It’s been a while since I saw a movie trailer that so perfectly adhered to the traditional beats of “movie trailerness,” a genre all its own, where movie trailers have more in common with other movie trailers than they do with whatever subtype their representative movies supposedly belong to (horror, romance, etc). The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, Trailer is a trailer about a man who paints cats, which means that you’re going to see a bespectacled woman say something like “My God, but he can paint cats” at the thirty-second mark and that same woman say something like “For the love of God, man, can’t you see that these paintings of cats are tearing us apart?” at the one-minute-forty-second mark.
Please note that wherever I have reproduced dialogue in quotation marks, it is a verbatim quote from the trailer.
Beat the First: An Establishment of Harmless Eccentricity
Ah, you paint cats then, do you? Not for nothing do we live in an age of notable Victorian eccentrics, sir, a confederated collection of unconventionalities, the natural but peculiar offspring of Company Rule, whose oddities of character bespeak much goodness of heart and do much to defang the hungry, open mouth of Empire!
Interlocutor: “You’re very muddy.”
Benedict Cumberbatch, drawing feverishly: “I was attacked by a one-and-a-half-ton bull.” [Shows interlocutor drawing of bull.]
Interlocutor [mannered]: Oh!
Violence is ludicrous, specific, non-fatal, and designed to be measured by Victorian amateur-scientists. The bull which attacked me weighed one-and-one-half tons. As a result, I am very muddy. Whiteness and violence are in a ballet. We are on a train.
Beat the Second: The Conferring of Expertise, The Beginnings of Beatlemania
Paintings of cats, you say? Allow me to rifle through them with quiet expertise, betraying nothing of my true opinion until you are nearly frantic with worry. To speak of you as a gentleman amateur is to repeat oneself. A true amateur is a gentleman, and a true gentleman an amatuer. Ah, these are not mere paintings of cats, but ambassador-scouts of true cat-essence. You need to support five sisters at home? Perhaps in an atmosphere of educated and genteel poverty? Fine, fine, so much the better. As long as your means of supporting them stems from keen attention to the ridiculous and the sublime, I see no reason why you shouldn’t quite take polite society by storm.
Interlocutor: “You capture something of the cat. Perhaps because you yourself are an outcast.”
Benedict Cumberbutch, breathing heavily: [Flares nostrils]
Beat the Third: Does Nanny Like It?
Nanny mightn’t like it—
Nanny: “I think you’re the first person to see that cats are ridiculous...frightened…and brave…Like us.”
Nanny likes it!!!
Beat the Fourth: Austin Powers Chase Sequence
Having been judged universally and unanimously to be a drawer of cats, our eccentric hero must steal away from the hordes of Londoners desperate to look at cat drawings on a series of improbably comic velocipedes. It’s the man what draws cats! Quick, after him!
This movie by rights ought to have been released in 2008, when it would have made an infinite amount of money. Cats and Benedict Cumberbatch in a handlebar mustache and old-fashioned bicycle chases? The world needed it then. But the world of 2021 has as much use for it as Molly Grue does a unicorn: “Where were you twenty years ago? Ten years ago? Where were you when I was new? How dare you — How dare you come to me now, when I am this.”
Ah, but it’s all right. I forgive you.
Beat the Fifth: Perhaps A Little Too Popular, These Cat Paintings?
Nick Cave is very briefly in one of these shots.
Benedict Cumberbatch, feverishly: They will turn blue and communicate with us in our own language.
Interlocutor (girl, doing 2010-era “This is awkward” commercial comedy): Did you say that they would turn blue?
Benedict Cumberbatch, doing the same: Yes. Of course.
Beat the Sixth: You’re Burning Your Cat-Candle At Both Paintings
“You have squandered your health on wretched cats!”
“How you’ve managed to conjure images of such delight at such a dark time…I don’t know.”
Beat the Seventh: Our Eccentricities Produce Fragility, But Our Fragility Produces An Aesthetic Utopia
“Just remember, however hard things get, however much you feel like you’re struggling, the world is full of beauty, and it’s up to you to capture it all, and to share it with as many people as you can.”
In a world full of electricity, shipwrecks, violence, dark satanic mills, bare-knuckle boxing, steam trunks, and war, one man dared to draw cats. Perhaps he did draw too many cats. The world praised him, then called him mad — perhaps they were right. But he draw cats, all the same, and that has made all the difference.