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This film is offered as children's fare. That does not matter to me. It
succeeds as an professionally presented film for adults.
I am in no position to bellyache about how little it resembles Walter Farley's children's book. I have read some of the book. The book does not interest me.
Neither does its set-up for whatever sequels interest me. They were, by most accounts, mediocre.
This film, "The Black Stallion", holds a great deal more for me than most other pictures.
The film is one of the most powerfully beautiful sets of moving images I have ever seen on screen conjoined with sumptuous music and gently mesmerizing performances. Its editing awards, cinematography awards, and the awards for its music all were well deserved.
From the wreckage of the "Drake" through the lengthy bonding of boy and horse on the island, through to their rescue, not a word is spoken. It is one of the longest, most intensely cast verbal negative spaces in film. Civilization is dispensed with, language is removed, layers of meaning are stripped; there is no intellectual comfort on which to fall back. Into that emptiness fall the sound of waves and wind and rain as though natural extensions of Carmine Coppola's exquisite score. The film's soundtrack is wonderfully uncomplicated and moving. The island sequences are visited by small groups of instruments in turn -- a harp here, primitive percussion there, minimal woodwinds; no brass intrudes for a long time -- in musical experiments of loneliness yielding to companionship that echo the tentative meetings of the boy and the horse.
Such negative spaces abound in "The Black Stallion", carved from the soundtrack (the roar and crush of sound in the midst of the final race sequence blur out into a blissful, quiet emptiness touched lightly by flute and brass), washed clean of visuals (for the bulk of one critical scene, horse and boy, the centers of attention, disappear, literally, and focus is on the tiniest details of ticking watch hands and empty sheets of translucent night rain), and opened at great lengths in the dialogue: Alec's mother responds to her son's plea with a tortured delay and Teri Garr, in remarkable performance, draws out her strangely active non-speech for many long seconds before her two-word reply closes this particular negative space with the thunderclap of a rushing locomotive and the thrust of a guitar as the soundtrack slams back in.
The final burst of joy from the island sequence's soundtrack is so magnificent, so full and compelling, it is odd to listen, carefully, to its hesitant introduction as the horse finally permits the boy to mount: small flicks at the harp joined by a reed or two before the tympani knock insistently to tell us something miraculous has happened.
And we need that wake up call: We have to come up for air. Our vantage point for Alec's first ride begins *under water*. We see only six legs and, then, much boiling and thrashing in a scene that is as intimate and anticipatory as only the best love scenes ever filmed. And this *is* a love scene, in every sense. The charging aerial streamings and broad panning shots that follow the boy and the horse and the forces of nature, the sand and ocean through which they tear, convey as deep a physicality as in any love scene.
This film, with its powerful sensory immersion, offers much about love and tenderness and touch and connectedness to an audience inclined to forget that most motive force in life comes through the union of dissimilar entities and the experience of sex is, at its fullest, not just about bodies conjoined: it's also about longing and belonging and trust and completion though union with one's chosen and preferred. "The Black Stallion", G rating and all, is one of the most powerfully sexy films ever made. It offers every amended glory possible in any sexual relationship that proceeds past involvement of 'the plumbing'.
In both illustration and disclosure of why this film means so much to me, I might as well mention I was 38 the last time I watched this movie, my first viewing of it in many years. The young lady with me had never heard of it. When, at its end, she turned to hot, liquid sunshine in my arms, weeping in amazement, not fully understanding why she'd been so moved, we began a romance that has refused easy definition ever since -- but I cannot imagine a stronger bond. The magic of this film perfectly mirrored the best possible feelings within us. A kid's movie? Sure, if you say so.
This is a wonderful film. It will not push or drag you. But watch -- and listen -- closely and let it take you where it can and it will amaze you.
First, please don't base your opinion on the last critic's remarks. You
must see this movie and judge for yourself. I have been in love with this
movie since I was 7 years old (1979) and I just watched it again for the
first time in many years. I STILL love it!
It is one of my top ten movies of all time (Lawrence of Arabia being #1).
There isn't any bad acting. In fact, I think that Kelly Reno did a fine job as Alec...clever, introspective, and curious. Hoy Axton did a great job as his father, as well. Maybe I just connect with them because I had a similar relationship with my dad.
I challenge you to watch this film without nit-picking it to death, especially if you have an artistic soul. I thought it was lovingly directed with a lot of original camera shots (for 1979) and perfectly composed/matched music. Do you know there is an incredible length of time during this film where not one word is spoken? Nor, is it needed. Indeed, words would be sacrilege to the simple beauty of the growing friendship between boy and horse.
It's an exciting, heartwarming, beautiful, and moving tale...I can't wait to show it to my future children so I can share the magic.
*PS - make sure you turn up the bass in the beginning so you can hear the ship's heart - imagine being on that ship and hearing that all the time. It really helps set the tone and brings a conflicting sense of impending doom and comfort.
