Art

Recommended for You: Paul Chan on Why You Should Watch Cats

Loreta Lamargese

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James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019). Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The strange, unbounded meaning of Cats has led critics to multiple misreadings, and to almost-unanimously lambasting the film for its lack of clear strategy. But what is more feline than a meandering, sensual and graceful reinterpretation of the everyday? And what better artist to remind us of the film’s perverse potential than Paul Chan, whose projections, videos and installations hypnotize by reintroducing the dismal present.

What is your favorite movie?
Cats (2019), directed by Tom Hooper, starring Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Jason Derulo and many others.

How do you apply the idea of “favorite” here?
Whatever feels enlivening, which tends for me to be neither good nor bad, but paradoxical—even contradictory. I don’t have the attention span for what is just interesting or good. I have no taste for it. But nothing quite quickens the heart like the truly irreconcilable. It draws me into conversations with myself about what really matters, and why. Self-reflection is the first social media.

How would you describe this movie to a close friend?
It is the perfectly wrong movie for these profoundly wrong times. Imagine a movie so perverse and misguided as to think that it would be entertaining to see people act like how we all generally feel, given the punishing times in which we live in: naked and scared animals fighting over scraps in trash bins. And to do it as if it was their spiritual destiny. In song. Did I mention the cannibalism? It’s not the hero we deserve, but it’s the hero we need.

Where were you when you first watched it and how did you feel?
I was in an empty theater in LA. I felt sick. Later I felt enlivened. Much later.

If you were putting together a double feature, what movie would you play alongside this one and why?
I would play Cats (2019) twice as the double feature. The movie is so confounding, one is liable to miss everything wrong and irreconcilable the first time seeing it. This is why I would play it again. One is bound to see a different movie the second go, even though it is the exact same film. Wittgenstein called this phenomenon “aspect-seeing.”

How, if at all, has the movie inspired you in art-making?
Hard to say. But I’d like to know myself if I live through this.