June bloggers rolled into summer with an entertaining and esoteric collection of posts ranging from intellectual excursions into film technique to ruminations on unlikely body parts of famous screen stars.

As part of the recent Roger Corman Blogathon, Ivan G. Shreve’s “Thrilling Days of Yesteryear” blog hips us to the 1959 beatnik-and-serial killer comedy A Bucket of Blood.

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June 30, 2011 · Posted in Legends  

Warm, inspirational and gently mesmerizing,Buck is as lovely a marriage of subject and presentation as you’re likely to find on any screen at the moment.

This documentary by first-time director Cindy Meehl follows horse trainer Buck Brannaman as he travels around the country to conduct clinics for riders and stock owners on the art of gentle persuasion. For audience members unfamiliar with the cruel reality behind the phrase “breaking horses,” into submission, and through the contrasting manner in which Brannaman quietly and respectfully coaxes his clients’ mounts into safe and simple compliance.

Brannaman was an essential advisor to the 1998 Robert Redford drama The Horse Whisperer, and Meehl dutifully devotes a portion of her own film’s running time to the subject (including a testimonial by Redford himself). But more important than that brief brush with Hollywood, Brannaman is a living legend among horse people, and for good reason: as Buck makes it clear, his work is as much a calling as a trade.

It’s fascinating to watch Brannaman as he plies that trade, capturing a horse’s attention not with whips or spurs but with small flags that he wafts before their faces. And once in the saddle, his patient process of sensitizing animal and rider to each other is a kind of commonsense magic compared to the violent bucking and kicking that viewers have long been accustomed to seeing in rodeos and Western movies. Those scenes of cowboys hanging on for dear life as an angry 1200-plus animal tries to hurl them off their backs have been surefire crowdpleasers for ticket buyers for many years, but real-life riders who must deal with the ugly reality of dead and mutilated horses and humans have good reason to master this far more humane (and sane) approach.

Brannaman knows first-hand the effects of pointless brutality. As children, he and his brother performed a novelty trick-roping act that toured county fairs and even appeared before long-ago TV cameras. But behind the scenes, they were beaten regularly and mercilessly by an alcoholic widowed father for minor real-life trangressions and larger imagined ones. The intercession of an appalled public school coach rescued the boys from their pathological parent and deposited them with foster parents, a move that may have saved their lives. The gentle parenting style of the Shirleys also very likely provided a template for the man Buck would grow up to become.

That’s clearly Meehl’s thesis, and if she returns to the point a time or two too many, it’s nevertheless hard to disagree. But whatever your capacity for psychologizing, there’s plenty to enjoy in what she’s put on screen. The photography is beautiful, and the low-key ambling pace at which her portrait unspools is a perfect match to the rhythm of the man at the center of it all.

One of the most memorable moments comes when Brannaman is confronted with a damaged horse whose clueless upbringing has turned it into a vicious creature which even his approach cannot redeem. Buck gently but grimly coaxes the doomed animal into a trailer that will carry it to be put down – but not before delivering a quiet lecture to the horse’s owner that ends with her dissolving into tears. One can’t help wondering if this is the same lecture he would give the father who had made his young life hell, rendered not with the fury it might reasonably deserve, but with the sad wisdom and gentleness he’s learned over the intervening years.

June 26, 2011 · Posted in Now Playing