Tennessee Williams’ A Cat On The Fire

TALIM cat-roof-poster-tonight
Poster adapted by Serena Epstein, American School of Tangier

As we walked, I showed Tennessee the Arabic translation of his play, and explained that the title in Arabic meant: A Cat On the Fire.

Mohamed Choukri, Tennessee Williams in Tangier (1979, Cadmus Editions, translated by Paul Bowles)

Choukri's little book recounts one of the playwright's several trips to Tangier, in the days when American writers were thick on the ground here.  "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof," published in 1955 and turned into the cinematic version we watched last night, even has a reference to these parts – someone accused of homosexuality chased "all the way to North Africa" – though the action is entirely in the American South.

With the rapid-fire dialogue, regional accents, and tendency for characters to interrupt one another, we thought it prudent to use the DVD's subtitles – in English.  That was, after all, the point of inaugurating our monthly Movie Night at the Legation: get Tanjawis to use their English.  There was a nice leavening of expats in the audience to provide additional English exposure.

There were no experts in the room, just people who enjoy seeing good films, and those eager to engage in a little thoughtful discussion on a Monday night.  There was a good showing from AST, the American School of Tangier, our partners in this venture.

Since arriving here in 2010, I've been struck by the number of Moroccans who want to use their English and crave contact with native speakers.

English is Big in Morocco.  From the American Embassy's RELO (Regional English Language Office) and the American Cultural Association with its language centers throughout Morocco, to the British Council and the Moroccan Association of Teachers of English (MATE), English is sprouting up everywhere.

We probably broke no new ground in our discussion of mendacity, sexual ambiguity, and family dysfunction – all themes in Williams' play, though the film presents a MPAA-acceptable version that could pass 1958 muster for general audiences.  Writes Emmanuel Levy (Cinema 24/7) of Cat's cinematic context:

A lush, Technicolor production, it opened at the Radio City Music Hall, and featured an all star cast headed by Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Burl Ives. The success of this picture is all the more remarkable when placed in context with the other popular movies of 1958. In addition to South Pacific, the top moneymakers were: Auntie Mame, starring Rosalind Russell; the military comedy No Time for Sergeants, based on Ira Levin's play and starring Andy Griffith; the Oscarwinning musical Gigi; and the historical adventure The Vikings, featuring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

While I like The Vikings, I have to admit that Cat On a Hot Tin Roof has had a much longer shelf life than any of its fellow 1958 top grossers.

Next month on Movie Night we hope to go the documentary route, and henceforth alternate between classics, feature films, and non-fiction.  After a while, we hope that our public will become even more at ease expressing their opinions on the films, and that English can be seen as another natural vehicle of expression.

Gerald Loftus

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