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Buck

Submitted by MBergeron on July 1, 2011 – 3:01 amNo Comment
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“I’ve had so much experience, it’s all I’ve done, really it’s all I’m interested in,” Buck Brannaman tells Free Press Houston about his prowess for training horses. Brannaman is in town promoting the documentary Buck, which recounts his career as a horse whisperer.

“It’s the kind of subject you can take as far as you want. I often tell people in the beginning when I start working with them that it’s like going to art class and deciding you want to be a painter. For a while they teach you fundamentals like how to paint a bowl of fruit or draw somebody’s face so it looks like a human being. It’s all mechanical. You’re probably going to go to art class for quite a while before anyone would accuse you of being an artist,” says Brannaman in a cool and calm manner which suits his laid back attitude.

“There’s a point where you learn your basics and fundamentals. At some point what you put down on the canvas becomes art. That’s when your soul goes into what you’re doing. That’s the same thing with horsemanship, if one wants to take it that far one.”

Buck the documentary is filled with gallant examples of equine humility. This movie totally understands zen and the art of horse whispering.

Buck, directed by Cindy Meehl, starts its portrait of Buck Brannaman by showing Brannaman conducting a clinic. It’s all about the way you approach the animal. Then we learn that Buck was not only a technical advisor on The Horse Whisperer, but he basically saved the production a ton of money by having his (untrained movie) horse step in for the trained movie horse that couldn’t perform a crucial scene.

I notice Brannaman’s wearing a silver bracelet on his right hand, the same one he’s wearing throughout the movie. “I’ve worn it for years,” Buck explains. “Bob Redford noticed it the first time I sat down in his office in Santa Monica. At that stage he’s already thinking wardrobe. He told the costume designer, Bernie Pollack, ‘You got to get me one of those.’ So I hooked him up with a young gal who was an aspiring silversmith in Sheridan Wyoming. By the time all was said and done, Redford is a cool guy in this respect, he found out she was a struggling artist and he put the bracelet in the Sundance catalog and overnight she got a thousand orders.”

Buck engages its audience with the natural flair Brannaman has for animals. When Meehl approached Brannaman about the idea for a documentary he agreed only if she observed a couple of simple rules. “I told her she wasn’t going to put a mark on the ground and have me stand there, and do it again and again,” Brannaman recalls. He told Meehl “I’m not going to change what I do in my clinics. Your job is to anticipate when something special or meaningful is going to happen.”

As Buck draws the viewer into the glimpse of a world in tune with nature we get the first of many shocking truths. Brannaman, and his brother, were abused by their father to such an extent that they were taken away from him by the local sheriff and placed in foster homes. Their father had trained his two sons to do rope tricks blindfolded and this talent led to appearances in fairs and rodeos and then to television, like a 1960s Sugar Pops commercial.

“I was in New York a few days ago shooting the Dave Letterman Show, and I was asking ‘Are we close to where the Ed Sullivan Theatre was?’ And they said ‘Yeah you’re real close, you’re sitting in it.’”

Brannaman casually notes: “I was in that theater on the What’s My Line show when I was seven years old. I’ll try to make it back in another 42 years.”

I don’t want to bring up the subject of Brannaman’s father during the interview because what I saw in the film was some pretty hairy stuff. But Brannaman starts talking about his old man and I just go with the flow.

“Dad was a pathological liar, in fact I don’t think I ever heard him tell the truth. He’d always tell people he’d been this great trick roper and rodeo performer, and had a grand life as a showman. My dad couldn’t hit the ground with a rope let alone make it do the tricks we did when we were kids.”

The way Brannaman talks shows that he’s moved way past his tortured childhood. There’s compassion in his voice and a calm in his eyes. Instead of inflicting his pain on the next generation, cycling the abuse so to speak, Brannaman has married a lovely wife, raised two beautiful girls and devoted his life to helping people bridge the gap that keeps them from understanding animals.

Buck opens in limited venues this weekend.

- Michael Bergeron

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