A New Wave of Documentaries and Festivals is Redefining the Cat Lady
Women who care for cats have been witchy outliers by association since medieval Europe, when cats were symbols of the paranormal and the occult. From there the cat lady evolved into a cautionary figure of mental instability, the woeful result of rejecting marriage and society itself.
The first cat lady I ever saw was Eleanor Abernathy on The Simpsons, the disheveled hag who screams gibberish and throws her cats at people on the street. As I encountered more on-screen cat ladies like Edie Beale in Grey Gardens, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and Angela Martin from The Office, I became fascinated by the extreme personality the cat lady life seemed to demand. But in response to changing trends, a new litter of shows and films are clawing up old stereotypes and proudly redefining the cat lady.
Twenty- and 30-somethings are delaying or foregoing marriage and kids, living in smaller spaces or non-traditional arrangements, and investing time, affection, and money in their pets in lieu of human children. Social media and a responsive pet industry helped normalize and eventually popularize the idea of treating animals like family. Today’s “crazy cat ladies” are influencers who drive clicks and revenue by filming their kitties in cowboy outfits, and producers seem to be taking notes.
Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit was a surprise hit when it landed on Netflix in January. The documentary covers the intense subculture of Canadian cat competitions and the unique personalities who sink thousands of dollars and hours of drama into them. Catwalk captures fussy feline stage moms primping cats named Oh La La and Mister Sandman with a charming earnestness that would make Christopher Guest drool.
Cat Stories, out in the Netherlands July 4, is a Spanish filmmaker’s documentary attempt to understand the cat’s remarkable appeal in the country. The trailer shows director Carmen Cobos, an admitted cat-gnostic, undertaking a bemused search for the historic bond between millions of Dutch families and their beloved house pets.
Cat Movie Festivals For Cat People
Or catch the 40-city tour of the third annual New York Cat Film Festival, which kicked off in NYC June 26. It features animated submissions and documentaries like Cat Nation, which gives us a glimpse of Japan’s cat craze and 2016’s Feral Love, about a professional violinist who feeds a massive colony of wild cats living in the railroad tunnels beneath New York City.
Catfest: Cats + Pop Culture went claws-out June 29thin London, showing the dark side of feline domestication in the hair-raising 1981 film Roar. The story follows a fictional family, played by Mother of the Year Tippi Hedren and helpless meat slab Melanie Griffith, as African big cats terrorize them not-so-fictionally. The infamous movie captures unscripted attacks by Hedren’s “home-trained” jungle cats, including her daughter Melanie receiving a 50-stitch gash on her face. More than 70 of the cast and crew were hurt, including scalping and gangrene, and 15 big cats escaped the California film set during a flood. Instead of becoming evidence in a CPS case, Roar survives as one of the most dangerous movie shoots in history and will have you side-eyeing your cat for weeks.
For what I can only assume is balance, Catfest is also screening Kedi, an elegant 2016 documentary following an ancient community of street cats in Istanbul as they interact with and shape the city’s cat-friendly culture. The film is a vivid tribute to director Ceyda Torun’s home city. It’s hard not to fall in love with Istanbul as the cats leap and roll and stretch against its gorgeous scenery.
The 2017 doc Samantha’s Amazing AcroCats was probably my favorite. It depicts a plucky cat trainer aiming for stardom, or at least financial solvency, with her travelling cat circus. It takes a sensitive, sober look at Samantha’s efforts to chase her dream and pay her bills as she hits the road with her troupe of performing felines. The film does a good job of making the viewer root for Samantha’s success, which fee;s oddly heartbreaking and edifying at the same time.
If these films have a common theme, it’s that it takes a special personality to thrive within hardcore cat culture. The feline fanworld is ripe with watchable content, but instead of gawking at the crazy cat lady it’s time to embrace her with open, dander-covered arms.