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July 29, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Many thanks to Brian, who pointed out that Carroll Ballard's new movie, "Duma," will be released on August 5. Released, but in a very limited way: The film's official website has some information about the very few theaters and cities where the film will be viewable.

I hope the film is a doozy, and I hope it makes Warners look like jerks for not giving it more enthusiastic backing. Ballard -- who is best-known for "The Black Stallion" and "Never Cry Wolf" -- is an amazing filmmaker. He's of the George Lucas/Francis Coppola generation, and he attended film school with these guys. Coppola -- who produced "The Black Stallion" -- has gone on record with the opinion that Ballard was clearly the most talented of the bunch.

Yet Ballard has never received anything like his critical due. This is probably for a number of understandable reasons: Ballard is an ornery, headstrong guy who avoids the limelight; he has made movies that focus on children and animals; he isn't great with narrative; and a number of his feature movies haven't worked out very well. Still, that's no reason not to do what you can to see his new one, or to catch up with his earlier movies -- especially "The Black Stallion." (Pauline Kael once wrote that "The Black Stallion" "may be the greatest children's film ever made.") And why hasn't Criterion anthologized Ballard's legendary early short films on DVD?



posted by Michael at July 29, 2005


I saw Duma when it screened at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. While I don't think it quite reaches the staggering expressiveness The Black Stallion does, it's still the best movie I've been to this year ~ lovingly made, gorgeously shot and powerfully acted.

Sadly, I'm sure it'll tank. It's not paced for kids used to MTV-style cutting. It feels like it was made in the '80's ~ it takes its time dramatizing things. (A good thing, I think, since the film builds to an emotional operetta, though 8-year-olds raised on X-Box will look at it and wonder, "Huh? What?"). The word of mouth will probably kill it after two weeks. Poor, poor Ballard. He deserves much better.

Posted by: Dick on July 29, 2005 10:22 AM

Am I the only person who remembers the critical given that it is "necessary for an artist to be of his time"? For those too young to remember, this was one of many slogans that used to be dished out by the culture establishment to make it clear that resistance to High Modernism was futile.

I've always thought that artists NOT of their own time--e.g., weirdos like Stubbs doing Romantic art fifty years too early for a Romantic audience--are often the most interesting artists. I'm afraid Carol Ballard may well fit this paradigm.

The only nice thing about this situation is that such artists are often in advance of their own time, and general taste can occasionally catch up somewhere down the road.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on July 29, 2005 12:21 PM

Wow - a Blowhard post of my very own!

I'm glad to hear good word on the film. Here is an interview with Ballard about Duma, and here is one conducted while he was making Wind, a film about yacht racing that didn't turn out perfect - plot isn't his thing - but had some very nice stuff in it regardless.

Notice in the first interview that Warner's is getting cold feet over a picture that cost them $6 million!

I often wonder, Friedrich, if Ballard is ahead of his time or behind it. He reminds me of no filmmaker more than Robert Flaherty, another favorite of mine. The difference is, 1920's audience were enthralled by Flaherty's pictures - Nanook of the North was so popular it spawned an entire subgenre of imitators like Grass and White Shadows In The South Seas - but today's audiences ignore Ballard almost entirely.

Well - ahead of the times, behind the times, I love him regardless. A favorite Orson Welles quote of mine is "I passionately hate the idea of being with it; I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time". By that standard Ballard's doing okay, I guess. (He said, with a barely audible sigh.)

Posted by: Brian on July 29, 2005 03:49 PM

Thanks for bringing this up. I hadn't even heard that Ballard has a movie coming out, and I think The Black Stallion is about as perfect as a movie can get. Never Cry Wolf doesn't hang together as well, but as a collection of jaw-dropping scenes in different styles, it resembles the highlight reel of a top director's entire career.

One warning: stay away from Ballard's filming of "The Nutcracker." It's hard to film ballet, and Ballard completely failed.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on July 29, 2005 04:04 PM

A very implausible story though. There are
many wildlife preserves less than four hours drive from Johannesburg, not to mention the world famous Kruger Park, the oldest preserve on the continent. But, having served in the South African military on the Namibia/Angola border, I can certainly understand the desire to portray that starkly beautiful landscape
on film.

Posted by: Wikus Hattingh on July 29, 2005 05:53 PM

Well, the movie must have some money behind it, because the web site is beautifully produced.

I'm one of those people who seldom goes to the movie theater. Usually wait for the DVD. I'm out at night on music business a coupla nights a week, and I've got no energy to go out most other nights.

So, I just saw "Million Dollar Baby." I was floored. I was one of the last people on this earth to understand what Eastwood had been trying to say. Until "Unforgiven," I'd basically written him off as a hack. The beat-up, tired and guilt ridden old man he portrays is Rowdy Yates 50 years later. I really identified.

The competition for an entertainment buck is so fierce. How does anything get through the torrent of media and PR? I guess I'll have to go out to the theater this time.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on July 30, 2005 10:02 AM

I like when movie reviews and commentaries are included in media forums or publications that are generally focused on other topics. I was thinking earlier that it seemed that there were several good films out this weekend, and it would have been nice.

Unfortunately, the time seems to go by so incredibly fast (when you're working full time). I can't believe that it's already Sunday. It seems that just yesterday afternoon, I was getting off from work. Darn it!

Maybe I'll go to the theater next weekend. Any suggestions?

Posted by: Aakash on July 31, 2005 06:46 PM

Hey, Brian--thanks so much for telling us about this. I, too, am a huge fan of Ballard. I even love the Nutcracker film that Mr. Sailer disses--for me it's one of those rare magical productions where a film director succeeds in moving inside of a theatrical space, the way that Bergman did in The Magic Flute and William Wyler did in Dead End.

Brian, could you relink us to the interview with Ballard about Duma? Both of the links in your post above point towards his interview about Wind. Thanks!

Posted by: Mark Dellelo on August 2, 2005 11:11 AM

Sorry about the link, this is the one I meant to link. Here is another I just found, and here is yet another.

You can dig around here where there seem to be some more.

Posted by: Brian on August 2, 2005 12:33 PM

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