The fame of internet video sensation, and recent book subject, Henri le Chat Noir continues to climb in tandem with his deep dissatisfaction with life.
Internet video star Henri le Chat Noir has expanded the format for airing his dissatisfaction. The big black cat with the “interminable sense of ennui,” according to his director, has (naturally) grown tired of philosophizing exclusively in immensely popular online videos, and has now published a book of his musings.
Henri voices the resigned despair that many people might sense in their housecats, or, as video director Will Braden puts it: “Henri is a typical housecat, but he suffers from an existential crisis all the time.”
Braden’s online videos show Henri in his home, contemplating life from a detached standpoint in black and white. We hear his inner monologue in French with English subtitles over a background of minimalist piano music.
“He’s cursed with a deeper thought about the world around him than the average housecat – not only does he have endless worry about the world, he doesn’t have anyone to share it with,” Braden says. “And it’s all played for laughs.”
The melodramatic scenes take inspiration from post-WWII European cinema, but with a cat. People have responded positively; the five videos Braden has made have garnered 10 million views all together.
Now the book “Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat” (Ten Speed Press) gives readers snippets of Henri’s philosophical gleanings beside black-and-white photographs. Henri offers new pearls of wisdom and disdain along with some of his classic quotes.
Braden launched Henri to fame in 2012, but the cat’s screen debut came in 2006. That’s when Braden cast Henri in a school project for the Seattle Film Institute. The assignment was a broad interview profile, to test students’ skills at making documentaries.
“My project was due and I procrastinated. Most people did a 3-minute piece that the news would do. I decided maybe if I do it funny enough, maybe a parody of the films we were watching, it would work. It wasn’t even a human, but it worked”
Braden posted his video to YouTube, and received a positive reaction. The video garnered 3,000 views, which he thought was higher than anything he could have imagined. That led to a Facebook page for a few people who Braden thought might like the video. Thousands joined and asked for more.
Braden added a second video, “Henri 2, Paw de Deux,” in April 2012. In August of that year, his video won the Golden Kitty from the Internet Cat Film Festival based on votes from the public. Three months from winning at the ICFF, he won a Lifetime Achievement Award at The Friskies cat video contest.
“I thought, ‘That’s the shortest career rise ever. I can retire now,’” Braden says.
Henri’s oeuvre now includes four more films: Henri 3, Le Vet; Henri, Politique; Henri 4, L’Haunting; and Henri 5, The Worst Noel. He also discusses food boredom in a few current vignettes.
Henri might be in touch with the malaise of the common cat because he came from humble roots. The name “Henri,” in fact, is a stage name.
“Henry is the real cat’s name,” Braden says. “When I’m just sitting with the cat in real life, I call him Henry. In general Henry is the actual cat and Henri is the character.”
Braden’s family went to the Seattle Animal Shelter to adopt a cat, and didn’t necessarily want a kitten. But when a family member saw Henry, they got out of the line and picked out this “kitten with personality,” who grew to be a sweet, loving cat who lives with a Braden family member today.
“The irony is he portrays this cat with ennui and discontent and is the most easy-going cat ever. I never feel guilty filming him, because he likes the attention and the warmth of the lights.”
“He fit the double bill of being the nicest and most malleable cat in the house,” Braden says. “Also, he pops in black and white.”
Other cats in the household include Henri’s foil, the White Imbecile (L’Imbecile Blanc). This white cat appears more interested in human affection and snacks than in living a life true to his principles. Braden says the character bears some resemblance to the real life cat.
“If you notice all the White Imbecile shots, someone holds him or he walks away. He’s very much like his real counterpart – a vacant lot for his brain.”
Henri will continue to disparage the Imbecile’s lack of retrospection in future works by Braden. Whatever new worlds of expression await, Henri surely will invade them with despondence and, inevitably, absurdity.