Call of Cuteness (2017)

*. Cuteness is in the eye of the beholder, which necessarily makes it exploitative. Those cute cats on the Internet aren’t playing piano or dressing up as little people for our benefit. Their cuteness is something that has to be manufactured for mass consumption.
*. Cute cats have long been accepted as shorthand for all that is mindless and trivial about online culture, but their popularity is not without significance. A sick culture can cause real harm, to ourselves and others. In the first place we may only be amusing ourselves to death: cute cats being weapons of mass distraction from more pressing concerns. In the second they are representative of a system of production and consumption that swallows up resources (including other sentient creatures) and pollutes the dominant cultural ecosystem.
*. All of which stands as my introduction to this very short (4 minute) animated film about the cost of cuteness. As noted, that cost isn’t only paid by us, but by the cats. If cuteness is only skin deep then here that skin is pulled back, dissected. Like so many aspects of modern life (a close analogy would be to our own beauty industry) it’s something that doesn’t stand much looking into. Cuteness (like beauty) gets ugly when viewed under a microscope.
*. The visual style fits the film’s theme. The cats are presented as jigsaw or paint-by-numbers mosaics that are then disassembled kaleidoscope-style before our eyes (and the eye of the camera, which is itself a kind of surgical tool). The fact that these are living creatures being so destroyed is underlined by the bookends of birth and death, crammed into a brief span that might be a reference to the viral fame of a YouTube video. And once that fame is achieved it doesn’t last in any eternal form but suffers a reverse apotheosis, with the dead cat now so much biomedical waste or chop-shop jetsam sinking into the waters of a darker sky. Such fame is trash. The cute content of the Internet is crap.
*. You’ll have guessed that I was impressed by Call of Cuteness. I think it’s a powerful and provocative concept piece, skilfully produced by German filmmaker Brenda Lien. Almost every image (and there are a lot, as the film moves quickly) is packed with layers of meaning that open up on repeated viewings. Added to this is a soundtrack accompaniment combining fragmented shards of discordant voices and noises. It’s a very effective mix.
*. The title plays a trick on me. Whenever I see it I think of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu.” I’m sure no connection was intended, but I feel like there’s another level of resonance there, with the cats appearing as so many sacrificial victims, or ancient gods, set against a blank black background that hints at stygian depths. In short, I find this to be a profoundly pagan film, and one well matched to the corruption of our digital dispensation.

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