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A Man Called Horse(1970)
In 1825, John Morgan, an English aristocrat, is captured by a tribe of Sioux Indians. Hoping to save his own life by proving his worth, Morgan undergoes the long, painful Sun Vow ritual, where he is hung in a tree by the flesh of his chest. This film paints a very detailed portrait of the Sioux customs and lifestyle.
For more about A Man Called Horse and the A Man Called Horse Blu-ray release, see A Man Called Horse Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on June 13, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Richard Harris, Judith Anderson, Jean Gascon, Manu Tupou, Corinna Tsopei, Dub Taylor
Director: Elliot Silverstein
» See full cast & crew
A Man Called Horse Blu-ray Review
Pony up and pick up this disc.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, June 13, 2011
I am a man.
A Man Called Horse is a simple movie about self-discovery and an understanding of a people, but it's also far more complex than that. Questions of actions, motivations, and the varied definitions of "humanity" all come into play as an aristocratic Englishman is forced to endure emotional and physical hardships when his life is forcibly and forever changed in the 19th century American frontier. The picture takes a long, difficult, and altogether absorbing look at what shapes a man, how men are different and similar through unshared and shared experiences alike. The picture posits an interesting question: is a man defined by his upbringing and the sum of his experiences -- how he was raised, whom he has met, where he has gone -- or is he far more pliable, capable of drastic alterations, difficult at first yes but capable of adapting into a radically different lifestyle when circumstances completely negate all he's ever before done and known? A Man Called Horse is a difficult picture to watch as it portrays a man's life suddenly and forcibly reduced to nothing and the literal and physical growing pains he must endure -- not over a lifetime, but rather in a condensed window in his adulthood -- if he is to survive in a new climate with new people and a new way of life that just might forever alter his perspective not only of an entire peoples but of man's ability to adapt and change to suit his environment.
John Morgan (Richard Harris) is a vacationing English aristocrat hunting in America's untamed frontier land. He jokingly laments the shallowness of his life to his lackeys, wondering why he would have come halfway across the world to merely shoot a different type of bird than what lives in England. While John is bathing in a lake near camp, his party is swiftly, silently, and efficiently slaughtered by a band of native Sioux, who subsequently take John prisoner. Dragged back to camp and treated as if an animal, a terrified John unsuccessfully attempts to verbally and physically communicate with his captors. When an escape attempt fails, he decides that if he is to survive life in the Sioux settlement he must become one of the tribe. Helped by another English-speaking captive, Batiste (Jean Gascon), who was himself once a potential escapee but who was dealt a nearly debilitating leg wound as a result, John becomes determined to go to great lengths and endure difficult trials to prove his value to his captors.
A Man Called Horse is a rare cinematic treat, a picture that diverges from traditional motion picture genres and motifs and instead constructs a story meant not for entertainment purposes but instead created to serve as a vessel for audiences to contemplate themes and challenges that are impossible to fully comprehend and appreciate outside of a real-life experience but that are certainly strongly represented in the medium of film when portrayed as painstakingly real as they are here. Certainly One can understand, sympathize with, and feel both remorse for and pride in John's journey of transformation throughout the film as the emotional pains yield physical pains, as his uncertainty engenders a unique confidence and strength he never knew he possessed. That he finds qualities he never before considered returns to the picture's primary theme: what makes a man an individual? Can a sudden and drastic change in circumstances render obsolete, inactive, and unnecessary the established foundational beliefs and ways of life? Certainly it's a theme that's not new with A Man Called Horse. William Golding's classic novel The Lord of the Flies focused on a group of schoolchildren who, stranded on a deserted island with no parental supervision, attempted to recreate a sense and structure of law and order amongst themselves but who ultimately allowed their circumstances to fundamentally alter who they were, what they believed, and what they were willing to do to survive and thrive as they saw fit. A Man Called Horse is structurally different -- a single man must adapt to a new environment rather than a group collectively adapting -- but the fundamental question as to what shapes man and how that shape may be altered or abandoned almost on a figurative whim when the subconscious deems it necessary in light of drastic and inescapable exterior changes in circumstance remains the same.
