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Docurama presents

Cat Dancers (2007)

"I don't want to remember how it ended. I know how it ended. I'd rather have it be a beautiful dream."- Ron Holiday

Director: Harris Fishman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, mild language)
Run Time: 01h:15m:27s
Release Date: 2009-02-24
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B-B- B-


DVD Review

We've all seen the occasional news story about someone who has raised some sort of wild animal in captivity—be it monkey, tiger, or snake—only to have it suddenly turn violent and deadly.

In this 2007 HBO documentary, director Harris Fishman tells the strangely bittersweet tale of Ron and Joy Holiday and a gaggle of tigers, panthers, and jaguars that were part of their Vegas-style stage act called Cat Dancers, a glittery and bizarre mix of dance, illusions, and big cats. It is the story of a love affair that went beyond traditional sexual boundaries, and a marriage that eventually involved more than just Ron and Joy.

Against a series of old photographs and performance footage of their act, Ron Holiday—pushing 70—speaks to the camera of their life together, and at the outset mentions something very tragic that happened. The specifics aren't clear—we're not told when, where, who—and Fishman allows this to serve as a voyeuristic hook, as Holiday recounts how he and Joy met, became a world-class adagio ballet team decades ago—traveling the world and living large—and how this eventually developed into a sequinned act that involved the use of a number of big cats as part of the show. Part circus, part dance, part magic.

Fishman provides no narration, and only uses transitional title cards briefly late in the film. That leaves Ron Holiday to explain the past, periodically hinting at some great event that would change his life forever. He is remarkably frank and candid, to the point where he is comfortable allowing Fishman's camera to show him selecting one of his many hair pieces to wear for the day. Joy Holiday is seen through archival material, and it is via these television interviews and home movies where we begin to form an image of who she was, and what she meant to Ron. And when it comes time for the Holidays to hire handsome young assistant Chuck Lizza—who both Ron and Joy were attracted to—the dynamic of their relationship becomes infinitely more complex.

Beneath all of the personal intricacies, there are the cats, and above all, that whispered undercurrent of some unspoken tragedy. Fishman never tips his hand as to where the narrative is going, though clearly it is somewhere bad; when that moment finally does occur, it is indeed quite startling. Yet that is hardly the sudden end of the story, either. I used the phrase "glittery and bizarre" a few paragraphs earlier, and on so many levels that seems to define (with no disrespect intended) the Holidays, along with their shared love of big cats—as well as that of Chuck Lizza. But as unconventional as it all might have been, Fishman edits it all in way that portrays the Holidays as genuine left-of-center lovebirds. And what's so wrong with that?

There is perhaps a hinted at subtext of something darker that maybe I was simply reading too much into, and it occurs late in the doc as Ron Holiday is recounting the events of a life-changing encounter with one his tigers. His explanation, while appearing deeply heartfelt, seems to have the possibility to be implying that something more actually happened than he is telling. Fishman never explores this angle any deeper, though maybe just including the interview as-is is his way of laying the concept out there. Or maybe I just have an overactive imagination.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Cat Dancers comes from Docurama in its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. This is a hodge-podge of source material, so the image quality is understandably all over the place. The new Ron Holiday interview segments, as well as some of the newer on-location segments, look the best, though largely inconsistent. Details and edges at times are sharp, while other moments lack the same level of definition. The archival footage ranges from blurry to grainy to fair, but director Fishman is able to use this to create a dreamlike transitional effect during interviews.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 stereo. Voice quality during the Fishman-directed Ron Holiday interviews is adequately clean, with no hiss or distortion, as is the score and original music—from String Theory and Peter Salett. Much of the other content comes from a range of archival material, so the clarity varies greatly—though none of it is especially awful.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Air Guitar Nation, A Crude Awakening, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
7 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There's no director commentary, and for all the discs where I have felt a track was fairly unnecessary here's a time that I was actually looking forward to one. Strange how that works, isn't it? A little personal insight from director Harris Fishman on the whole Cat Dancers experience could have possibly been quite interesting, especially given some of the seemingly glaring unexplored questions I had surrounding some of the key events.

The so-called Bonus Interviews—which runs nearly as long as the feature itself—seem like segments that at one point where considered to be part of the final film. In looking at the finished cut of the doc, it seemed that Fishman wanted to have the only voice be that of Ron Holiday—aside from any archival television interviews and the like. And while it's no surprise that Fishman would have more interview footage with main subject Ron Holiday (18m:35s), it is the other pieces that provide detailed information on tigers, but also on one of the tragic events that occurs. The additional interviews featured are Sgt. James Troiano (06m:41s), Wayne Oxford, trainer (18m:11s), Barbara Hoffman, trainer (08m:34s), Jay Riggs, trainer (04m:25s), and Chet Rothberg, Amazing Exotics (08m:25s). Two of the segments—Ron Holiday and Sgt. James Troiano—are curiously presented in anamorphic widescreen, considering the feature doc is not.

An Alternate Opening Sequence (:57s) features Ron Holiday bottle feeding one his cherished big cats, and telling an odd story about tiger mating. The tone of Holiday's remarks—as the first thing viewers would see—would have really tilted the film in a weird direction right out of the box, and Fishman's choice of having a somewhat more subtle open seems wise.

Also included is a text bio for director Harris Fishman, along with a few Docurama trailers, though I always wonder why is it always the same four titles? The disc is cut into 12 chapters, with no subtitle options.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

Love comes in all shapes and sizes, and in Cat Dancers it is a story of a most unconventional relationship involving two men, one woman, and a few big cats. And while it may seem strange on the surface, there's the eventual realization that no matter how unorthodox, they were indeed happy and living their dream. At least for a while.

Consider this worthwhile documentary fans with a taste for the unusual.

Rich Rosell 2009-02-23