Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion is a legendary piece of visual filmmaking. Spike Jonze studied it for Where the Wild Things Are, and explains how Ballard effortlessly tells a rousing story with few words.
By Rob Feld
He’s a rare filmmaker with such a delicate touch,” says Spike Jonze, settling in to watch Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion. “He’s like Terrence Malick in a way: very patient and confident.”
Jonze has chosen to screen the film about a boy and the horse he loves because of the influence it had on his last movie, Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak, who wrote the children’s book it was based on, had suggested he see it again. “I remember loving this movie as a kid,” says Jonze. “When I re-watched it, I was astounded by the beauty of the relationship. The first 45 minutes, with almost no dialogue, is always what gets me. It captures the point of view of a boy observing the world.”
Ballard’s treatment of Walter Farley’s novel follows Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno), who saves, and in turn is saved by, a powerful black stallion. The boy is traveling with his father (Hoyt Axton) on an ocean liner, and Ballard introduces the boat as a wonderland inhabited by strange characters. “One of the great things about the film was the casting, the specialness of the boy Ballard found, and the way he worked with him,” says Jonze. “The boy had never acted before, but the movie wouldn’t have worked if they didn’t have this kid who’s face you could hold on in silence for long scenes, and understand what he’s feeling.”