After Ed Burns’s last couple films, I’d forgotten to expect something great from him. Looking for Kitty opens with a shot straight out of The Brothers McMullen, or at least a camera move straight out of it. Kitty also borrows a lot of the same music style and, watching the film, I kept remembering Burns’s low budget filmmaking tricks from McMullen and noticed them again in Kitty. Except Burns is a different filmmaker now and Kitty, which runs all of seventy-five minutes, doesn’t make a single mistake. A friend of mine used to say he wished there were short (he meant hour-long) features one could go see while waiting for a bus or a class or dinner. Kitty certainly shows off the possibilities for such a genre. Around the seventy minute mark, I got worried Burns was going to pad it out. Then he didn’t. Instead, he left it alone, let the story run its course. Structurally, it’s a lot like a short story. I’m not particularly sure I’d want to read the short story, but as a film, it works beautifully….
Kitty‘s strength, oddly, comes from Burns’s performance and his character. Back in his first three films, he let himself be the least dynamic (but showiest) actor, which changed with the next two; here in Kitty, he slowly lets the film be about himself, starting with it centering around David Krumholtz’s goofy high school baseball coach who looks like something out of a 1970s Folgers commercial. Once it becomes clear–probably in the first twenty-five minutes, but those twenty-five are amazingly well paced–Burns is actually the protagonist, the film shifts a little. It ceases to be a “mystery” and starts being a rumination on sadness. There’s one sequence in the film–the DV hurts it, but still–it’s wonderful and perfect and it’s when I realized I hadn’t even considered the possibility of Burns turning out another good film, much less a great seventy-five minute one.
The film’s visual tone, how Burns showcases New York City, is interesting, because–while his character continuously espouses its virtues–Burns the director frames his shots tight outside and big inside. The only time it ever feels like he’s doing a detective movie homage is when the characters are in the car, but even then, Looking for Kitty seems like another film, one where the grownups get to do what they wanted to do as kids (play baseball every day and be a detective) and have to deal with it. The friendship between Krumholtz and Burns is particularly nice, because Burns layers it right, paces it right.
If it weren’t for a few really great things–editing-wise, Looking for Kitty is absolutely beautiful. Some of the cuts in this film are breathtaking. Problematically, Burns doesn’t always have the right coverage (he’d probably do well to shoot American Graffiti-style, multiple cameras at once) so sometimes the compositions don’t match, but the editing itself is unbelievable. Anyway, if it weren’t for a few really great things, content-wise, I’d say Looking for Kitty‘s greatness came from its running time and Burns’s sense of how to pace a small story. But it does have a bunch–like six–really great moments and they don’t have anything to do with the running time… (one has to do with the story’s time, I’m not sure about the others).
But it’s a wonderful surprise (though it shouldn’t be, Burns’s really good early films tended to have significant dings holding them back–Kitty has none… and maybe not the time for them). I’m ashamed I didn’t see it until now.