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While Truman Catpote—the feline incarnate of the dead, gay writer—is no stranger to bright lights and much fanfare, it’s his latest short film appearance (which was created by the hugely significant Chilean-American artist Danilo Parra) that has stirred a media firestorm. Titled the “Cat in a Bath: The Torture Room,” the piece features Truman in the singular role of kitten, “forced to endure the more sadistic of human rituals”—bath by bathtub.
We recently enjoyed the rare opportunity to meet with Truman, who divides his snooze-time between the sofa by the bay windows and the top of the outsized piece of rolling luggage, which stands in the corner of the apartment we share on a verdant street in Brooklyn’s armpit.
Street Carnage: Truman, thank you for granting us this exclusive interview.
Excuse me, Mr. Catpote. Please tell me what it is about “The Torture Room” that compelled you to end such a lengthy hiatus from the screen since your cameo in Annie Hall?
Oh, dear me. Have you already introduced me as “the feline incarnate of Truman Capote”? I think your incessant anthropomorphizing of me should tell you something about how irreconcilably lonely you are. For the sake of promoting Danilo’s film, however, I’ll play along with you while I sun myself.
As you know, I have always been very fond of the cinema, but there have been certain limiting factors—namely time-allotment and the Cerberus that is any film set—that have drastically limited my participation over the years. We all know how wonderfully the original In Cold Milk was received, so I will concede that sometimes things do work out by the hands of others. This time around with the “Torture Room,” I kept my claws off directorially and just worked as an actor. What lent a very authentic quality to the film is how Danilo gave me absolutely no direction throughout the script-less production. As a result, there is no interpretation of any kind happening on my part—he has simply turned on his camera—you yourself are bathing me, of course—and I am responding in a very raw way. I completely trusted Danilo to do a sparkling job with the piece, and I now know how very right I was to do so. And although everybody has just been raving about it, I’ve yet to see it myself.
He put it the film on his Vimeo page. You really haven’t seen it yet?
Oh no. How could I? I need Danilo to put the short on a film reel. You know I only view cinema on my projector. But really though—and I’ll be perfectly frank with you—I don’t like it myself when I am the sitter and not the portraitist: the frailty of egos!—and the more accurate the strokes, the greater the resentment. My point is I don’t want to see the film because I want to continue as a fan of Danilo’s work. And of Danilo.
That’s funny. I think you said the exact same thing in a 1966 interview with George Plimpton. When did Danilo first approach you?
But I must say I found the idea quite invigorating when it was first presented to me. As I said there was never a script to be read. It all began one evening as I was leaving my table at La Taza de Cristal; Danilo approached me and asked to meet at the bar. He had an idea for a film. We discussed it over a few martinis and I felt confident the young man was coming from enough of a pussy-cat perspective—and there really is something inherently feline about him. I agreed to the work on the spot. After he left, I proceeded to dribble a massive hairball down the front of my slacks before curling up under the bar.
Yeesh. What were some working titles?
“Renewal.” We played with ideas of invigoration, because that’s one of the things a bath is supposed to represent.
What do you think of baths?
Don’t be silly; baths are wonderful, and I don’t even mind the idea of humans bathing. What is so troubling for cats, however, and especially those of us with luscious, thick poofy coats, is that the human bath is anything but convenient—or comfortable. Accordingly, the obvious occurred to me: “The Torture Room” is about how every so often a certain minority of the kitty kingdom—namely us owners of decadent, gorgeous coats—must submit to the arbitrary hygienic standards of humans lest we go unloved—or, even worse, unpetted. Why do they do this? Are they really unaware of our own brand of bath? It’s an ongoing process of grooming we enact patch by patch throughout the day. Why mettle?
Is there anything at all redeeming at all about the human bath? I know you like the blow-dryer, which warms you and makes you so extra-poofy.
Yes, the end-result looks nice but my coat ends up tasting of bitter shampoo for the next few days. You really need to be better about that.
Sorry about that. I recall how the production date of “The Torture Room” was bumped up because our furnace had coughed a bunch of sooty dust everywhere and you picked it all up like a feather duster.
Yes, thank you for reminding me. In the film you’ll notice how I appear almost silver in color. It was quite terrible.
I wonder when I should bathe you next? It’s been a while since you last got poop stuck in your fur, which you always end up licking. Why do you do that? That moistens it into a gooey sauce which you smudge all over my bedroom. You should just let it dry like a tootsie roll so I can pull it out of your fur. That’s a lot easier for me and it means fewer baths for you.
Well, this wraps up my questions, Tru—Mr. Catpote. I wondered if the world might look forward to another starring—and non-bathing—role from you any time soon?
If you’re involved? Highly doubtful. You can leave now.