The Boxing Cats: Why Movies Have a Purr-fectly Good Life Ahead of Them


“Worst-case scenario time: A distant future wherein all regular commercial movie theaters are closed. There is no such thing as an art house. Movies will be relegated to either single big-film events (think of a touring Broadway release) or tiny amateur productions housed in tiny buildings. The most widely-consumed form of entertainment will be, I dunno, online cat videos.”

—Prof. Whitney Seibold, “Free Film School #93: The Ultimate Death of Cinema,” Crave Online

Maybe it’s unfair to pick on Prof. Seibold; I just couldn’t muster up the energy to look for (what must surely be) many more examples of how our era’s proliferation of feline-themed entertainment has been associated with foreboding predictions of the apocalyptic demise of the cinematic arts. Truth be told, I’ve sometimes had the same thought myself. Honestly, how many cat videos could possibly exist? The mind boggles.

Here’s something else to make the mind do a little boggling: If cat videos forecast the death of movies, then the death of movies—surprise, surprise!—looks a little like the birth of movies.

Produced inside Thomas Edison’s famed Black Maria film studio, the 1894 short The Boxing Cats (Prof. Welton’s), directed by W.K.L. Dickson and William Heise, offers up definitive evidence that yes, filmmakers (and audiences) have always been suckers for a cute puss (or two) in action:

I had pulled my copy of the marvelous four-disc set Edison: The Invention of the Movies off the shelf to revisit a different short (Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend) when my re-acquaintance with the above film gave me a fresh new perspective on the clowder of cat cinema.

Not to mention the long, and newly controversial, tradition of employing animals as involuntary thespians.  

In closing, do not look to “Keyboard Cat” as a sign certain that the Art of Motion Pictures has reached a nadir from which there is no return. That said, I want to be purr-fectly clear: None of the above implies a newfound tolerance for receiving “This is SO adorable!” deliveries of YouTube feline flicks in my mailbox. Hiss!