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Maya Deren


If you’re a filmmaker, what subject could be more interesting than… your cats? This is not just an amateur movie about cats, it can be read as a statement. Avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren made art out of images by following amateurism, as a practice of invention free from the laws of profit, and the possibility to imagine new realities through images.

In this rare gem dated 1945, Deren and her husband, Czech cinematographer Alexander Hammid, chronicle the interior world of their own cat family. The tightness of the shots and attention to movement creates an intimacy between the viewer and the feline performers. 

When it was first shown at Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16 in 1947, The Private Life Of a Cat was banned as obscene because it showed the brutal birth of kittens. Yeah, giving birth is brutal, even if it’s kittens. The original version of the film is neither short nor silent, but a 30-minute length doc featuring a soundtrack and Maya Deren’s narrating voice.

Deren and Hammid are most known for their first avant-garde film, Meshes in the Afternoon (which David Lynch cited as a major influence for Lost Highway). Deren was essentially a poet: she created challenging, unsettling images. All of her practices were meant to go beyond usual reality and open up to new ones.

“the messy assemblages of mushroom foraging might help indicate a new and different way for individuals and societies to engage with that broad assemblage that is our modern world”