The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

December 17, 2015

December 17, 1907

Alexander Hammid (December 17, 1907 to July 26, 2004) the experimental film director, was born Alexandr Hackenschmied and got out of Czechoslovakia a month before the German Nazis invaded. He got to Hollywood and was able to continue his cinematic experimental work, but there was a gap, according to his New York Times obituary:

His ''poetic camera lay dormant for some 10 years,'' he wrote, as he got caught up in the mill of utilitarian and commercial filmmaking, including a partnership with the American independent producer and director Herbert Kline. Their political documentaries ''Crisis,'' named by the National Board of Review as one of the 10 best films of 1939, and ''Lights Out in Europe'' remain classic depictions of the rise of Nazism.

The Times got his wife's name wrong but credits her for some of their experimental work:

In 1943 he married Elenora Deren, a dancer and poet, and together they made one of the first American avant-garde films, ''Meshes of the Afternoon...''...

A merger of her ideas with his camerawork, ''Meshes,'' a silent black-and-white short dense with visual metaphors, became the best-known experimental work of the decade, helping promote a filmmaking method and an aesthetic vastly different from the Hollywood standard. The couple created four more films, with Mr. Hammid providing the technical expertise that Miss Deren, billed as director, needed to execute the detailed instructions on her shooting scripts.

From another source we get more information about one of these films: The Private life of a Cat.

Avant-garde artist Alexander Hammid was married to pioneering filmmaker Maya Deren when he made this silent, black-and-white short about their New York cats venturing into parenthood.

With thoughtful and humorous editing, and a few inter titles placed here and there, Hammid creates a simple narrative for us to follow. Through a cat’s eye perspective, we’re given privileged access to the unfurling of magical moments, from birth onwards. Soon enough, the kittens take their first steps and they gradually become fluffier and more daring. Brace yourselves for the close-up of kitten birth, and gripping action when one of the little critters attempts to ascend a climbing post.

He and Deren divorced and in 1948  Mr. Hammid married Hella Heyman, a still photographer. Back to the Times:

From 1962 to 1988, Mr. Hammid joined forces with Francis Thompson to create the Academy Award-winning three-screen documentary ''
To Be Alive!,'' shown at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, and ''To Fly,'' one of the earliest Imax films, which remains on view at the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum after nearly 30 years.

Alexander Hammid got an Academy Award in 1965  for Best Documentary (Short Subject) with To Be Alive!.

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