Monday, 12 July 2010

The Black Stallion (1979)

Synopsis: Boy meets horse, horse saves boy's life, boy rides horse in important race. The end.

One of my desert island films, I first saw this film on telly years ago and it immediately struck me as a cut above the usual kid/animal story - Andre it ain't. The visual style (the director Carroll Ballard is also a cinematographer) is really elegant, classy and thoughtful. Beautifully composed frames and sequences take their time and create a really strong sense that here is a film maker that really loves looking at his subject matter, the locations and different types of light.

Dialogue is almost foregone completely for much of the film in favour of highly lyrical vignettes between boy and horse, into which Carmine Coppola's (Dad of Francis Ford, who produced the film) music melds really nicely.

The horse. There are some unbelievable sequences involving the stallion, including the angry, rearing horse on the ship, the horse's bridle and ropes caught up the sinking ship's rudder and of course the races. The sound editing in the final race is brilliant; the horse's thundering hooves and overworked, snorty breathing putting you right in the place of Kelly Reno as he struggles to cling on to his lightening fast steed.

I can't immediately think of many other films that capture quite the same inner worldliness of this one. There are plenty of emotional scenes but as I say above, these are largely without dialogue, the feelings of the grown-ups, the kid and horse portrayed visually rather than through schmaltzy speeches.

I don't care how naff it sounds, but this is special film, made in the 1970s, when Hollywood was going through another Golden Age. Much overlooked, I think The Black Stallion is real, proper gem of a movie.

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