Category Archives: Films

Fiery Buttercup: Catching Fire

Buttercup is still a presence in Catching Fire, thankfully.

In the book, Katniss has been out hunting alone, taking care of Gale’s traps now that he’s in the mines and she’s a Victor. She uses the old house, that she used to live in with Prim and her mother, to change her clothes – and Buttercup turns up, wailing, at the old place when she’s there. Buttercup is the first being Katniss meets in the book of Catching Fire. To me, the subtext is crystal clear – Katniss and Buttercup are strongly linked together. Him being the first, and him being the only other one who uses the old house, again mark him out as being special in the book:

“He dislikes the new house almost as much as I do and always leaves it when my sister’s at school. We’ve never been particularly fond of each other, but now we have this new bond. I let him in, feed him a chunk of beaver fat, and even rub him between the ears for a bit.”

Even though she tells him he’s hideous, again, there’s obviously an affectionate bond between them. But Katniss doesn’t let herself bond with anyone other than Prim, her mother and Gale, so she sees Buttercup as connecting to Prim and Prim alone. Katniss has focussed on survival, and only survival, since she was eleven years old.

In the film, of course, Katniss has already met Gale out hunting and they’ve talked, agonisingly, about the Victory Tour. So she just walks by Buttercup as he’s sitting on an unused fountain in the Victor’s Village, both of them looking very unhappy and grumpy.

That’s the only time we see Buttercup in Catching Fire (apart from a couple of times when Prim can be seen in the background, holding him, supporting the connection betweeen Prim and Buttercup too). Logically, that’s because Katniss is taken from District 12 so soon by the forces of the Capitol – and the subtext reinforces that: because Katniss has once again become a pawn for the forces of the Capitol and of District 13, the part of her that’s not like Buttercup is the only part of her that belongs in the film.

They’ve got the colour of the cat right this time – it’s huge, but still not scruffy, in fact it’s really beautiful. It definitely manages to look grumpy and dissatisfied sitting on the fountain. I bet Buttercup has been hunting too, or trying to.

Apparently Buttercup was played by two cats in this film and both Mockingjay films: one was good at sitting and being held, the other at scampering around. And of course in this film, Buttercup is the colour he’s supposed to be – on the DVD extras, there’s a not-so-jokey comment that the assistant who got the cat’s colour wrong in the first film had some death threats, poor thing. It’s very clear that fans really, really disapproved of a black and white Buttercup.

Personally, I approve of any film that has a cat as a character … though I too am glad that Buttercup is the right colour.

Long Live Buttercup.

Buttercup Is Katniss Everdeen

Not literally, of course.   But to my mind, the lovely muddy yellow cat represents Katniss in a very real way.

katzenminze-06-and-buttercup

He’s mentioned on the very first page, standing guard over Prim as she sleeps. Not a plot point, not really light relief but he’s definitely subtext. In the third book, the subtext becomes overt, and it’s clear that Suzanne Collins planned it that way the whole time.

What Buttercup does right at the start of The Hunger Games is let us know right away that Katniss, our wonderful heroine, isn’t perfect, or romantic in any way. She tried to drown Buttercup, after all, because she didn’t want to have to feed him, only letting him live when Prim cries for his life. “Entrails. No hissing”; Katniss thinks that this is the high point of the relationship between Buttercup and her.

The first film is just as explicit at this stage: “I’ll still cook you”, is all Katniss says to Buttercup, as she walks past to go hunting. Buttercup is “the world’s ugliest cat”, and although the cat in HG1 isn’t the right colour, it’s not ugly, the poor thing. The first time I watched it, by the way, I had the sound quite low, and I thought she said, “I’ll kill you”. That works too, judging by their expressions.

Having watched the Special Features on the 2 disc version of The Hunger Games, I’m really puzzled that such an elementary mistake was made, in casting a cat of the wrong colour. I mean, the name is a clue as well. Most of the animals on the film were provided by Jungle Exotics, who don’t seem to have provided the cat, they list that they supplied birds, dogs and insects, but no cat. So it’s not their fault! They have a great website, and if they did tours round their 60 acre facility, I’d definitely sign up for one.

Anyway, back to Hunger Games. Of course, Katniss’ nickname is “Catnip” – which cats love. I don’t think Katniss knows how much she’s loved, and that comes out again and again in the rest of the book too. That informs everything she is, and everything she does: losing her father in the mine explosion when she was only 11, at which her mother slipped into a dark depression that lasted months, when Katniss and her little sister Prim almost died of starvation and Katniss herself was the one to figure out how to feed them. These things would leave their mark on any of us, and Suzanne Collins shows those emotional scars on Katniss very clearly. They match Buttercup’s looks, actually, all scarred and mashed.

And as Katniss falls asleep on the train that’s taking her towards The Hunger Games, Buttercup is almost the last thing she thinks of before she falls asleep: “scruffy old Buttercup”, watching over Prim, ready to nose into her arms to comfort her until she sleeps.

Prim is able to love openly: she loves Buttercup, and she loves her goat; but Katniss can’t love in the same way, not at the opening of the first novel. She loves Prim, and this is all we see for now of Buttercup and of Prim herself, because this has been the day of The Reaping, and Katniss has volunteered, to save 12 year old Prim.

