Sunday 19 October 2008

The Greatness of Cheeta

Since I last wrote about the great Cheeta, Fate has placed a copy of his memoir Me Cheeta in my hands. From what I've read of it so far, it seems to me just about the most devastating critique of Hollywood any primate - human or non-human - ever wrote. I say 'human or non-human', but that's the point - in Cheeta's world the line between a bunch of Hollywood stars and a troop of apes is vanishingly fine. At home in both worlds, Cheeta brings a uniquely withering perspective to the movie business - though it 's not without tenderness, as he clearly loves the good guys (male and female) and loathes all the right people. It is also, of course, very funny and very scabrous - but Cheeta can write, I mean really write. Chapter 2, in which his jungle life ends - in carnage - and he falls into human hands, is genuinely moving. Here's a passage (Cary and Kirk are, of course, the dominant males of the troop). Cheeta has just seen his mother killed by Cary and his sidekick Spence, and they'll be coming for him next...

'I blundered through a maze into the lower canopy where I was hidden, and blundered on until I had to stop and rest in a little cradle of branches. After a while, there didn't seem to be much reason to go anywhere: Mama was my only home, and she would find me if she could. So I didn't move, except once to fetch some leaves when the cradle began to hurt. I breathed and slept and didn't grow hungry, and let the rain fall on me as it fell on everything else.
What happened to us, dearest humans, was nothing special. I suppose Cary must have staged a coup against old Kirk, and then against his two main rivals. But who cares? It was just politics. Sooner or later, every creature that lives in a forest has to learn that there's only the hierarchy and the alphadom and the constant dance of death. From the termites to the turacos to the marmosets and pythons, from the mongooses to the leopards and the apes, every one of of us, every second of the day, was simply trying to pass on its death to another. Even the bushpigs at their mother's teats, stealing milk from their brothers and sisters, and the trees and the grasses, too. Everything that lived, murdered. We were meant to be the best of all creatures, the paragon of the animals, and we were also mired in it. I watched the turacos around me stab the caterpillars and kept thinking there had to be something - one thing - that wasn't hostile to its bones. But everything was steeped in death: all creatures great and small.'

1 comment:

  1. He could be describing the world of finance.
    Paul Newman, that rarity, a Hollywood actor with style and modesty would have nothing to do with them once filming had ended.