Cats (2019): Instantaneous Ascent Into Cult

Canonical badfilms comprises certain films made in the 1950s that were then recycled into exhibition as they were re-appropriated in the 1970s and 1980s  [1]. Unlike these old canonical badfilms, Cats (Tom Hooper, 2019, US and UK) gained a cultish badfilm status quickly. Cats faced a poor initial reception but was quickly re-appropriated and given rowdy screenings in which audiences expressed and further fostered active participatory enthusiasm [2]. The difference in the time needed for badfilms to be re-appropriated between old canonical badfilms and Cats opens the question: why was Cats re-appropriated so much more quickly?

The answer partially lies in the change of how badness has been understood over time; In The golden age of badness, Jeffrey Sconce writes that the concept of badness is bound to temporal contexts [3]. Old canonical badfilms were re-appropriated decades after they were produced, when the bad technological executions of the past started seeming fascinating [4]. Unlike these old badfilms, the badness of Cats does not seem to lie in a poor technological execution. Rather, the perceived badness of Cats lies in its concept, perceived motives of the production, and political implications.

To exemplify: the conceptual character design has been described as disturbing, uncanny, and ”sure to haunt viewers for generations” [5]. The cast of Cats consists of some of the biggest pop stars, implying the production to be largely motivated by commercial success and profit, rather than artistry. Additionally, as unintentional as it may be, the film implies racist ideas in choices of fur colour. Sconce writes that contemporary audiences have an increased awareness and interest in a film’s political implications and impact [6]; to such audiences, choosing the protagonist characterised as innocent have white fur while the villain’s fur is black seems just bad. This expanded idea of badness that consists of more than just technological execution allows for a film’s badness to be appreciated immediately after the film’s release.

 

 

[1] Jeffrey Sconce (2019), ‘The golden age of badness’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 33(6), 668.

[2] Weiss, Josh. ”Everyone Hissed at Cats, But the Campy Flop is Now Clawing Its Way to Insta-Cult Classic’’. Date published: August, 13, 2020. https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/cats-cult-classic

[3] Jeffrey Sconce (2019), ‘The golden age of badness’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 33(6), 672.

[4] Jeffrey Sconce (2019), ‘The golden age of badness’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 33(6), 668.

[5] Hans, Simran. ‘’Cats review – will haunt viewers for generations’’. Date published: December, 19, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/dec/21/cats-review-tom-hooper-taylor-swift-judi-dench-idris-elba-jennifer-hudson-ian-mckellen

[6] Jeffrey Sconce (2019), ‘The golden age of badness’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 33(6), 672.

SceneScreen, ‘’ Taylor Swifts Singing “Macavity” in Cats | Cats The Movie | SceneScreen’’. Youtube, 5:26, May 19, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ-uzCC3hjQ

4 comments

  1. Completely. Cats ascended, or maybe even descended, immediately into a category almost unto itself. I agree that the fascination stems from the concept, production, and pitfalls. When watching it, I often stopped to think to myself, how could it be that not a single person veto’ed any and all aspects of this film? It seems somewhat unbelievable. It will be interesting to see how the film’s status evolves over time, since it already holds such a distinct place in the cult canon.

  2. An illustrative proposal! And seems to hold a certain truth to it. The Room, for example, is another cult classic that entered the good-bad film cannon immediately, and is also fairly technologicaly sound; it’s problem lies with a plot of clichés and unbelievable characters. I agree with Lydia’s comment: it will definitely be interesting to observe the evolution of the film’s status over time.

  3. Yes! I love how you clarify that everything about this film is bad and not just the technological aspects, although I would argue that the CGI is the primary culprit for the uncanny. Moreover, I feel like the fact that Cats is based on the longest-running Broadway musical, which cultivated a loyal fanbase, contributed to the instant cultification (I’m aware it’s not a word) of the film.

  4. Cats is such an interesting example to think about for this week – I personally walked out of the theater about three minutes after James Corden appeared on screen, but enjoyed the experience of watching it ironically for Sensory Cinema with a group of friends (although I’d never put myself through that pain again). I think additionally that to discuss the quick cult status of Tom Hooper’s film adaptation, it is important to keep extratextual context in mind. The original T.S. Elliot Broadway musical also gained somewhat of a cult following as one of the first, most ridiculous mega-musical productions. Premiering in 1981 in London, it continues to hold the title for one of the longest running musicals internationally with over 16,000 performances in just London and NYC. There was SO much hype for a film adaptation because of the pre-existing cult following, which made the poor production even more unbearable to watch without laughing awkwardly at its failure.

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