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Short of the Week: 'The Private Life of a Cat' by Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren

The Private Life of a Cat

The avant-garde films produced by the husband-and-wife filmmaking partnership of Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren are considered by many to be some of the most influential cinematic experiments from that period. This particular 1947 short documentary, The Private Life of a Cat, has been dubbed as “The Best Experimental Film About Cats Ever Made” by The Atlantic but read into that as you will. 

Filmed with poetic intimacy and an experimental spirit, The Private Life of a Cat revolves around a family of cats and their delightful existence. By eliminating the inevitably corrupting presence of humans from the screen, the filmmaking duo of Hammid and Deren manage to curate a voyeuristic experience in which the audience can compare the lives and fears of cats to our own.

Deren believed: “The major obstacle for amateur filmmakers is their own sense of inferiority vis-a-vis professional productions. The very classification ‘amateur’ has an apologetic ring. But that very word–from the Latin’ amateur’–’lover’ means one who does something for the love of the thing rather than for economic reasons or necessity… the amateur should make use of the one great advantage which all professionals envy him, namely, freedom–both artistic and physical.”

Adding, “Artistic freedom means that the amateur filmmaker is never forced to sacrifice visual drama and beauty to a stream of words, words, words, words, to the relentless activity and explanations of a plot, or to the display of a star or a sponsor’s product; nor is the amateur production expected to return profit on a huge investment by holding the attention of a massive and motley audience for 90 minutes.”

Watch Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren’s seminal 1947 short The Private Life of a Cat below.