Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Cat's Meow

by Drew Martin
I recently saw two documentaries that had a lot to do with cats, and whether you like cats or not the movies are worth watching for their very human stories. 

The first film is Cat Show, about a young, blind Irish lady name Carly and her Persian cat named Tango. They live in England but travel around Europe to enter Tango in cat shows, which seems like a disadvantage for Carly because she cannot see or touch any of the other cats, but Tango usually ranks high because Persian cats require a lot of grooming, and Carly spends her days tending to Tango and a few other cats of hers.

While Carly is blind, she says she can see some light but no shapes or colors. With that she quips that she is probably the only blind person who is scared of the dark, then explains that for some reason she bumps into things more when it is dark.

She says the hardest part of being blind is dealing with everyone else's perception of how sad it must be that she is blind.

Carly is cheerful throughout the documentary and has a witty sense of humor. When she travels through Europe on trains with Tango, she keeps him on a leash. She often hears whispering that she has a "guide-cat" like a seeing-eye dog. When strangers ask her if it is a guide-cat she resists telling them the truth and says that it is. She laughs at how absurd that is and then says the only thing a cat would guide you to is a fish store.

Despite being blind she often talks about color, like all the shades of green of her native Ireland, or uses expressions like "stay focused." And one of her favorite things to do when visiting home is to go to her Aunt's boutique and try on wedding dresses. 

The other documentary is Almost There about Peter Anton, an elderly man who lives in the basement of the house he grew up in. The upper floors are too destroyed by the elements to venture into but he managed to make a home in a messy and moldy space in the basement where he is surrounded by his artwork and journals in full-on pack-rat style. It's a pathetic situation but he catches the attention of two, young Chicago filmmakers at a Pirogi festival who take him on as a project. He is later critical of their intentions despite their years of investment in him, genuine appreciation of his work, and endless personal requests that they respond to.

During the highlight of Anton's new-found appreciation as an outside artist they are able to arrange a show for him at the Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, which houses a recreated space and the belongings of Henry Darger, another local eccentric who lived a reclusive life but created an epic illustrated narrative that is considered the longest book in the world.

A difference with Anton is that he had some art training as a young adult but his overbearing mom pulled him from classes when she found out that he was drawing nude women. It was obviously a wrong move that set him down a solitary path. Aton, like many of the famous outside artists was a bit of pedophile. This comes to the surface during the middle of filming and during his show. The news and admission that once he took pictures of young performers without clothes on in a dressing room of a talent show he ran for fifteen years shocks the filmmakers and the curators of his show and threatens to doom both projects. However, everyone perseveres and life goes on. Anton is finally removed from his condemned house and put in an assisted-living home where, despite his disorderly habits (turning over his chamber pot and saturating his new carpets with urine) he gets a healthier habitat and even goes on to use his talents to teach the other inhabitants of his new home to make art and perform.

Most of Anton's work is the Naïve art style as seen in his youthful portrait with his cats (pictured middle) but one of his most interesting works for me was a chart he made (pictured third from top) that shows which cats sat on his lap, and color-coded to show how long each of them sat on his lap that day.