Saturday, July 13, 2013

Making War Horse (documentary), via Netflix

Making War Horse is a documentary about the making of the play “War Horse.” I almost never watch documentaries – I have too many movies and TV shows I'd rather watch – but, when I saw that Netflix had this, I immediately added it to my queue.

I haven't seen “War Horse” and probably never will. What put it on my radar was a book I cataloged for my library a while back: The Horse's Mouth: How Handspring and the National Theatre made War Horse by Mervyn Millar. It didn't have nearly as many color photographs as I would have liked, but the ones it did have intrigued me. I read a little of it and learned that the wooden animals in the  photographs weren't props, but rather puppets, characters in their own right.

Photographs are all well and good, but they can't show you how puppets move. This documentary could. I wasn't really interested in learning about the play's lighting, set design, and music, but seeing the puppets move, learning about how they were constructed, how the puppeteers communicated with each other, all of that made watching this documentary worth it for me. Seriously, the puppets are amazing. The documentary touched on a few of the other puppets in the play, like some of the wooden soldiers and a goose, but the horses received the most attention – understandable, since one of the horses was the play's main character. The horses require three puppeteers: one person to control the head, one to control the front half of the horse, and one to control the back. Two of the three puppeteers are inside the puppet and can't see much, if anything, of what's going on, and yet all three puppeteers have to work together to make their puppet seem like a living, breathing horse.

If “War Horse” ever played anywhere near me, I'd go see it for the horse puppets alone, although I'd bring along a few packages of tissues. I have a feeling this would be one of those “work so hard to hold back the tears that you give yourself a headache” productions.

The documentary talked a little about the story, which was based on the book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, and it sounded hugely depressing. The main character, Joey, is a horse taken away from his original owner, Albert, in order to serve in World War I. I couldn't tell from the documentary if Joey ever made it back to Albert or not, but, even if he did, there were still lots of opportunities for heartbreaking scenes. For example, one scene from the play showed Joey getting himself tangled up in barbed wire. The author of the original book spoke a little about his research – the things he learned that inspired that barbed wire scene, how many horses died during the war, etc. You know, exactly the kind of the stuff that is the reason why I rarely read animal books anymore. I hate having to clear tears out of my eyes just so I can keep reading.

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