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The Private Life of a Cat

(1944)

directed by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 22 minutes

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Toward the end of their marriage, filmmakers Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid collaborated on the remarkable short THE PRIVATE LIVE OF A CAT. As the film’s furry protagonists, identified only as “She” and “He,” gave birth to a litter of kittens (a process recorded in the film in full though without sound), Deren and Hammid captured their sly, sidelong glances, their cuddles and licks, their resourcefulness and their casual, curious mannerisms. The filmmakers both adored cats and their admiration and affection for the creatures is evident here; their feline subjects occupy nearly every frame of the film, which was shot over the course of four weeks. The filmmakers themselves never appear in this piece; the world they created is inhabited by the animals alone. Here, Deren and Hammid exist only in the objects in their apartment; in the film’s sparse intertitles; in the appearance of the occasional saucer of milk; and in the presence of the camera. “One of the finest films that has ever been made,” said filmmaker Stan Brakhage of PRIVATE LIFE, a work that’s a character study, a work of cinematic anthropology, a narrative, a documentary, part drama and, perhaps above all, a romance. - Livia Bloom

This presentation of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF A CAT includes an original score composed by Beth Custer and performed by the Beth Custer Ensemble.

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Reviews

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2 users found this helpful Created 10 months ago.

This wonderful 1944 doc treats its subjects with such empathy and bonhomie that viewers can't help but share the filmmaker's affection for She and He as they nuzzle, lick, and playfully bat each other around or lounge about in a suspended state of bohemian lassitude. Nature runs its course, of course, and in the second act He is sent in exile to the living room while She, oblivious to the penetrating gaze of the camera, gives birth to a litter of rollicking kittens. It’s a love story for the ages.

2 users found this helpful Created 3 months ago.

If this were posted to facebook, you'd get a 100k likes.

2 users found this helpful Created over 1 year ago.

Did Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid invent the cat video? Very possibly! Completely delightful in every way. Deren, intensely interested in the experiences of women (no matter what the species!), puts the focus on She and her journey into motherhood. But He is definitely not left out, and indeed has much to contribute to the kittens' introduction to the world. The score by the Beth Custer Ensemble is perfect. A beautiful slice of life.

Created 2 days ago.

Amazing what can be done with a camera and a few cats.

Created 4 months ago.

Great editing shapes great story sense.

1 user found this helpful Created 6 months ago. Updated 6 months ago.

I had no idea a short movie of a cat bearing and then caring for kittens could be this good. It's something everyone with a cat (who hasn't been neutered) and a videocamera has essayed, and the results are largely identical. The cat-owning videographer is just content to point the camera at the cat from a middle distance, record until fatigue or cramp sets in from holding the camera, and then posts the unedited footage on youtube.
This is a tightly edited assembly of remarkable shots, and more proof that editing is the core of movie making. Most shots are at the cat's eye level, and there are more than a few shots that read as the POV of the cat (at least the one the film makers dub "She.") There are some incredibly tight close-ups during the birth sequence, and birth comes off as the messy, bloody, and potentially fatal event it can be. I found myself holding my breath more than a few times during the birth sequence as She panted strenuously.
I watched this with the sound off. I didn't find the music suited the images.

Created 9 months ago.

A master filmmaker delights us in a domestic scene of felines: love, birth, grooming, feeding, cleaning, walking, playing, drinking, relaxing.....ah.....

Created 11 months ago.

lovely!!!!

Created over 1 year ago.

brilliant!

Created over 1 year ago.

This little piece of heaven is a must watch~ Especially for cat lovers and anyone interested in film making~ Charming and heart warming.

Created over 1 year ago.

Love this film! love kitties love love...

Created over 1 year ago.

Cat fanatics will love this heart-warming true life film made in 1944. Worth the watch!

Created over 1 year ago.

YAY!

Created over 1 year ago.

Wow this was so sweet. I've never seen cats in their natural environment quite like that I'm grateful I got a sneak peak! Great cinematography...definitely paralleled that 'cats taking on human qualities' theme that has enveloped our subculture. Also, good timing. Well planned. Thanks!

Created over 1 year ago.

a close knit clan of the feline variety. the circle completes the life cycle in a few shorts months. clean, direct, personal, and private explored. nice project.

Created over 1 year ago.

Delightful! Though the male (tom) cat is often not so attentave to the kittens.

Created over 1 year ago. Updated over 1 year ago.

It was very sweet, and the music wss great in the background.

Created over 1 year ago.

Maya Deren, always a favorite of mine, scored with this beautiful tale (tail).

Created over 1 year ago.

A sweet, witty and endearing look at cat romantic and family life. Great black & white footage coupled with the perfect WWII-era hipster jazz score.

Created almost 2 years ago.

How beautiful! I enjoyed the soundtrack of my own thoughts as the film hearkend memories of my own children.

Created about 2 years ago.

A lovely little cat family! Great animal documentary.

Created about 2 years ago.

A Cat Lovers Delight! Wonderful film... as warm and fuzzy as its stars!!

Created over 2 years ago.

With Renoir's Une partie de campagne 1936 one of the masterpieces of "Idyllic Cinema".

Created over 2 years ago.

I loved it... I was a little off-put by the shakey camera work in the beginning; but it stopped being shakey, early on and I was able to really enjoy the film.

Created over 2 years ago.

An amazing film - really captures the familial aspect of cats - with great depth and MAGIC!

Created over 2 years ago.

Beautiful film of how animals interact.

Created almost 3 years ago.

Cute romance scene. Loved the shot of His first glimpse of the babies. Nice use of camera angles in the door scene, the home search and on the scratching post. More than once we caught ourselves seeing the "humanness" of their emotions.

Created about 3 years ago.

Loving animals lovingly shot.

Created over 3 years ago.

FYI, this movie get 656x better if you add your own soundtrack... May I suggest some atmospheric doom to lighten the mood?

Created about 4 years ago.

The subject was interesting. The filmmaking was fantastic. Music would have been a nice addition. Worth watching.

1 user found this helpful Created about 4 years ago.

Cat lovers will delight in this B&W silent movie (made in 1944 by Alexander Hammid) which captures the birth, early life and education of a litter of kittens living in a cozy urban apartment... Meanwhile, film buffs will appreciate the way in which this short film demonstrates the narrative-building techniques of framing and composition, POV, and selective editing. A strong slice-of-life narrative is created, complete with adorable kittens and proud parents -- the filmmakers keep a documentarian's distance, so while we see the little fuzzballs learning to chase tails and climb furniture, we are denied seeing them curl up into a human's lap. Just as well: the kitties are plenty captivating on their own, as is this whimsical gem of short-subject filmmaking. (JS)