For nearly the first hour, not more than a few pages of dialogue are
Yet the camera is able to tell a complicated narrative as well as evoke
powerful emotions with nothing but pure visuals. The scenes that
the emotional relationship between the 10 year old protagonist and his
equestrian soul-mate not only move the story along, but provide us with
of the most stunning visuals I have ever seen on film. It recalls the
powerful visuals of films like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and NANOOK OF THE
Then there is the mind-boggling riding stunts, if they are stunts that leaves one staring in wonder at what the young actor is doing right before our eyes. As far as I could tell, and it was the consensus of everyone who saw this film with me, there were no trick shots and no stunt doubles. The camera is too close and it is obvious that what we are seeing is real. Without giving much more than that away (because these sequences really need to unfold before you with no foreknowledge), it is enough to say that the first half of the film could stand alone as a complete work. Coupled with Carmine Coppola's exquisite score that matches every subtle turn of feeling with every scene, the picture is a joy to behold. A sequence with choreographed movement underwater is nothing short of an incredible ballet. How this film did not wind up on every one of those silly "top 100 films of all time" lists, I cannot fathom. How it did not win a multitude of Academy Awards is a mystery. Caleb Deschanel's cinematography is simply breathtaking.
The second half is no less a pleasure, but as the studios are wont to dictate, a story in the age of MTV and LETHAL WEAPON 16 cannot remain subtle and esoteric -- it can't be simply about the powerful bond between friends, boy and horse, man and boy....trust between creatures beyond words and definitions. So there is conflict, action and a race; the tension that makes for exciting storytelling, yet the rich emotional texture that is achieved even without these more mundane fixtures still dominate the work. And I must add, those more spiritual qualities surprisingly are not diminished by the action sequences but remain the dominant elements of the film's power-of-the-whole. And where there is dialogue, much to director Ballard's credit, it is kept sparse, it's not strained but is quite believable. Even Mikey Rooney, who could have been any director's worst nightmare, turns out a touching performance.
This is a film that marries every element perfectly -- from the music to the photography to the precision editing to an improbable performance from such a young actor. The loudest kudos must go to the young Kelly Reno who turns out a performance that rivets you from the first scene to the last with its power and simplicity.
This is not just a good film -- this is a masterpiece; it's what cinema is all about. And of course the only way to see it is in a theatre on a large theatre screen, NOT on a 19in TV set. Even DVD is more like a xerox copy compared to the definition that a 35mm print provides. If there is an art cinema near you, go to the director and plead with him/her to book this gem. Bring your kids or your nieces and nephews -- the younger generation needs to see what real film-making is all about. And powerful statements about trust and friendship and personal strength wouldn't hurt them either.
I was so afraid to see this movie. The Black Stallion books defined my life until I was about 14 years old, if not longer (they have always continued in my memory). I read every single book that Mr. Farley wrote, most of them many times over, and I knew every character intimately - how they looked, how they talked, everything about them. And The Black - I know exactly how The Black looked and acted. So - when this movie was announced, 23 years ago, I refused to see it. I could not risk having all of my childhood memories shattered in the course of a 2 hour movie. But recently, in a discussion of favorite movies, a friend mentioned this movie as her favorite. Immediately, I was interested. So, nervously, I rented the movie, and settled in to watch it. My heart started pounding as the opening credits rolled - I was almost breathless waiting for it to start. All I can say is, now that I have seen it, I hate myself for waiting so long. Every detail of the book is captured perfectly, as if Mr. Copolla, Ms. Mathason, et al managed to film all of the images in my head and pour them onto the screen. The cinematography is astonishing, the score is beyond compare as to how well it fits with what is happening on screen. These are the technical details of the film - what is impossible to describe is just how closely this work captures the original book. There is no whiz-bang gadgetry, or special effects, although some young ones may find the shipwreck sequence to be frightening. It is a beautiful story, told masterfully.
I watched this movie tonight for the first time in 15 years and was
surprised to realize it could bring tears to my eyes after such a long
time - grown up, adult tears. The TV copy was bad with a noisy
soundtrack and cloudy images but the beauty of its cinematography seems
to be stronger than time, amazingly new and powerful. The island scenes
are pure poetry... so delicate is Carroll Ballard's way of catching the
rising love between boy and horse - love shining out from innocence.
Music is sublime, touching like the most poignant and fragile themes
from Erik Satie's.
Many interpretations can be given to "The Black Stallion". To me -who saw it again after losing a friend in tragic circumstances- it is a beautiful and hopeful tale about death. Alec meets the Black -figure of death, wild and unpredictable- the night of his father's passing away and the world falls apart -the boat sinks into flames and cold water. The Black saves Alec, waking up then on a pale morning, alone on a lonely island made of black stone, translucent waters and white, dry sand. Then begins mutual taming between wild animal and young boy. How long will they observe each other, how long does it take for the Black to run gently besides Alec and for Alec to stand by the Black's tall silhouette? It feels like a few hours in this timeless land, but it could be a lifetime.
