The Private Life of a Cat (1947) dir. Alexander Hammid & Maya Deren
Warning, you may not actually want to watch this one at lunch as this film contains close-up footage of a cat giving live birth.
Can’t say for sure if this is the world’s first Cat Video as we know them. Obviously cats have been a part of cinema since the early days, perhaps reaching an apex of onscreen narrative presence in 1934’s L’Atalante. But could this be the first time the camera has expressly been placed at the level of their whiskers? Had anybody approximated a feline eyeline prior to this point?
With minimal titles and no sound – like the same duo’s “Meshes of the Afternoon” any musical accompaniment was added in retrospect – and nary a human in sight, the movie constructs the story using only cinematic grammar. And like last year’s black-and-white animal experiment Gunda, it does this without excessive anthropomorphizing and minimal glossing of animal nature.
After a display of nuzzling between “She” and “He,” newborn kittens emerge glistening with afterbirth. She dutifully licks it off. Two weeks later She will grab the kittens in her mouth and deposit them on a flat floor where they can practice walking. We’re treated to wobbly kittens attempting to navigate the floor or to follow He up a scratching post. Dad bats them in the face during the attempt, and the film is more or less agnostic about whether he’s being playful or protective. It’s unnecessary to suggest these cats are desiring cheezburger or would be willing to hang on until Friday. Like sloth and koalas and other animals whose icons are used to warm our cold human hearts, the grosser natures of cats can be overlooked in favor of OMG he’s chasing his Daddy’s tail, screw The Best Years of Our Lives, this is the Best Picture of the year.
In addition to puddy-tats, we at The Solute love us some Maya Deren, although there’s some waffling on proper credit for this one. Daren and Hammid definitely collaborated on films together during their marriage between 1942 and 1947 with the amount of credit shared reportedly being one of the simmering issues that contributed to the divorce. Hammid has sole screen credit here and he claims responsibility for this one (with Daren assisting) and gives director credit to Deren for the much more influential “Meshes of the Afternoon” (with himself providing technical assistance). This seems to check out according to some sources and passes a basic logic test as well. With apologies to these fine kitties, if you’re going to exaggerate your part in one film or the other, you’re going to claim credit for “Meshes.”