Sheep, bless 'em, are all over the place in SWEETGRASS, the new documentary by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash, which is all about herding, driv-
ing, birthing, shear-
ing, protecting, feed-
ing and otherwise caring for the woolly beasts. You'll never have imagined that sheep could be so fascinating, charming, funny and beautiful to watch and listen to (oh, the bleating!).
For awhile. And then...
Not so much.
Fortunately, there are other points of interest in this somewhat (even at only 101 minutes) overlong film that may prove of more interest to the anthropologically inclined than to the typical film buff. Along the way, however, there is some stunning photography, as well as the occasional unforgettable shot. (I think I may always remember the sheep -- what looks like thousands of them --
moseying down the center of some small-town
More than anything else, however, the film unintentionally has me asking a question: Has narration simply been done away with in today's documentaries? Certain filmmakers, particularly those whose documen-
taries unspool over hours (Maysles and Wiseman come to mind) have the time to let their exposition unroll, with ample hours for their audience to explore and learn what is going on. (During the editing process, smart filmmakers will also know what to leave in and what to take out, so that the viewer begins to understand all that is happening.)
There's an awful lot of walkie-talkie usage, which must be a huge help to the men, though it bored the hell out of this viewer. And the sometimes constant bleating of the sheep grows tiring, too. (Little wonder the men camp over the next hill when possible.) One conversation on a mountaintop via cell phone, however, should surprise you. Taking place between a cowboy, nearly in tears, and his mom, this is not the buttoned-up Gary Cooper-type we've come to expect, but one sorrowful, flesh-and-blood-and-in-pain fellow.
Sweetgrass opens its two-week run at Film Forum on Wednesday, January 6. You can find additional screenings to come across the country by clicking here.