feline family
June 25, 2007 10:51 AM   Subscribe

The Private Life of a Cat, 1944, (GoogleVideo, 22 minutes), is a gem of a silent film by Alexander Hammid, about a mother cat giving birth, her relationship with her kittens and mate.
posted by nickyskye (29 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

Previously. A little about Alexander Hammid and at IMDB.
posted by nickyskye at 10:52 AM on June 25, 2007

Also, when in the United States he changed his name, at Deren's behest, to Alexander Hammid.

Anyone know why Deren would ask him to change his name (assuming she did and that's not just wiki-nonsense)? Too German sounding?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:08 AM on June 25, 2007

There was some nice camera work here. Also, I think they reversed labeled the male and the female cat? I don't think that male cats give birth, and the male was the stripy one, wasn't it?
posted by wires at 11:16 AM on June 25, 2007

wires, the tabby cat ("stripy") was the mother and the white cat the father.
posted by nickyskye at 11:20 AM on June 25, 2007

Lentrohamsanin, according to Maya Deren's entry in Wikipedia it says, "He changed his name at Deren's behest to Alexander Hammid (nickname Sasha) because Deren thought Hackenschmied sounded too Jewish (which he was not)."
posted by nickyskye at 11:30 AM on June 25, 2007

"He changed his name at Deren's behest to Alexander Hammid (nickname Sasha) because Deren thought Hackenschmied sounded too Jewish..."

Ironic, since now Hammid would probably be thought too Islamic.

I knew what you meant wires, I noticed the same thing.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:35 AM on June 25, 2007

The ending is a nice little "Circle of Life" touch. Thank you for posting this!
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:53 AM on June 25, 2007

Yay! That's fantastic.
posted by tomsk at 11:55 AM on June 25, 2007

The last thing I wanted to see during lunch was a cat giving birth to a kitten and then licking it.
posted by phaedon at 12:18 PM on June 25, 2007

I saw this film a few years back as part of a Maya Deren compilation (it was a nice contrasting piece to Deren's work). Beautiful, touching, funny, and all together NSFL (not safe for lunch).
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:35 PM on June 25, 2007

phaedon: The last thing I wanted to see during lunch was a cat giving birth to a kitten and then licking it.

But it has a flavr.

posted by LordSludge at 12:42 PM on June 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

The last thing I wanted to see during lunch was a cat giving birth to a kitten and then licking it.

Did give fair warning that it was about a "mother cat giving birth". Guess your curiosity got the better of your lunch. Though I can't imagine that part of the film not causing some stomach churning, lunch or no lunch.

LOL! Though I expected some young male MeFites to pipe up about getting queasy.

It's one of the many things I like about the film, the simple honesty about the cat giving birth. It's not the I Can Has Cheezburger version but I couldn't help imagining LOLCATS subtitles.

..."the first thing that the mother will do is to clean the babies by licking them dry. She will also cut the umbilical cord by biting through it near the baby's body. No blood will be lost because the umbilical cord does not function any more. Finally, the mothers of many species of wild mammals often clear away the amnion, placenta and umbilical cord by eating them. This is important because the blood in the placenta could attract predators to the helpless, new-born offspring"...

But it has a flavr.

posted by nickyskye at 12:46 PM on June 25, 2007

metafilter: It also has a cat
posted by Artw at 12:54 PM on June 25, 2007

When I was less than 6 my beagle Rosie gave birth. My mom woke me up to watch it. As I watched I said "This is so romantic."

I watched Stan Brakhage's Window Water Baby Moving last night and it is romantic too, although this time I found myself cheering on his wife Jane, and then the little baby Myrrena.
posted by sciurus at 12:56 PM on June 25, 2007

My all-time feline film fave: Three Little Kittens (1938).
posted by squalor at 1:19 PM on June 25, 2007

Two things about this film make me really happy. The first is that Maya Deren's work is in the public domain. The second is that humans have showers. I'll never have to lick up after birth! Science!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:56 PM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm at work and can't watch -- does he has cheezeburger?
posted by The Bellman at 2:23 PM on June 25, 2007

When I was less than 6 my beagle Rosie gave birth. My mom woke me up to watch it. As I watched I said "This is so romantic."

aww, tender heart, very lovable. Your use of the word romantic under the circumstances is endearing. What did you mean by it?

