Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's a Girl Thing

Tuesday night, I went channel surfing while the remote was briefly in my control because Len was grilling dinner. TMC was running National Velvet for the millionth time, and for the millionth time, I tuned in somewhere other than at the very beginning--actually much closer to the end than that.

For all the books in my life, I've never read this girls' classic. At least I don't remember it. I have read Black Beauty, and I can't even think about that one without choking up all over. The British film with Nightcrawler--well, Alan Cumming--as the voice of Beauty has me sobbing buckets. I love King of the Wind but I've never been able to get through The Black Stallion. Many young girls read these and more. It's all part of that horse obsession.

12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor is so beautiful and wonderful in the film, but several things bother me:

1. The horse is called "The Pie." I assumed (correctly, when I checked) that's because in the book the horse is a piebald and this is short for "The Piebald." A piebald is a horse with big splotchy black and white coloring. There's a piebald in the stall next to Ace right now. A skewbald is a horse with chestnut and white markings--Hidalgo is a skewbald. An an oddbald (I had never heard of this before) is a bay and white. In the U.S., we call them pintos (for grade horses) or paints (when they have Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse bloodlines.) The horse in the film is a copper-penny chestnut with a big blaze and white socks. Quite pretty, and I am partial to that color since my Prince came dressed in it. I suppose they couldn't find an appropriate piebald for the film.

2. There are scenes where Elizabeth Taylor is clearly riding, and others where the stunt rider is far to big to be her. Ooops.

3. At one point, the horse gets sick and goes down in his stall. Apparently, he stays down all night, while Velvet and Mi tend to him without getting a vet. A real horse would probably be dead from being prone that long. When a sick horse is down, one generally tries to get the horse back on its feet as soon as possible. Most horses don’t lay down for more than 15 minutes at a time—rarely more than 1 ½ hours in total a day. Seabiscuit was a notable exception. He would apparently sleep lying down for hours at a time.

3. I can only assume that riding styles have changed dramatically since 1944, because the riders are leaning back as the horses take off over jumps. Their legs are pushed way forward. I don't jump, but I've photographed quite a bit of it, and these days the riders are practically prone along the horses' necks as the go over jumps. Legs are bent, so the ear-hip-ankle alignment stays in place. Heck, it was that leaning back with my legs forward that got me out of the saddle last month. So many of the horses are upside down, with their noses in the air and backs hollowed out--bad on the horse--indicated some pretty bad riders and extras.

I think I read that Louis B. Mayer gave the horse to Elizabeth Taylor for her birthday. She earned it. The movie was a financial success and the actress who played her mother won an Oscar (the film won two and was nominated for several more.)

I tried to find out where the film was shot, especially the steeplechase, but that's not clear. I found a blog, apparently by someone who served in WWII, which mentions seeing the film being shot at Pebble Beach, which does have an equestrian center. The Wikipedia entry on the film mentions the light poles in the background which would not have been seen in Britain at that time. I didn’t doubt the film was made here, I just wondered exactly where was here.

The last (and only) time I saw a steeplechase in the flesh was probably 30 years ago in the hunt country of Virginia, where the course covered lots of farmland. I don't recall seeing as many horse in the field at the same time as are in the movie, but it was certainly exciting to watch.

No comments: