Directed by: #MattWhistler
Short Film Review by guest critic: Naomi Foyle
Where do you go you after you’ve gone viral? In Matt Whistler’s case, on the prowl. In 2010 a video of the comedian venturing out, on the night of the heaviest UK snowfall on record, to sled on a tea tray down Brighton’s steepest street dressed in nothing but a silver trilby, was watched by over twenty thousand viewers. That same year, chicken dancing through Brighton in a Santa hat, Ann Summers seasonal lingerie set and smeared lipstick, Whistler propelled the hit single ‘Surfin’ Bird’ to nearly half a million hits and Number Three in the Christmas charts – achieving cult status when his achievement spawned flash mobs and a tribute video from the RSPB. Having experienced a career high that might have left others desperate to reduplicate their winning formula, Matt – a man of many hats - turned his back on that creative brick wall and chose instead to explore the other intriguing alleyways of his abundant talents.
Over the last nine years Whistler has made digital art, exhibiting his work in New York’s Robot Hotel, and – still channelling fellow Liverpudlian Ken Dodd, but leaving his fluffy red bra in his tickle stick trunk – has continued to hone his absurdist brand of verbal and visual comedy in increasingly subtle and sophisticated street performances and films. The latest result is the semi-autobiopic Matt Cat Pratt (2018), a ten-minute film in which a bemused (and deceptively hatless) Matt Whistler thoughtfully reflects on how his burgeoning global career was diverted by a friendship with a local man trapped in the body of a cat. The BAFTA Hole in the Road premiere, a screening now available on YouTube, opens with a twenty-first century clown show: host Yulia Romanova ‘interviewing’ a ten-foot tall image of Whistler self-admittedly ‘extrapolating the urine’. But art, said Picasso, is a lie that makes us realise the truth, and, as it unsheathes its pinprick claws, this batty self-satire does more than scratch the surface of our times, etching the viewer’s mind with questions concerning the nature of fame, freedom and our shared uncertain future.
A talking head in a shiny blue smoking jacket, ‘live from Los Angeles’ and fresh from art-pranking #Cannes, Whistler here is every inch the jaded Hollywood veteran. His alter-ego Matt Cat Pratt, in contrast, roams wild in an innocent eternal playground. Rejecting sexual fetishization by ‘Furries’, the catman finds joy in his revels in the streets, and as he zooms through town on an electric scooter the film becomes another of Whistler’s cinematic tributes to the vibrant eccentricity of his adopted Brighton: a place which, despite increasing gentrification, is still, thanks to its two universities and famous fringe festival, a Mecca for artists and musicians. There’s sly humour in this incongruous contrast of personas, but good comedy also tweaks anxious nerves – we laugh at a man prancing the streets in women’s lingerie because his ridiculous display breaks multiple taboos around nudity and gender - and scenes of the catman dumpster diving, or disappearing into graffiti-based digital artworks, provoke not just giggles, but niggling fears about the future. As the streets of our cities fill with homeless people, and robotization threatens more and more jobs, who’s to say where our ‘transhuman’ future will plunge us: into skips, scrounging for food, like the people of oil-rich Venezuela, or into the entirely pixelated existence of screenlife? And what are appropriate responses to the stark choices global inequality thrusts upon us? Happily, the streets of Brighton are also known for being often filled with demonstrations, collective rejections of injustice and inaction, but the feral charm of Matt Cat Pratt is a reminder that cultural resistance to mass media-induced conformity should always make room for individual escapades, laughter, the off-beat and im-purrfect. If it doesn’t, we won’t build a new world worth its whiskers.