Three Little Kittens

Has a charming, pre-war simplicity and rawness. I like it a lot too.
posted by nickyskye at 3:10 PM on June 25, 2007

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better: The Private Life of a Marmot.
Ok, I lied. It gets even better.
posted by phaedon at 3:14 PM on June 25, 2007

Hi nickyskye,

Hell I dunno what I meant, I was less than 6. I probably meant something along the lines that it was a magical moment full of love. And placenta.
posted by sciurus at 4:23 PM on June 25, 2007

sciurus, Your lovely anecdote reminded me of one in Eudora Welty's short and unpretentious autobiography, One Writer's Beginnings, in which she relates being a very young child, overhearing adults talking late at night; the unexpected excitement and mystery of knowing there was another, grown-up world out there and she had somehow happened into that world for a moment.
posted by nickyskye at 4:47 PM on June 25, 2007


posted by Busithoth at 4:59 PM on June 25, 2007

aww, nickyskye - good timing, this was just the right peaceful tone I needed - an antidote for my jarred nerves after all the scary but spectacular height photos posted on MeFi today.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:20 PM on June 25, 2007

that was the bestest ever. thank you so much. i didnt know about that video.
um, im also not so secretly a cat lady, but not the kind that has a zillion cats, just super in to my own thankyouverymuch.

posted by stackmonster at 8:22 PM on June 25, 2007

This is a lovely post, nickyskye, thank you...

One year, our mama cat (who was the supplier of healthy and hardy farm cats for my in-laws) was in the process of giving birth. She was such an easy-going cat, I knew she wouldn't mind an audience, so I called my kids into the room to witness the miracle of nature... My son, who was three at the time, was so in awe and he couldn't wait to run off to tell his dad... He ran up to him, breathless with excitement, and exclaimed, "The mama cat just pooped out 5 babies!"
posted by amyms at 12:18 AM on June 26, 2007

amyms, aww, those little rascals and their poop thing. At three why would he think otherwise? He must've wondered, if the mama cat ate them, how they came out alive?
posted by nickyskye at 6:31 AM on June 26, 2007

What I wonder about is why Daddy cat is such an involved Papa. Usually, he's one of dozens of males who mate with the mother and has no involvement with the kittens.

Though perhaps because there are no other males around, Daddy knows the kittens are his and nurtures them?
posted by Maias at 12:59 PM on June 26, 2007

This was swell, and far better than it's porno knock-off, The Life of a Cat's Privates, which was released in 1945 and immediately condemned by the Catholic League of Decency on grounds of "Incessant licking".

Kidding aside, the birth scene reminded me of how pets are a great way for children to learn about birth, life, and death. While I acknowledge that the modern pet industry's emphasis on spaying, neutering, and responsible pet ownership is completely necessary, I think that the more sanitized relationships children have with their pets, bookended by the purchase of the animal at the store and that last trip to the vet (Or "The cat retirement village in the countryside".), does a disservice to the kids.

Lovely film, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:20 PM on June 26, 2007

About Daddy cats: if there's one around, he'll be the daddy. If there's lots around, they typically won't have anything to do with kittens, either by staying away or being chased off by mama cat.

Sometimes neutered males who mama knows or dominates well will become "uncles" to the kittens, playing around with them, discipline, that sort of thing. They'll even try to cart the kitties around by the scruff just like the mama. Older sibling cats do the same thing.

I'll admit that I haven't seen mama/papa cat pairs get along as well as the two in this film do. The only experience I've got is with a mama cat we had as a kitten having an older neutered male as a best buddy. He tolerated the kittens, but didn't really play with them.

My favorite memory is of a kitten going up to one of our older (spayed) females and checking to see if she had milk. She gave a little his and a clawless swat that sent him tumbling a good three feet. I couldn't stop laughing.

Thanks for the video and relived memories!
posted by lysdexic at 2:14 PM on June 26, 2007

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