March 15, 2012 \ Geoff Birmingham
A couple of cowboy movies

Buck Brannaman

I’m sure it’s the same in countries across the world, but I’m sometimes struck by what a diversity of cultures exists here in the U.S.  The immigrant populations certainly contribute to that, but I’m thinking of the differences from one geographic region to the next.

While watching two documentaries recently, Buck and Rank, I kept thinking: “Wow, those cowboys look basically like me (white and Anglo, in other words), and they’re also American, but it sure feels like they are from a different country.” The differences, actually, may be less about geographic region than urban (me) versus country (them).

But noticing the differences is secondary. The wonderful thing about seeing these two films is that even while us city guys might feel like the cowboys are foreign to us, you also realize even more powerfully how much you have in common with them – the human values and struggles all of us share. Buck, for example, follows Buck Brannaman, who travels across the country giving horse training clinics. Though he grew up with an alcoholic and abusive father, Buck learned from the abuse and uses that knowledge to not only teach his students how to train their horses humanely but how to live their lives that way too.

On the surface, Rank might not seem totally comparable.  Violence and danger is the name of the game here.  The film focuses on three riders as they progress through one season in the Professional Bull Riders circuit. Seeing the three men gored and stomped on by the bulls, and the gruesome injuries that result, is pretty compelling.  But beyond the spectacle, what stands out is how sympathetic each man is. They are highly competitive, but they all respect one another.  Their goal is to conquer the bulls (staying on for 9 seconds without falling off), but they also have a deep respect and admiration for the animals. And each man has his worthy ambition: fighting through injuries, overcoming age, providing for his family, and pursuing something he loves.