ‘Oh no! It’s not, is it???’

Thankfully no, our warbler had sensed something was afoot, shot awake and shot out of his bunk, carrying the maybe about to be offending animal away out of camera shot with him.

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The movie is the latest from the Coen Brothers. I have never been a massive fan of their oeuvre with the exception of the wonderful ‘Fargo’ and to a lesser extent, ‘The Big Lebowski’. In truth I cannot say I’ve seen much else, but the subject matter of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ attracted me. Although highly praised, I thought their previous attempt at a musical offering, ‘Oh Brother? Where Art Thou?’ was woeful. Most of their material is fairly dark. This one would have been fairly bleak too without the contribution of the big marmalade feline. The laughs that resonated around Cinema 3 at the State where I viewed this production were all as a result of the travails of the cat at the hands of the woebegone Davis. It seemed to be the litmus for the lousy luck that befell the guitar strumming singer of obscure ditties from the Appalachians and Ozarks.

Now the word ‘bleak’ doesn’t necessarily infer that the movie was a stinker. It was quite the reverse actually, with, once my flashback had passed, this viewer being able to sit back and happily enjoy the journey it took me on. It bought back my memories of a time, just as I was ‘switching on’ to music, when, for a brief moment, before it was blasted away by the advent of the Beatles and the Merseyside brigade, folk ruled the airwaves.

This was the early sixties we’re talking about. I found myself becoming lost in the periodness of that time in NYC that the movie produces – think a seedier version of what one gets in the first few series of ‘Mad Men’ or, if you prefer, the album covers of early Dylan. Filmed in browned-out tones in fuggy, smoke filled coffee houses or in streets with dirty snow lying about, it’s a blast from the past.

Our hero is hopeless, even if he has the voice of an angel. He’s a couch-surfing, perennially botting (fags and money) sad-sack lurching from one disaster to another – the death of his singing partner, getting his best mate’s missus pregnant, zilch record sales and only spasmodic bookings – you get the drift. It is difficult to feel any affinity for him. The narrative is bookended by the Greenwich Village set pieces and these are high points. A long period of travel to and from Chicago was less engaging with the movie losing its way – pun intended – somewhat. This is despite a gonzo John Goodman giving his all in more ways than one. In the Windy City he is offered a gig as part of a trio – presumably for either Peter or Paul supporting Mary Travers – and of course he rejects it as beneath his folkloric purity.

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Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan make appearances as slightly more successful performers than Davis – and both can hold a tune. Of course we know that about Timberlake, but Mulligan was a revelation to me. Oscar Isaac was chosen for the main role because of his musical chops and he, despite his relative obscurity, in no way lets his directors down. His only other claim to fame is playing Jose Ramos-Horta in the Aussie flick ‘Balibo'(2009). As the hapless central figure, the actor inhabits the role loosely based on early Dylan contemporary, the largely unheralded Dave van Ronk. In the last scene at the coffee house there is a skinny, scrawny curly headed troubadour serenading an audience in a raspily distinctive voice – I wonder who that could have been??

Greenwich Village, Liverpool, Haight-Ashbury, Carnaby Street, Manchester, Seattle – these are place names that all invoke a special time in the progression of popular music in the latter half of the last century. The Coen film enhances our appreciation of the first listed and is worthy of its accolades – even if the cat has the best lines. The world is awash with ‘dog as star’ movies, with the Coens reportedly remarking on how numerous were both the cats and takes needed to get any desired result on the screen involving the feline. Perhaps, with their ‘we owe them a living’ ethos, it is little wonder that dogs, who take the opposite view, are far more prolific movie scene-stealers. But despite the obscenity Leopold perpetrated on my naked head that night, he will always be a star in my world.

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ website =


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