Then fear is gone, so are individuals - are they not one, running in suspended waters between sky and dust? Desire exists no longer... what do they want, but each other? If the horse is Death then Death is a friend, Death is peace and love and the abolition of time. And dreams are real just like the Black is real against Alec's hands, while in Alec's hands is clutched the unmoving and lifeless figure of a black horse given by his father on the night of his death.
Suddenly comes back the world of men, and horse and boy return to Life, witch is limits and rules and time. Yet when death has been tamed and accepted, frontiers don't matter anymore, and Alec makes peacefully his way into the world, growing along with the beautiful friendship connecting him to his horse. Together, horse and boy, they will prove that boundaries can be broken between man and animal, between dreams and reality.
It is hard for many people to accept that a little family film about a boy's relationship to a horse could be one of the greatest films ever made. But you must remember that not so long after The Black Stallion was released another film was made that was about a boy's relationship with a creature from another planet. That film is widely considered a masterpiece and its director has gone to become the most successful director in film history. I think it is worth noting that both films were written by the same person. Melissa Mathison, who wrote both E.T. and The Black Stallion, has penned two great films about a boys love friendship with a non human creature. And after several viewings of both I'm beginning to think that Stallion may be the better of the two. I doubt that I have ever seen a more atmospheric and emotional movie that holds up so well after repeat viewings. And I must say the sparse dialog is probably my favorite thing about it. Little is said but much is felt and isn't the feeling what is most important? This film has a beautiful look to it, which may have something to do with the director, Carol Ballard's, experience as a cinematographer. The wonderful images and rich detail draw you into the film and say more than words ever could. Great performances by everyone in the cast also boost this movie to the next level. Is The Black Stallion better than E.T.? I cannot say but it certainly feels that way. If you want to see a movie that is pure feeling than you should see this one.
This movie is a feast for the eyes with an ending that has you on the edge of your seat. It is really two movies in one. The first movie is all about a boy and a horse shipwreaked on an island and how they learn to survive by helping each other. The second movie is about how Alex saves the horse and gives it a purpose in the world with the help of Mickey Rooney. The photography and story are very strong and help make this movie a visual delight with a minimum of dialog. Isn't that what movies are all about?
The first thing that strikes you when you see "The Black Stallion" is its cinematography. However the vivid colours are only the doorway into the film. It is important to remember that the title is not "The Stallion" but "The Black Stallion". It is the title's first announcement of bold colour and the connotations of power in "Stallion" that introduce a richness of dichotomies. There is the black horse and the white boy (would the film really have been the same with the ubiquitous white horse?). There is the contrast between the horse's power and the boy's frailty. The scenes on the island and the scenes in the city. Indeed, the film's running time is almost split down the middle between this last contrast. There is also the contrast between the boy and the old man he befriends, and many others. But most importantly, there is the contrast between solitude and companionship. There are a lot of lonely characters in this film. Everyone from the horse to the boy, to the trainer to the boy's mother seem to be trying to struggle through life on their own. It is this quest to deal with loneliness that is the film's most profound achievement. It is not so much a condemnation of solitude as an analysis between its benefits compared to the benefits of companionship. Whether or not "The Black Stallion" answers these questions is something the viewer will have to decide for themselves. I believe the film asks more questions than it answers. Although some may find the film's ending a bit too predictable and sacharine tasting, the overall effect of the film's beauty and its questions concerning solitude and survival, erase any minor faults the movie may contain. Part "Androcles and the Lion" and part "National Velvet", "The Black Stallion" is more than a childrens' movie. It brings together the "blackness" (as in the black void of space) of loneliness with the stallion's individual power to show how all of us are alone in a fundamental way but that we also have an ability within us to not only survive but draw great things from it. We can fulfill through our particular skills and abilities the necessary requirement of helping each other without losing the strength we receive from our individual independence and uniqueness.
Not only is this a nice story, but it's beautifully photographed.
That's why I was so disappointed with the DVD. The picture wasn't
sharp, and even had an orange tint to it. I wound up trading it for
something else. Perhaps if a better DVD transfer comes along, I'll re-
I love horse racing and a good adventure story, so this appeals to me since it offers both. The climactic race at the end is not very credible, but overall it's a fine film and certainly safe viewing fare for the whole family.
It was good to see Mickey Rooney again. Kelly Reno, who played the kid, was fine, too - no young Mickey Rooney in his heyday, but still passable as an actor and likable. Teri Garr and Hoyt Axton had small roles as Reno's parents.
I re-viewed the movie, on video, after not having seen it for many years. The cinematography is fantastic, and I believe it won an Oscar - and deservedly so. The lovely score fills in a script of few words. Even Mickey Rooney, who's had his ups and downs in his acting career, gives a wonderful performance as the former jockey who trains Alec. Treat your kids to a showing of this great film, then give them the book to read...
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