collections

The Private Life of a Cat (ca. 1945)

The avant-garde film-makers Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren, married for five years between 1942 and 1947, collaborated on a number of films. One of their most influential creations was the highly experimental Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943), in which they explore the strange shifts and perspectives of human consciousness. A year or so later they turned from the inner lives of humans to that of animals: specifically the two cats (and then five kittens) with which they lived in their Greenwich Village apartment.

At 22 minutes long and full of lingering feline close-ups, your snappy cat meme video this is not. While not as overtly experimental as Meshes Of The Afternoon, the film is still fairly innovative for its time — featuring numerous takes from a cat’s eye view, and graphic footage of five kittens being born seemingly unaided by the human hand (a scene which was to see the film banned by some cinemas). Indeed, the film is devoid of humans throughout, the wonderful footage cleverly edited to give an impression of a cat-only world, almost verging on anthropomorphism, as though these cats might be living in their Manhattan apartment independent of any owners.

Despite the fact that it is only Alexander Hamid’s name which appears in the opening credits, many think it to be a collaboration: with Deren as director and Hammid as cinematographer and editor. Considering they explicitly shared the credit in other films from this time, including Meshes in the Afternoon, it seems likely that the two considered this to be purely Hammid’s creation, the circulating notion of a collaboration perhaps referring to another version of the film, later scrapped, for which Deren supplies music and narration.