Archive for the ‘ANIMAL DOCUMENTARY’ Category


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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10 Oct

Hatari – Directed by Howard Hawks. Wild Animal Action Adventure. A company of animal collectors snares big game in Africa. 156 minutes Color 1962.

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Howard Hawks had no signature visual style, even when he used the same photographer. Nor was he much of a director of actors. His films are plainly shot in simple setups. What he had was a freewheeling attitude about scripts which in the morning he would make up among the actors or who ever passed through the shooting, and then film it later in the day. This openness and casualness produced a big permission for actors, so sometimes wonderful performances arrived. John Wayne’s, for instance. He is an actor who often chooses to “come from strength”, but here he pretty much lets that slide, and what comes to the fore is his wisdom, forgiveness, and rueful wit. He does not have any other actors in the picture who are on his level of artistry or humor, save Red Buttons, which is a shame, because that and their variety of foreign languages slows things down to the level of competence, which is a local train not a superchief; John Wayne is a superchief. However, what results here is a very amiable party indeed, casual, agreeable, and fun. This is not a movie you intently watch; it is a movie you hang out with. The story line is flimsy and contrived, and it all takes place indoors on Paramount sound stages, and looks it, as do the actors slathered in thick tan pancake. The story involves, if that is the right word, a couple of unconvincing romances, one of them between Wayne and the Italian actress Elsa Martinelli who is of all things called Dallas, the name Claire Trevor had in Stagecoach. (One must cover one’s eyes when John Wayne kisses anybody.) But, in the long and beautiful African scenes, Elsa Martinelli has such a terrific rapport with wild animals that I took her to be a professional trainer. She is remarkable with three baby elephants, and seems to harbor a leopard as a watchdog. The episode with the monkey tree is fascinating – evidently all the actors did the animal work in the picture – and wildebeest and rhinos and cheetahs and ostriches are caught in long and very exciting sequences. The chasing down and capturing of the wild animals feels authentic and was the raison d’etre for the film. These are interspersed with drunk scenes, which are not funny (at what moment in history did drunk scenes in Hollywood cease to be funny) and with sophomoric hijinks, which are not funny either. Hatari means danger in Swahili and the relaxed and genial nature of the story with its foolish excesses is just a necessary relaxation from the real and intense excitement of the hunts. Henry Mancini has written a brilliant score.





Borneo’s Pygmy Elephants

24 May

Borneo’s Pygmy Elephants – Directed by Michael Patrick Wong. Animal Documentary. A separate and hitherto unrecorded species of elephant is tracked through the jungle by a naturalist/ranger. Color 2009.

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In this Animal Planet documentary, Bert Dausip, a young naturalist, tracks the elephants, and, eventually, they accept and befriend him. They are a shy small elephant living in one section of eastern Borneo, and they were until recently considered to be escapees and pests. But Dausip bring evidence that they are separate from African and Asian elephants. He’s a fine young man, with black hair down to the middle of his back, and a comfort in these dense jungles which he himself was reared in. Like Sabu whom he resembles and who also had a special relationship with elephants, he is quite endearing, as are, of course, the elephants we meet and get to know. The land through which we move is strange, curious, perilous. And very beautiful. As is this story.





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