23 Apr

Buck — directed by Cindy Meehl. Documentary. The life of celebrated horse-trainer Daniel “Buck” Brannaman. 89 minutes Color 2011.


I give this 5 stars, but it annoyed the dickens out of me, and I’ll tell you why.  That irritation was my own fault. It was  the fault of my expecting to see something be one thing and finding it to be something else. The expectation was the error. What I expected to witness was the work of “horse whispering,” but what I saw instead was a documentary about a horse whisperer. This latter was what the director probably intended, and that “whisperer” is a quite wonderful person, Buck Brannaman, and time in his company is really well spent. There are various ingredients to his story here. His life as a celebrated rope-trick child performer with his brother Smokie. The abusive childhood inflicted by his violently insane father. The removal of the father from them and their subsequent loving foster care. His marriage and fatherhood. His life on the road giving clinics on Western horse training to horse owners of all kinds. And the documentary technique of the director, which, even without my expectations, would have infuriated me, because of its stupid modern penchant for short shots, genre scenes, samples of, and the like, with the result that nothing is dwelt on, nothing is developed. Human attention span is not short for fascination. We need to linger longer on all of this or some of this. The director, as a result, has produced a superficiality. Fortunately the people encountering Mr. Brannaman are of a depth and perspicacity and modesty and humor that their testimonials have marvelous weight. But we are never shown at any length or with any penetration the thing for which Mr. Brannaman is nationally famous in horse circles and why we are watching him in the first place, which is the firm gentling of horses. We do witness, although not in depth or with any directorial patience, the calming of an insane stallion. The horse is golden and beautiful and probably brain damaged. It is also a lethal weapon and nearly kills its trainer before our very eyes. It was oxygen deprived and orphaned at birth, so it was never taught manners by the herd. It should have been put down at that time. Now it is a killer. Brannaman is actually able to saddle and ride it. But the horse is unaccountable and a savage and must be shot. All of this gentling is accomplished by the use of small flags on ends of long wands. that work like antennae on a snail. We are never once told how that works, and why it is the tool. Instead we are given Brannaman skills as calf roper-duo with his teenage daughter in competition. She’s a lovely girl and his wife is a beauty and good to meet. But I want to understand his craft. Clearly it has to do with his attitude towards the animals – never to treat them with impatience or contempt – and these approaches are the approaches I need to better learn towards humans. You can bribe a dog, but never bribe a horse or a child. The man has a calling applicable to us all, and there is clearly a great deal more to it than the director has given us. My annoyance is justified at this film, and so are its 5 stars for bringing this man, a characteristic American, before us to meet and be rewarded by himself and his skills.

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