For Reel

The Black Stallion (1979)
August 17, 2015, 12:01 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Carroll Ballard
4.5 Stars
The Black StallionThe Black Stallion is a film comprised of two distinct halves: first, a fable about a boy and a horse stranded on an island; and second, a slice of American mythmaking involving a trainer’s redemption and a boy’s glory. It is the first half, where cinematographer Caleb Deschanel creates panoramas as breathtaking as any in cinema, that garners the most attention. The beauty of the images of so ludicrous, in fact, that it risks becoming invasive. Yet it seems like a deliberate aesthetic choice to revel in the loveliness, suggesting the childlike idealization of ultimate freedom and self-sufficiency. The boy’s (Kelly Reno) reaction to being stranded shows an unnatural calmness, but director Carroll Ballard is clearly operating in the realm of myths, typified early on by a story of Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalus. Once the picture returns home, the world of domesticity and civilization is treated as alien–even a simple scene set in a bathroom is shot through the corner of a mirror, dwarfing the boy in distorted porcelain surroundings. It seems problematic that, although the film begins with a poker game and ends on a race track, the victory at the end is treated as a continuation of the boy’s (and horse’s) sense of freedom. The world of capital exchanges would suggest anything but. Nonetheless, Ballard and Deschanel manage to make even the familiar elements feel viscerally thrilling and new, and even the played out device of the “big race” strikes emotional beats that feel completely authentic.

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