Director Elliot Silverstein (Cat Ballou) smartly crafts A Man Called Horse to allow the emotional content and John's transformation to take center stage rather than pack the movie with unnecessary fluff to lighten the drama's load, which would have come at the expense of the picture's power and meaning. The picture often goes long stretches without much English dialogue, particularly early on, as John is forced to deal with many unknown factors, the language and culture barriers chief amongst them, and the absence of subtitles further enhances the film's drama and more adequately allows the audience to struggle through the experience and better understand the challenges John must face. In that way, the struggle for survival, understanding, and acceptance are paramount to the experience, and even more important, the question as to whether they are all one and the same -- byproducts of one another -- or separate entities entirely no matter the circumstances may be more fully explored. On a more technical note, the picture is gorgeously crafted, with the scope widescreen presentation often used to great effect to give the picture a bigger sense of space and import while at the same time nicely capturing the natural vistas and simple but strong costuming and set design. Richard Harris's performance is outstanding, too, the actor fully understanding the part and effortlessly capturing the essence of the internal and external wars that ravage and reshape his body, mind, and soul.
A Man Called Horse Blu-ray, Video Quality
A Man Called Horse debuts on Blu-ray with a nice-looking 1080p transfer that suffers through a few issues -- some inherent to the source, others seemingly introduced somewhere along the line after the fact -- but that nevertheless holds up rather well, all things considered. There are a few clear-cut instances of distracting haloing, but such is not a consistent problem throughout the film. Instead, the image is usually naturally sharp and suffers through only the occasional soft shot. Colors are nicely balanced but not quite perfect. They favor an ever-so-slightly faded appearance, but outside of the earthen hues that make up the terrain and the Sioux's dwellings and clothes, there's little in terms of vibrant coloring save for bright blue skies and natural green vegetation. Detail ranges from strong in close-up shots of faces and materials to shaky in some medium-distant shots, particularly in some corners where plants and trees look clumpy and indistinct. Black levels favor a slightly washed-out appearance, but flesh tones appear neutral in shading. The print is in relatively good condition, and a layer of natural grain rounds the image into form as a dependable, but certainly not breathtaking, 1080p transfer from Paramount.
A Man Called Horse Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Paramount's DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack is at best fair, offering a good presence but at the expense of spaciousness. The presentation is sound at a basic level, with music offering crisp highs and a positive low end. Dialogue, however, is sometimes shallow in texture and low in volume. Most of the native music and sound effects sound more jumbled than they do natural, particularly around the top of the range. Shrieking, ear-piercing highs are the norm, first heard when John is paraded through the Sioux settlement. The track seems to thrive on sonic confusion to accentuate the fear and uncertainty of John's first days as a prisoner, but it would seem the track could use some additional clearing up nevertheless.
A Man Called Horse Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are included.
A Man Called Horse Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A Man Called Horse is a powerful film that takes an honest and unflinching look at the human condition, namely what shapes it and how malleable or rigid it may be. It's also a well-crafted film that keeps its themes front-and-center, never once allowing any kind of superfluous element to match or overwhelm the critical themes that shape the story. It's sometimes a difficult watch, but it's also one of the more rewarding pictures out there in terms of its raw ability to spark discussion and force viewers to think about deeper issues that general cinema doesn't normally address. Paramount's Blu-ray release of A Man Called Horse is decent enough for a bargain release. A decent 1080p transfer, a passable lossless soundtrack, and no extras mean that it's worth picking up on a good sale, but no doubt fans will wish for some extras. A documentary on the making of the film would have proven most welcome. Still, as it is, A Man Called Horse comes recommended.
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Paramount Home Entertainment has announced no fewer than four western movies from its late-60s and early-70s catalog for Blu-ray release on May 31, in time for Father's Day: Big Jake (George Sherman, 1971), A Man Called Horse (Elliot Silverstein, 1970), Once Upon ...
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