Monday, February 2, 2015

Don't Make a Scene: The Black Stallion

The Set-Up: "Tell Me a Story." During the month of February, we'll be showcasing scenes that feature a story in the midst of the narrative. That story may couch the plot in a new light; it may illuminate themes or present a back-story. It may be just a distraction. It may be a side-story that resonates throughout the film and casts its teller in the affections of the audience, making him immortal no matter how short his amount of screen-time.

It doesn't get much simpler than this, story-wise or narrative-wise. The story of Bucephalus mirrors and adds an air of mysticism to the subsequent adventures of a boy and his horse, and Carroll Ballard's way of shooting it (with Hoyt Axton's dad occasionally talking right to the camera in a tight close-up) puts us smack-dab in identification-mode with Alec. It's just one of the many brilliant and lovely movie-making touches that Ballard employs in The Black Stallion.

The Scene: Young Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) is left to wander the ship, following his curiosity, as his father (who's taken him along on a business trip in the North Mediterranean) plays high-stakes poker. That night, father and son go over the loot, full of gold and baubles and strange valuables from around the globe. Though Alec is curious about everything, he comes out of it with only two things--a pocket-knife, and the small carving of a black horse.

Father: You know, I'll bet this is the most valuable piece here.
Father: It's Bucephalus, the magic horse of Alexander the Great.
Father: A long time ago, this king was going to kill Bucephalus because he was so wild the king couldn't ride 'im.

Father: He had Bucephalus brought into a big arena, and people came from all around, because they wanted to see this horse,
Father: ...which was the biggest, the blackest, an' the strongest, the most beautiful horse that ever was.
Father: King Philip goes walking out there, and he looked around at some of his men, and said," Kill that horse!" Just then, a voice called out from the edge of the crowd, and said, "I can ride that horse!" Everybody looked around, an' said, "Who said that?"
Father: (They) looked over an' it was a kid, just about your size, an' just about your age.
Father: And King Philip looked over an' he said...
Father: "Son...if you can ride that horse, you can have that horse!" Huh? So Alexander walked out into the big arena...
Father:' standin' in the middle of the arena, was Bucephalus. (pulls himself up)
Father: He was big an' he was strong.
Father: An' he was pawin' the ground.
Father: An' there was fire in his eyes, an' there was smoke comin' out of his nose! He went (makes a rumbling, grumbling roar).
Father: An' Alexander walked up, and quick as a cat, he jumped up on his back, an' grabbed onto that long black mane...
Father:' barump-barump, an' away they went, just like lightnin'...
Father: an' they jumped right over the crowd, all the way over the stand, an' they went ridin' out over the hill.
Father: Everybody said, "Whew!"
Alec (not buying it): ...smoke comin' out of his nose!
Father: (making a snorting noise):' fire in his eyes!
Alec:'n his eyes.
Father: Well, that's the way I heard the story. Here, I want you to have this.
Alec: Bucephalus.

(Father smiles)

The Black Stallion

Words by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg and William D. Wittliff

Pictures by Caleb Deschanel and Carroll Ballard

The Black Stallion is available on DVD from MGM Home Video.

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