Have media always been fascinated with cats? Here’s evidence from a 1906 film (colorized and enhanced) that features a cat that would be at least 115 years old today.

The cat is probably dead now. Sorry to bring you down.


  1. PaulBC says

    robro@4 I had a history teacher in 1984 who commented offhand that the problem with WWI footage was that the jerky motion makes it look comic even though people are getting killed. I remember thinking that ought to be fixable by inferring the timing and correcting for inconsistent frame rate by interpolating between frames. I assume that has been done since then (and specifically for WWI). It probably wasn’t a very original idea either. Anyway, it’s cool to see real technology catch up. I am still not a fan of colorization though.

  2. says

    @6 PaulBC
    “I am still not a fan of colorization though.”
    Same here Paul. Those movies were shot in black and white for financial reasons but there was more artistry poured into them because of that limitation than in all the CGI storm troopers in all the Star Wars prequels.

  3. brightmoon says

    Reminds me of a kitten that I gave away back in the 90s . We called kitten Woody because of that wood grain pattern in her fur

  4. stroppy says

    “Have media always been fascinated with cats?”

    If media includes painting on walls, at least as far back as the ancient Egyptians.

    Reminds me, I’ve got some glass plate photo negs of my grandfather’s family life around the late 1800’s which includes formal portraits of their cats, of course. I was going to print them out one of these days…

    “Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, loved cats and could play with them for hours. When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Todd Lincoln replied, ‘cats.'”

  5. John Morales says

    Re #6, #7: I’m a fan of colorisation, when done properly.

    In passing, I can’t see how the “artistry” supposedly leaches out as the colour comes in.

  6. whheydt says

    Re: PaulBC @ #6…
    The original standard was 16 fps, and the cameras were hand-cranked with one turn being 16 frames. In the 35mm film used, 16 frames was 1 foot (3/4″ x 1″ images). The problem was to crank the camera at a steady rate, no matter where in the crank cycle it was. The better the camera operator, the smoother the cranking. Uneven cranking is also the cause of variations in exposure because of the way cine cameras were (and still are) designed.

    Most of the odd speed effects were from projecting 16 fps silent film at the 24 fps sound rate.

    Re: Ray Ceeya @ #7…
    The really old film was shot in black and white because color film didn’t exist. Any color in very early films was done by hand-tinting the the print. The first commercially successful “tripack” color film (which didn’t require parallel projection of two or three separate black and white reels through color filters) was Kodachrome in 1935 (followed by Agfachrome in 1936), and that was intended for amateurs. Color negative cine film didn’t come in until about 1940 and wasn’t in wide commercial use until the 1950s.

    Though–FYI–I’ve seen color workprints of 16mm footage shot during WW2. I once knew someone whose father in law was a Marine combat photographer and went into Iwo Jima with the third wave. One time I was visiting him, we screened a couple of reels from Iwo Jima. Full color….including the dead bodies that had been sitting out in the tropics for several days. This was raw, unedited footage.

  7. stroppy says

    Yeah, I like seeing the colorized versions of the oldest documentary films, makes the times seem less alien somehow.

    OTOH, I really don’t want to see noir movies colorized.

  8. PaulBC says

    John Morales@10 Speaking tautologically, everything is fine when done well and not nearly as good when done badly. It’s a rule I live by.

    I think Ray Ceeya’s point was that the use of black and white, while making a virtue of necessity, still influenced the composition. The contrasts and lighting look a certain way in black and white, and as soon as you colorize it, you’re moving away from what the filmmaker was trying to do. They worked in a certain medium until they were happy with the results, and if you change the medium, you will no longer get their best effort at black and white, but a mediocre effort at color. (In other cases, they might be totally happy with the results.) Citizen Kane is the canonical example. It could have been done in color at the time, but was not. It makes little sense to colorize it.

