Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 22 March 2007
Source 35mm print
Ron Holiday takes us around his Floridian home during his morning routine: watering the flora in his garden, a session with some gravity boots, brushing his dogs’ teeth, selecting the wig he will wear for the day. At 70, Ron looks decades younger than he is. He speaks of a renowned career as an exotic adagio dancer in the 1960s, and later as a part of Cat Dancers, a provocative stage performance that incorporated wild tigers, panthers, and leopards. Ron would eventually settle with his beloved animals, tending to them at his private ranch. We see how ferociously they’ll devour helpings of raw meat for lunch, and later how Ron approaches them so nonchalantly, as pets and not wild animals. They are essentially his last friends, simultaneous reminders of his accomplishments and his losses.
He speaks of his days in Cat Dancers with conviction, and his hyperbole is justified with the 16mm footage that accompanies his thoughts (in an incredible instance, a leopard jumps some thirty feet into his outstretched arms). The nostalgia that his remembrance should conjure is disabled by the absence of the two people Ron speaks of so fondly — his wife Joy, and their younger co-partner Chuck. The three lived and performed together for the greater part of two decades.
Cat Dancers will elucidate the sudden and proximate tragedies that ended Ron’s eponymous stage show in the late 1990s, and the nature of Joy and Chuck’s deaths will not be unexpected. As much as this film is the story of their fates, it is also — and more disarmingly — a portrait of an extraordinarily compassionate man who is left with little to care for. He is an effortlessly unique person who has found his calling in spite of mounting debilitations, nourished it, and he now persists despite nearly unbearable heartbreak.
Cat Dancers concerns a theme I am partial to in film: how human compassion transcends human relationships. Ron Holiday’s compassion ensures a bountiful garden, his well-nourished animals, and even his own unnaturally fit body; I sense these are the results of tremendous loss, as Ron’s face will break into tears easily, his material comforts and health obscuring an emotional void that nothing remains able to console.