The next time Buttercup turns up is at the very end, when Katniss first wakes up after being declared one of the winners of the 74th Hunger Games: “Home! Prim and my mother! Gale! Even the thought of Prim’s scruffy old cat makes me smile. Soon I will be home!”. It’s a poignant interlude, especially as we know that Katniss has so much more that she has to face.

Buttercup will stand by her.

 

 

Photo credit: thank you to Grey Geezer, who released Katzenminze-06 via Wikimedia for other web users.

Orangey, the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Orangey with Audrey Hepburn
Orangey with Audrey Hepburn

Cat (with his trainer, Frank Inn) is part of the opening credits – that’s pretty good! Deserved, I think, he’s an integral part of the plot, after all. And he appears only five minutes into the film, waking up Holly Golightly from her respectably single-bedded sleep when the doorbell rings. They’d met by the river one day, and they just took up together, as you do, but he can’t have a name from Holly until she feels settled, until the mean reds are banished by real life. It’s quite existential, thinking about it.

The cat’s almost as big a character as Holly. She swans off to visit Sally Tomato in Sing Sing, and meanwhile Cat is sitting in the kitchen sink, watching the world go by.

 

Cat is an absolutely brilliant metaphor for Holly – they’re both taking part in life, but doing their own thing, and absolutely unbound by any conventions or rules that others adhere to. Cat is at the party, but he sits on a top shelf, and the only thing that interests him is taking a swipe at the cigarette perched at the end of Holly’s cigarette holder. That cat is impeccably trained – he’s reliable enough to be in a panning shot, just sitting there being a cat, when all the extras below him are buzzing about yelling over the music, just like a real party.

Interesting that the love interest, Paul Varjak (played by George Peppard, well before the A-Team) has written a book whose name is Nine Lives.  And when Paul starts to write his next book, which is why he’s there in the first place, what does he write? “There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl. She lived alone except for a nameless cat”. And then Holly’s history starts to appear: just like a cat, any cat, she’d drifted from a bad situation to a better one, and then a better one, but staying self contained, never giving her heart. Not yet, anyway.

That’s what people don’t understand when they try to keep her safe; if you try to love a wild thing, if you give your heart to a wild thing, because they’re hurt or broken, they get stronger and stronger, and then they fly away.

And either that trainer deserved an Oscar, or Audrey was covered in catnip for some scenes, because in spite of the fact that she’s playing drunk (really well, actually), Cat is definitely following her around, and nuzzling at her legs.

The cat references keep on coming! When they steal “something” from the five and ten as a dare, what does Holly steal but a cat mask. Cat strongly objects to the one Paul steals, which is a dog mask, oops.

There’s one scene that absolutely wouldn’t be allowed these days; Holly receives a telegram telling her that her beloved brother Fred has been killed, and she trashes her apartment in her grief. But as part of that, she rips the dressing table mat from under Cat’s feet, and he really does go flying; and in the next shot, someone has obviously thrown the poor cat at the shutters on the window, he lands on his feet, of course, and hangs onto the slats; then the final shot of him is his jump down to get away from the crazy lady. He obviously wasn’t harmed, but he must have been very scared. I’ve seen criticism of him as a “mean cat”, but really, given that they did things like this to him, I’m not in the least surprised he was mean sometimes.

Still, at the beginning of the next scene, there he is again, up near the ceiling – this time on the stuffed head of a cow, referencing the herds of beef that Holly’s fiancé-of-the-moment owns in Brazil.

And he’s brought in the taxi, when Holly gets bailed out of jail. This time, he’s been wrapped in a towel – I suspect he’d had enough of being chucked around, and this was the only way he’d stay still. But he’s still “a poor, no-name slob”.

He’s really not a decoration this cat – he’s a solid character all the way through, and he must be onscreen as much as Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, which is saying something. Holly rejects him too, from her grief at her isolation and her fear of Paul’s love: as she prepares to throw the cat out of the taxi in the pouring rain, she says “What do you think? This ought to be the right kind of place for a tough guy like you, garbage cans, rats galore. Scram!” The poor cat is obviously extremely reluctant to go out into the wet, and when he’s pushed off the verge of the car door, he trots off smartly, hopefully to where his trainer is sitting, calling encouragingly. The seemingly last sight we have of him is of him wet, bedraggled and lost, with his front paws draped over a railing, and the rain is still lashing down. Paul is so horrified at this that he pays the driver off, gets out of the car, and delivers the turning point speech to Holly: that she’s scared, of life, of love, of happiness, that her fear of being bound is already keeping her in a cage, she just doesn’t know it.

And that’s it. She runs after him, to find that he’s gone back to find the Cat. She searches for him, in the sopping, grimy entryway, and just when everything seems lost, and she and Paul are looking mutely at one another, Cat miaows, and they’re together again, huckleberry friends just like in Moon River. Both sopping wet, but they’re two drifters who’ve found one another, never to be parted,.

