Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fishtail (2014) — Tribeca 2014

The cowboy as a movie hero may be a thing of the past, but the real cowboys are alive and well, as seen in this short, eloquent documentary directed by Andrew Renzi. This "portrait of the modern cowboy" follows the Young family of Fishtail Basin Ranch through typical days during calving season. Beautifully filmed, it deftly captures the burnt golds and bronzes of the fields and the deep blues of Montana's Big Sky country: full, gorgeous vistas and the men who work on the land. It looks like the finest Marlboro commercial ever, minus the coughing and hacking.

Although chock full o' cows and centering on the birth of new calves, this is more than just a pretty nature documentary. The cows may be the scene-stealing stars - witness the scene where the herd queues up in a perfect line for feeding, as well trained as dogs, except for Betty the cow, who nibbles out of turn and received a scolding for it. It's Betty's keepers in the spotlight, however: the contemporary cowboys diligent at work and play, through segments devoted to their everyday tasks: feeding, tagging and banding the calves (with protests by a protective mother cow), night check-ins, and an extended sequence of a calf's birth and first steps.

Harry Dean Stanton narrates the film. His voice seems mixed too loud; his voice-overs are frequently jarring and flat. But the narration is suitably spare and the film mostly lets the action and brief dialogue speak for itself. There are no interviews: it simply follows the cowboys on their day, Stanton's occasionally over-eloquent recitations contrasting with the straightforward simplicity of the visual narrative.

Extremely naturalistic and compelling as it is straightforward, the simple beauty of Fishtail is in it's the bond between the men and the land, their gentle banter, and portrayal of a modern ranch hand's life with cows, horses, guns and lassos, and the occasional 4-wheel ATV. It's as fully formed as that newborn calf - a trifle unsteady in parts but still breathtakingly beautiful.

For details on Fishtail at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, visit the festival website.

1 comment:

  1. I really would have loved to work this in, but couldn't quite pull it off. That said I was no fan at all of last year's AATSINKI.