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DVD Review: The Wonderful World of Kittens

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Microcinema International is best known for distributing video titles from outside the studio machine, and featuring, at minimum, upper-middlebrow aesthetics. Among their recent releases are Seven Easy Pieces, a survey of performance artist Marina Abramovic’s 2005 Guggenheim residence; Tatsumi Hijikata: Summer Storm, a document of Japanese Butoh dancers; and the 2002 science fiction feature Teknolust, which stars art-house darling Tilda Swinton in a quadruple role as Rosetta Stone and three Self-Replicating Automatons cloned from her own DNA. (I didn’t believe it either. ) So it was with surprise and delight that I spied on Microcinema’s docket of upcoming releases the title I present to you today: The Wonderful World of Kittens. Is this a lowbrow, if adorable and fuzzy, anomaly in their catalog? Is this kitten-porn elevated to the level of performance art? Perhaps the answer is a little of both.


The “Homewreckers.” Courtesy Bright Red Rocket.

Divided into chapter titles such as “Molly Kitten Plays with a Thing” and “Kittenball Championship,” The Wonderful World of Kittens offers surface cuddliness as advertised. At the same time, it is not lacking in the depth one is accustomed to from purveyors of independent cinema.

The chapters are divided between interior and exterior set pieces. In the former, the kittens are frequently let loose on studio backdrop muslin, but there is no reining in the exuberance and messiness of reality, as the kittens wreak havoc on the varieties of man-made ball. The tour de force “Play Ball!” offers a rhythmic electronic score punctuated with electronic pan-flute sounds, signifying the kittens’ abandonment of high society for primeval nature a la The Blue Lagoon. As the program is rated C for Cute, these young explorers will not discover their sexuality. At nearly ten minutes, “Play Ball!” is a long chapter of this wonderful world, but will human civilization degenerate even more quickly? It ends with a kitten batting at the camera, which goes chillingly dead — just like The China Syndrome.

The music for The Wonderful World of Kittens was composed by artist Brian Dewan, whose original music and drawings have also appeared in a series of filmstrip programs. (In 2000 I saw the artist present these charming filmstrips at Brooklyn’s Pierogi Gallery.) His score for Kittens is more interesting than you’d expect from your standard baby animals video, though not so interesting that the music overwhelms the kitten play. Still, Dewan pushes the envelope of pet sounds in such chapters as “Kittenball Rematch,” which introduces free jazz violin tones as a musical counterpoint to the feline chaos.

As the chapters unfold, Molly Kitten becomes a clear stand-in for the artist. Molly “Plays with a Thing,” is “On the Prowl,” “Is Curious.” Are these not the concerns of the creative class? Is the reference to Ulyssees more than coincidence? Yes yes yes she said yes.

Kittens reaches its dramatic peak with the startling “Homewreckers.” It begins with the tranquil repose of a sleeping black kitten, but soon breaks down into a scenario of home invasion not unlike Michael Haneke’s brutal film Funny Games. Finally, the program ends with “Naptime.” One can only guess what adorable horrors will ensue upon awakening. The Wonderful World of Kittens was originally released by Bright Red Rocket in 2008. It will be available from Microcinema on October 26 — just in time for Halloween.

About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.
  • http://thismeaneveryone.blogspot.com James A. Gardner

    And when Mittens asks to borrow the golf club . . . chilling.