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Cat Sticks: Indie Film Soundtracks And How They Can Be Done Well- Part 3/3

features Apr 30, 01:38pm

The soundtrack itself is a testament to how music can work in a film that demands a lot of the viewer
 Photo Courtesy: Lech Majewski, Ronny Sen

First things first; Cat Sticks is a pretty harrowing experience and definitely not for those of you who are easily put off by people being their worst selves. It’s shot in black and white and set in Kolkata, but it’s not the city you’ve seen or know; the Kolkata here looks more a ruined, decaying playground than a bustling metropolis. The entire film is broadly about one rainy night and the characters relentlessly chasing the high of drugs and the madness that inevitably follows it. So the backdrop of the movie is composed mostly shadows, weird shapes caused by its lighting and the unending sound of rain. It’s probably one of the worst movies to have an immersive and substantial soundtrack that supports the off-kilter visuals and sounds that dominate the film. But for some reason, it manages to coexist with these elements while taking all the left turns it wants and having its own identity within the framework of the movie.



Take, for example, the piece that opens the whole movie. It’s a jarring, heavy, brooding post-rock instrumental that has Godspeed You! Black Emperor-like doom and is punctuated by thunderclaps and the rain. Coupled with the grimly hilarious visual of people getting high inside an old airplane, it gives the overall audio-visual experience so much more weight than either of the two elements in isolation. There are a lot of violin and orchestral elements throughout the film, but they are never laid-back or calm; as the movie progresses more and more into surrealism and dark spaces that are lit by nothing but a few candles (it is an art film after all, so the way something looks or moves has as much importance as the story itself), the score is supported by some punchy percussion and drums that get more and more tribal as the characters get less and less ‘civilized’ (for the lack of a better word). 
There is a long scene around the half-hour mark that shows the film at its most primal, and the dissonant violins that get progressively more teeth-clenching as the two characters shown get more and more high from the drugs they have been chasing all film. It achieves what it wants to do, which is to scare the living daylights out of the viewer. It looks strangely choreographed (something that composer Oliver Weeks noted in our interview with him), a weird dance that spirals more and more into craziness but also freedom. The idea of the piece is a sort of lullaby, Oliver said in his interview, and in a horrid, messed up way, it makes total sense. The drugs are sending these people to sleep while also making them more awake than a normal human can ever hope to be. This scene has probably the most classically inspired minutes of the entire score, and it gives it that hopeless weight that only a big orchestra and the peculiar spectrum of frequencies that classical music has is capable of giving.



Cat Sticks is an exploration of not only its story but its backdrop, and Kolkata’s odd mix of pure truth and stoned intellectualism provide the appropriate foil for the rambling of its characters. It also has some amount of effect on how the film sounds. There’s not just lofty and highbrow orchestral stuff here, there’s also distorted guitars, big groovy drums and pieces that are proper 70s prog-rock. It’s a heady mix and not the easiest thing to execute, but the movie itself has so many different situations and explores so many aspects of human behaviour that Oliver’s soundtrack seems to have no trouble twisting, turning and changing shape as the movie does the same. Need a hopeful-ish tune for when one of the characters finally decides to go to rehab? Sure! A mouth organ played on screen takes the lead in a mellow, roots-y acoustic guitar and violin piece that sounds like it’s being played in the same room. It’s a fun touch that connects the sound and the visuals in a direct and physical manner. It also has a small amount of hope; just the kind that makes you smile while reminding you that there’s a whole world of hurt still out there.

This is a film that wants to find out what people are chasing, and because of that, it is fragmented and schizophrenic. There are times when the movie and its soundtrack are confused by themselves and don’t know where to go. That’s an interesting feeling to see and hear and is a little difficult to catch unless executed well. But in the case of Cat Sticks, it’s sort of what the film is about. The heavy spacey post-rock piece that starts the movie also ends it, but the movie itself has no real resolution or completion. But it works for some reason; as Oliver says, “My music inhabits a totally different world to Sukanta's sound design, Shreya's photography, the way the characters speak, etc. Somehow they all feel completely fused.” Yeah, pretty much.


Watch the trailer below:




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