The lovely ginger moggy was named Orangey, and he made a TV serial and almost a dozen films, including My Favourite Martian and The Incredible Shrinking Man, though the names of the three dozen or so cats who went by the name of Orangey, and the names of the cats he played, have got a bit mixed up over the years, but the basic name is Orangey. He’s also (uniquely) the winner of two Patsy Awards, the Animal Oscars, one of which was for this film. Bless. And Orangey himself, whichever cat he was onscreen, is said to be remembered at Forest Lawn Memorial park, in Hollywood Hills.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Cats

c Nicole Hrustyk Dreamstime
Mrs Norris remembers                                         c Nicole Hrustyk Dreamstime

 

Cats are threaded through the whole of Harry Potter, it’s a wonderful thing to see – maybe that’s one of the reason I feel so at home in that universe? Although, in researching for this article, I discovered the not-so-secret secret that JK Rowling is allergic to cats, and doesn’t like to be in the same room with them for too long. She isn’t particularly fond of them, either.

However, she’s very fair: the first book tells us nearly everything about cats that JK Rowling wants us to know, and that is that cats are almost exactly the same as people. Some are good, some are bad, according to their own nature. The only difference between cats and people is that there’s no cat as evil as Voldemort, not that I can see, anyway, and that’s kind of JKR when she’s not fond of cats herself. Cats are integral to the wizarding world, just like they are to the muggle world.

The very first cat we see is Professor McGonagall, when she’s already Transfigured – Mr Dursley, on his way to work on the morning of that fateful day, sees a tabby cat reading a map. And she’s sitting on his garden wall when he comes home in the evening, but she waits for Professor Dumbledore, who doesn’t arrive till nearly midnight, and that’s Minerva McGonagall to a T – always active, and always supporting Dumbledore.

We only hear about the next cats, we don’t see them. These are the ones belonging to Arabella Figg, who used to babysit Harry during Dudley’s birthday trips out. But on those days, “Mrs Figg made him look at photographs of all the cats she’d ever owned … Tibbles, Snowy, Mr Paws and Tufty”. We soon find out that she’s gone off her cats a bit because she broke her leg tripping over one of the cats. Mrs Figg has her own secrets, of course, but we don’t even know that they exist until much later in the series.

Cats are one of the three sorts of animals allowed for first-years at Hogwarts: toads and owls are also on the list. So when Harry gets to platform nine-and-three-quarters for the first time and sees the wonderful engine building up steam for the journey to Hogwarts and the chattering crowd on the platform, “cats of every colour wound here and there between their legs”.

And that’s the point, really: they’re there, all the time in the background. Occasionally, one steps forward into the foreground and in this book, that’s really Mrs Norris, the cat of Mr Filch the caretaker. She has “bulging, lamp-like eyes just like Filch’s”, and quite like this Cat Pottery cat in a recent post of mine:

“She patrolled the corridors alone. Break a rule in front of her, put just one toe out of line, and she’d whisk off for Filch … it was the dearest ambition of many [students] to give Mrs Norris a good kick.”

 

Mrs Norris patrolled on her own!  Wizarding cats are more than our cats – more than our cats let us see, anyway … but Mrs Norris definitely isn’t likeable. Even Hagrid, when Harry and Ron go to tea with him for the first time, says “An’ as fer that cat, Mrs Norris, I’d like ter introduce her to Fang some time. D’yeh know, every time I go up ter the school, she follows me everywhere? Can’t get rid of her – Filch puts her up to it”.

No matter what – in the first film, Mrs Norris is a beautiful, beautiful slim long-haired Maine Coon – actually, three Maine Coons, according to the website Showcatsonline, which even shows behind the scenes training moments. I’ve not seen that anywhere else, and I really, really like Harry Potter.

Interestingly, there’s an interview on with Gary Gero on Scholastic, the wide-ranging learning website.  Gary is the animal trainer who provides many of the animals on the Harry Potter sets, and he has this to say about Mrs Norris (well, Tibbles): “we have to very carefully select cats. That’s one of the keys—you get a cat who enjoys work and enjoys the environment and enjoys new people and new situations. And then, it’s all about dinnertime with cats, isn’t it? We take their dinner and we divide it up into training sessions, and they’re pretty much working for their dinner. Then, they get a bowl of food at night as well. But they’re food is all regulated, and they’re fairly intelligent. Their training method is a little less direct than, let’s say, a dog. You make smaller steps. And again, once you understand exactly how a cat learns and what progress it makes, it’s not difficult. They try—you just have to be careful that you don’t expect too much of a single training session.”

Mrs Norris pops briefly into the story again when Harry and Ron visit the Mirror of Erised together at Christmas. They’re wearing the Cloak of Invisibility, but they can’t tell whether or not it works on cats. And JK Rowling doesn’t tell us at this stage!

She also pops in at the very start of the evening when Harry has his first confrontation with Voldemort, but it’s more a case of remembering that she’s there, and adding colour to the journey. It’s important to remember, though, that Mrs Norris looks at our heroic trio, even though they’re under the Invisibility Cloak. She doesn’t betray them, either.

And that’s it! For the first book, anyway. Though I should say, Gryffindor House has a lion as it’s symbol. Cats rule Hogwarts, just like they rule the Internet.