    I think having a low frame rate or inconsistent timing is a lot less likely to be part of the artistic vision (though anything’s possible). So I am a “fan” of this kind of restoration. But sure, colorization of historical footage is interesting to the extent that you can look at old footage and forget that it’s old. So that’s good too.

    My feeling is that colorization is adding something rather than restoring something present. That doesn’t mean I object to anyone liking it. was just saying it doesn’t excite me, whereas other parts of these restorations do.

  9. PaulBC says


    Most of the odd speed effects were from projecting 16 fps silent film at the 24 fps sound rate.

    Right, I remember hearing this somewhere before.

  10. ealloc says

    @6 Check out the 2018 movie “They Shall Not Grow Old”, which is a technically proficient restoration of WWI footage by Peter Jackson.

    Not only is it interpolated and de-stuttered, not only is a lot of it colorized, but a lot of it is also in 3d without being gimmicky.

    It felt very lifelike. I think the de-stuttering was the most important improvement.

  11. whheydt says

    Another point on the differences between color and B&W film techniques is that the latitude (the range of lighting to which the film will render an image) is about 10:1 for B&W and around 2 or 3 to 1 for color stock. This means that, when working with B&W, you can use a much greater range of lighting and still get good images in both the brightest and darkest portions of the scene. With color, this is far more restricted.

  12. whheydt says

    Re: ealloc @ #15…
    While that work might be interesting, my opinion of Jackson wouldn’t be printable, even here.

  13. Vreejack says

    There aren’t many humans alive from 1906. There are ten, actually, and none of them are in this film.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    They went to a lot of trouble to “update” this video – so why didn’t/couldn’t they get the colorization of the older woman less awful?

  15. redwood says

    Just like a cat to take over as the star/center of attention. The final look of “hey, you, watching this, get me more milk and put it in a bowl I can drink from” was typical.

  16. John Morales says

    GAS, to what ‘this’ do you refer?

    John Morales@10 Speaking tautologically, everything is fine when done well and not nearly as good when done badly. It’s a rule I live by.

    Succinctness is an aesthetic guideline for me, thus the caveat to make an existential claim to avoid unwanted universality, unlike the claim I was addressing.

    (A form of discrimination, actually)

    I think Ray Ceeya’s point was […]

    Yes, a fine adumbration.

    My feeling is that colorization is adding something rather than restoring something present.

    Well, I concur with the converse: My feeling is that decolorization is subtracting something rather than improving something present. So there’s that.

    When I first saw Star Trek, aged around 9, it was in monochrome TV.
    It’s lesser thereby.

    It was easy back in the old days of analog colour TVs — they had a ‘colour’ knob(s) and it was just a matter of knob turning to convert the display to monochrome. Instant B&W.

    Less easy these days. (!)

  17. ANB says

    Can you make it possible to respond to others’ comments (like on WAPO, etc.)? Lots of smart people here. Sometimes I just want to respond as to my agreement (as they already said what I was going to say, for example).

  18. John Morales says


    ANB @24, the convention is to address they to whom you address your comment, and unless otherwise obvious, the comment-number of the comment at hand. Or comments, if appropriate.

    TLDR: It’s already possible. I just did it.

  19. Silentbob says

    Cats watching this video:

    Lol. How fashions have changed. My great, great, great, great, great, great, Aunt Fluffy had a bow just like that. No cat would be seen dead in that today. I notice the human servants look exactly the same. Dull species. Those are not very well trained though. I always make mine leave the bowl and take the glass.

  20. Silentbob says

    @ John Morales

    It’s funny you mention Star Trek because it’s a good example of the converse – it was designed to be seen in colour. The lighting in Star Trek was ridiculous – see here, or here, or here – colour filters everywhere, precisely because colour was new and they wanted the show to seem to modern and futuristic.

    You can’t just compare artworks designed to be seen in black & white to Star Trek with the colour turned down. The makers, knowing the product was black & white, made artistic choices that work better in black & white.

