Premiered at Fantasia 2016, this throwback to 80s video art is deliriously inventive and perversely romantic.
**** out of *****
She’s Allergic to Cats is a terrific picture on many levels. Upon multiple viewings since first seeing it in Montreal at the Fantasia Film Festival in July of this year, I have to admit that one of the more potent aspects of the film was the manner in which it took me back to a period of artistic expression that’s been largely forgotten, in spite of its profound influence upon how movies began to be made and continue to be made to this very day.
The film is a deeply personal film, but as such, it also has inspired – in me – a myriad of personal reflections.
In the halcyon days of making movies in the not-so-bustling Midwestern Canadian winter city of Winnipeg, there was an old schmatta factory in the schmatta district of schmatta-central which had been converted into a six-story emporium of aesthetic exploration called the Artspace Building.
The third floor housed two important non-profit arts organizations. One was the Winnipeg Film Group where I lollygagged, slacked and made movies during the 1980s with the likes of Guy Maddin, John Paizs and a few other wing nuts. The other was Video Pool. We seldom ventured across the hall to visit. They made video art, you see. As far as many of us film snobs were concerned, Video Pool’s creative output was little more than belly button sludge. That said, on those rare occasions in which we actually dared lay eyes upon the matter regurgitated upon – ugh – three-quarter-inch video, even us film snobs had to admit there was occasionally something, dare I say it, cool going on.
The coolest video art, however, was practised on Winnipeg’s community cable station VPW where some of the most insane Chroma-keyed madness was belched out with such frequency and mad genius that I even grudgingly joined the charge and produced a talk show devoted to surviving nuclear annihilation. Masked and frothing at the mouth whilst Chroma-keyed images of nuclear test footage exploded behind us on blue screen, I starred in the show alongside Guy Maddin and Maddin regular Kyle McCulloch (star of Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Archangel and Careful).
At the time, all of us were obsessed with the simple, gorgeous video art techniques employed by the mesmerizing music videos generated by and for The B-52s.
Here it is, some 30 years later, and I’m not only re-obsessed with an arcane, but highly influential form of visual art, but it’s all because of one brand new and genuinely wonderful picture.
Once in a while, you see, I experience a film that reminds me of the joys in those days of generating no-to-low-budget features. The accent was always on the love of cinema, innovation, and most of all, cool shit that I and my colleagues would be happy to pay money to see ourselves. Given our collective cinematic predilections, our only nod to ‘marketplace’ was knowing there had to be whack-jobs like us ‘out there’ who’d pay money to see stuff that we thought was cool.
My personal credo was thus: if you’re making a movie for very little money, it better goddamn well be something that puts you and the film itself on a map. Impersonal ‘calling card’ films had only two results: making something competent enough that you might end up in regular network series television or worse; not being able to overcome the meager production value and generating a movie that nobody would want.
She’s Allergic to Cats made me happier than happy. From the opening frames to the magnificent cut from a hilariously poignant final image to the first of the end title cards, I found the picture endlessly dazzling, deliriously perverse and rapturously romantic. This is exactly the kind of first feature which an original filmmaker should generate. Writer-director Michael Reich boldly announces his presence with a friendly fuck-you attitude, a great sense of humour and a visual style that should make some veteran directors be ashamed of their by-the-numbers camera jockey moves.
Though there is no official genre called ‘schlubs who get to successfully seduce babes’, She’s Allergic to Cats would definitely be leading the charge if such a thing did officially exist – it’s kind of like a Woody Allen picture on acid through the lens of wonky, nutty 80s video art.
Mike Pinkney, the actor, plays Mike Pinkney, the lead character – a schlub extraordinaire who works a day job as a dog groomer. and in his off hours, makes retro-styled video art and/or endlessly watches the horrendous, compulsively watchable 70s TV movie with John Travolta, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. These viewings include Mike eating sweet, unhealthy breakfast cereals. His home is also disgustingly infested with rats that seem to devour everything – from bananas to condoms. The landlord’s only solution is to eventually ‘look up’ a solution on Wikipedia.
Mike’s dream is to make a feature film homage to Brian De Palma’s Carrie – with CATS!!! His producer thinks it’s the stupidest idea he’s every heard. Mike is dejected and persistent all at the same time. Amidst the slacker/McJob existence he leads, Mike miraculously hits it off with Cora (Sonja Kinski – Nastassja’s daughter, Klaus’s granddaughter), a mega-babe who happily agrees to a date.
Here, director Reich deserves to win some manner of official accolade for creating the most depraved ‘meet-cute’ in cinema history. All I will say is that it involves the incompetent clipping of a dog’s nails on the quick, causing them to bleed.
The entire love story is mediated through Mike’s filmmaking/video-art perspective. The result is a chiaroscuro-like mélange of garish ‘video’ colours, cheesy (though gorgeous) dissolves and plenty of sexy video tracking errors.
Though the film’s final actions can be seen from a mile away, ‘surprise’ is hardly the point. There’s a sad and deeply moving inevitability to where things go. Reich achieves the near impossible. We laugh with his main character, we laugh at him and finally, we’re given a chance to weep for him.
Yes, on many levels, She’s Allergic to Cats is a head film, but it has heart and soul. This is something of a miracle. Then again, this should come as no surprise. Getting the film made must have been a miracle and what Reich’s efforts have yielded is nothing less than revelatory.
Watch the trailer: