Roar (1981)

Roar
Director: Noel Marshall
Writer: Noel Marshall, Ted Cassidy
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Noel Marshall, Melanie Griffith, John Marshall, Jerry Marshall, Kyalo Mativo
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 26.9.2015

Plot:
Hank (Noel Marshall) has worked with big cats in Africa for a while, but in a very special manner: he collected all kinds of cats and lives with them on a farm where they basically run wild and can even get into his house. His methods have raised some eyebrows and he is generally the thorn in the side of local bigshots who would rather hunt the cats than live with them. Nevertheless Hank feels secure enough to have his family – wife Madelaine (Tippi Hedren) and children Melanie (Melanie Griffith), John (John Marshall) and Jerry (Jerry Marshall) – come to join him. But when they miss each other at the airport and Madelaine and the kids arrive at the farm on their own while Hank is gone, they are confronted with 50 big cats and no safe space to turn to.

Roar is not exactly a great movie, but from the point of view of the production process it is one hell of a story. Fortunately John Marshall joined us after the screening via skype to tell us more about it.

roar

I don’t think that you can really view the film separately from its production process. Or if you do, what you get is a film withough much plot and no character development that is entertaining enough but ultimately never rises above mediocre. But if you look at the production process, there is a whole lot more to it. Which is probably why the film shouldn’t be shown without a Q&A afterwards where some things can be explained.

It all started with the Noel Marshall’s idea for shooting a film with many big cats. So many, in fact, that there weren’t enough trained cats in the USA to do it. So instead, Marshall and his (real life) wife Tippi Hedren started to collect big cats that they brought up at home. Lions foremost, but soon joined by other races as well. As John Marshall told it, he went to Europe for half a year and when he came back, they had tiger cubs – which was the first time he realized something was weird about this. There are no tigers in Africa, so why did they get them? The explanation he got was that they were so cute. (One of the tigers became his best friend and slept in his bed for years, ruining 4 waterbeds in the process.)

roar1So the farm of the film actually existed (by now it’s a habitat for exotic cats that were held as pets) and for many years the Marshalls actually lived there basically as it was shown in the film. The shoot of the film took many years – it’s not really clear how many – and many of the cast and crew were attacked. Altogether 70 people were treated for bites and scratches at the hospital during production (the only person who never got bitten was, apparently, Kyalo Mativo whose character was also the only person in the film with a healthy respect of the cats). Many of the shots in the film actually are shots where somebody gets hurt, only that they cut away before you can see much.

Today this film woul dbe impossible to shoot – and rightly so. Treating big cats like they were pets is a bad idea, both for the people and the cats. It’s not healthy for any of them (all of the cats in the film died of old age at the farm according to John Marshall), which is another reason why this film should only be shown with commentary. You can’t just stress that point enough. At the heart of the film is a well-meaning environmental message but with its disregard for the cats, the film proves that good intentions don’t necessarily produce good things.

roar2Summarizing: Filmhistorically fascinating, cinematically average.

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