Mid-week Maya: The Private Life of a Cat (1947) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Mid-week Maya: The Private Life of a Cat (1947)

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The films of Maya Deren are widely available online and I will post links when possible.  Here is a link for The Private Life of a Cat.

The Private Life of a Cat (1947)Barely thirty seconds into the opening credits for The Private Life of a Cat will reveal just why I had a lackluster reception to the film.  The Private Life of a Cat was one of Maya Deren's collaborative films, and whatever the extent of her involvement was it apparently was not enough to attach her name to the credits.  You'll see her partner, and then-husband, Alexander Hammid in the credits but not Deren.

This is makes sense, because there's little to nothing in The Private Life of a Cat which bears the creative stamp Deren has come to develop with her films.  In her previous efforts Deren has shown a willingness to blend the movement of the camera with her performers and the background to attain a sort of transcendence in harmony between the three.  I've been impressed by the results so far, and wonder what The Private Life of a Cat would look like with her brand of subjectivity.

As it stands, The Private Life of a Cat is subjective in only the most rudimentary sense.  The camera watches two cats named She, a dark-furred wide-eyed beauty, and He, a white-furred sleek and inquisitive fellow, as they relax throughout the day then, as time passes, look for a place to have their kittens.  What little subjectivity there is comes from the POV shots of the cats as they look for their kitten home.  The camera is mostly in the place of an outside observer as we watch the cats, and the POV shots aren't really from the cat's perspective, but from a location slightly above the cats - like a child or preadolescent  trying to figure out just what the cats are looking at.  For a much stronger and experimental look through the subjective lens of different creatures, Stan Brakhage's Mothlight and The Domain of the Moment are stronger suggestions.

So, The Private Life of a Cat is less what the title suggests, and more Stuff I Happened to Catch My Cats Doing When My Camera Was Rolling.  Even the way it's edited together suggest more of a personification of the cats with the intertitles giving a hint to what they are "thinking" and following them as they set up a nest, teach their kittens to walk, and so forth.  So, as a Deren production, The Private Life of a Cat is too slim for my tastes.  But, as a cat fan and looking at the film as an early example of a nature documentary in spite of the controlled environments (and, really, most nature documentaries are tightly controlled) it's a fun watch.  We get the circle of life in 22 minutes and some change, and are left with the possibility of more healthy kittens to come.

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Posted by Andrew

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