The Private Life Of A Cat (1947) is a collaboration between Maya Deren and her husband Alexander Hammid. This twenty minute film is a document of their cats as they fall in love, have kittens and those kittens grow up. With no sound or musical accompaniment The Private Life Of A Cat plays out rather matter-of-factly. The film derives its sense of poetry from its content and the technical limitations that Deren and Hammid chose to adhere to.
The camera in The Private Life Of A Cat never leaves the perspective of the feline subjects (roughly six to eight inches from the ground). This locks the viewer into a world that, due to this unusual vantage point, is familiar yet entirely new. Likewise the use of title cards to help form a narrative lend the proceedings a sense of the clinical nature films of Jean Painlevé.
Narrative, in its linear form, is a human invention. By transposing the concept of linear narrative to their cats Deren and Hammid are essentially humanizing them. They invite the viewer to project the emotions associated with different stages of their own lives onto the feline family. The cats, as domestic and cherished companions, illicit only the most precise and sentimental feelings of nostalgia; cutting through all of the neuroses that make the human psyche so complex. The Private Life Of A Cat is a mirror to the private life of the viewer.
As a couple, Deren and Hammid only made two films together: The Private Life Of A Cat and Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943). The Private Life Of A Cat may not be the formalist marvel or avant-garde landmark that Meshes Of The Afternoon is but it is equally important to understanding the modus operandi of Maya Deren’s cinema. Hammid is really a technician while Deren is a cinematic poet who uses dance, the human form, and adorable felines as a series of visual constructs designed to investigate human nature by reflecting human emotion.