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BMZ Review: Majestic White Horses
By Herb Lash


Written by: Herb Lash
Source: Big Movie Zone
Date: June 2001


Category: Reviews

Like dog shows and stamp collecting, following the dancing Lipizzan Stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna is a specialized passion. But subject matter is often the least important aspect of an interesting documentary - the best filmmakers possess a zealot's passion to have their story or their particular truth heard. Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog is most proud of a documentary he made about a ski-jumper turned hermit/woodcarving sculptor - not the most universal of subjects. Majestic White Horses will certainly appeal to horse lovers - but director/producer Kurt Mrkwicka's unabashed devotion to the Lipizzan stallion proves surprisingly contagious. Eight white horses dancing and prancing beneath buttoned up riders doesn't possess the obvious Big Movie allure of a Mount Everest vista or a gaze toward Outer Space. Instead, Majestic White Horses is the rare sort of Large Format film that makes a virtue of subtlety. Grand size, scope and sound are here utilized to immerse rather than blow away the senses.

The Lipizzan Stallions and the horsemanship taught at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna form the core of the film. A strong case is made for the Lipizzans as the proud culmination of a human/horse relationship that has spanned thousands of years. Detailed graphics and images provide a breezy trip through the 55 million year evolution of the horse; from fox sized swamp dweller to nimble hoofed lord of the dance. Tracing the ancestral bloodlines of the Lipizzan also leads to a crash course in the evolution of human culture over the last two thousand years. While differing nations and peoples made war and traded with one another - their horses were busy making love.  Majestic White Horses gives a vivid portrait of the Lipizzan's family tree by traveling to more than a few far-flung locations responsible for the rarefied breed. By the time the film works its way to the Austrian Empire's foundation of a "Spanish Riding Stable" in 1521, a real appreciation for the hard won majesty of the breed is firmly established.

The focus of the film moves away from history and toward visceral pleasure once the Imax cameras enter the world of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  The breeding, the birth, the care and the training of these horses makes for some surprisingly engrossing scenes. Watching an exuberant gallop through hilly pastures conveys a simple sense of freedom and beauty.  Witnessing the birth of a foal is incredible or shocking, depending on your temperament.  Looking on as young horses are penned separately from their mothers for the first time evokes a real and unnerving sense of panic. Narrator Stacy Keach calms the scene with a deadpan voice over, assuring us that (unlike human heartbreak) "the pain ofseparation will only last for a few hours."

The film closes with a performance by the horse and riders of the Spanish Riding School. The Imax screen is perfectly suited for the show - the riding hall feels cavernous, hallowed and real. The choreographed discipline of both rider and horse is felt as the horse hooves stamp down and kick up the thick dirt. The entire experience is odd, new and impressive. The funding might not be available to all would be filmmakers to turn niche obsessions into quality Big Movies - but those who succeed in doing so, like Kurt Mrkwicka, do audiences a favor by expanding the variety of Large Format films.

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Additional BMZ Reviews of Majestic White Horses

Dances With Horses by Ross Anthony
'Majestic White Horses' Trots Through History by Elizabeth Kaye McCall

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