    Sure you can add colour and it’s still okay, but it’s analogous to translating a poem from a different language into English – you get the gist, but something is lost in translation because that’s not the way it was designed to be heard.

  21. whheydt says

    Re: John Morales @ #23…
    The old TVs had a “brightness” knob too, but turning it up did nothing to improve the content of what was shown.

  22. John Morales says


    The makers, knowing the product was black & white, made artistic choices that work better in black & white.

    No worries.

    Good thing is that since colorised versions are predicated on existing B&W versions, and since there’s no good reason to believe those original B&W versions will be deleted/destroyed or become very hard to find, it follows that both can coexist.
    I think they do, and so it’s not like purists lose out by the mere existence of colorised footage. And, if the experience in B&W is truly superior, surely it will remain the predilection of aficionados.

    All good.

  23. brucegee1962 says

    My rule for colorization is that no b&w movie that has fog in it should ever be colorized. Partly because it never looks right, and partly because if it has fog, it has the wrong mood for color.

  24. says

    There’s a bunch of these Lumiere movies on YouTube, including a few that have lots of kid pictures. One thing that jumped out at me was how heavily clothed everyone was — layers and layers of frilly garments, especially on the girls, and it all looked so uncomfortable (except, of course, if that was what you were used to). Look at kids now, and it’s all t-shirts and pants or shorts. I don’t know if it was the fashion of the time, or if everyone was just cold.

  25. robro says

    PZ Myers @ #33 — I had a similar reaction watching the Lumiere Kids film, especially shoes. Everyone seems to be wearing laced boots, even a baby barely walking. I also saw one where boys were playing with their sailboats in a pool in Paris, each wearing a dark sailors outfit with flap collar…1906 cosplay. That’s probably to be expected given that the naval rig became popular children’s clothing.

  26. PaulBC says

    robro@34 How much is a class thing? I bet he was selective in who he chose to film and the locations. That’s assuming it’s candid. What if they were dressing up to be on film?

  27. magistramarla says

    It just goes to show that cats have always been photogenic and endlessly entertaining.
    Oh, and both the girl and the cat in the film were very beautiful.

  28. René says

    I was once owned by a tabby like that. Uglier. Assymetric white socks and white spots around his nose. He slept at my feet under the duvet. Sheer bliss.

    IJkema. I still miss (ahem) ‘him.’

  29. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    Best story I have about colourization.

    Back before Ted Turner was senile, he had recently acquired a huge treasure trove of classic b&w movies (now the Ted Turner Collection). He announced that the first he would colourize would be “The Maltese Falcon.” Of course the director, John Huston, still alive at the time but confined in a wheelchair due to emphysema, went on record, saying that Ted and his ilk were “cinematic child molesters”, and a few other salty phrases.

    Ted Turner called in his lawyers and demanded that they sue the crotchety old fart/major cinema artist for slander and defamation. The advice he received was, “Ted, you can absolutely win this suit, but you’re going to lose. In the court, on one side, will be a young, handsome, arrogant billionaire. On the other side, will be the aged, infirm, world-famous cinematic genius. Ted, you could win this suit, but millions and millions of people will hate your guts.” Turner decided not to sue.

  30. birgerjohansson says

    The WWI documentary They Shall Never Grow Old brought home that these soldiers and nurses living a century ago were just like us.
    The fuzzy black-and-white films of the era can have the effect of making the era abstract and hard to relate to, like the sepia colored photographs from the late 19th century.

  31. birgerjohansson says

    If you see a squirrel pop up in one of these old films, it is probably Foamy The Squirrel*, or so my neighbor’s dog Roswell tells me.
    Apparently squirrels have been plotting for world domination since Ratatosk carried messages for the Aesir.
    *its A Youtube thing.

  32. R. L. Foster says

    Das Frühstück des Kätzchens — the breakfast of kittens.

    Hmm. Not sure I’d refer to that big tiger cat as a kitten. Have cats gotten smaller over the intervening century?