We use cookies to help us understand how you use our site, and make your experience better. To find out more read our privacy policy.
Play

00:00

/

00:00

Full screen
Video quality

Low 0 MB

High 0 MB

HD 0 MB

Captions
Volume
Volume
Hero image for Charlie Horse

Charlie Horse

Television (Full Length) – 1978

A Perspective

It is only a little over 30 years since this oddly affecting little documentary was made, yet it already feels like a relic from an ancient time.

This impression is heightened by the weathered texture of the 16mm celluloid medium, which has faded to a dirty monochrome. Mouldy blotches and crackly sound also add to the notion this movie wasn't so much made, as found in an attic somewhere.

Martyn Sanderson was a vital part of the extended family of Blerta creatives who set themselves up in a loose commune at Waimarama Beach in the 1970s.

Assisted by some of the other residents, notably cameraman Alun Bollinger, Sanderson documented his vexing experiences breaking and training a young horse named Charlie. Derek Morton, Geoff Murphy, Annie Collins and Pat Cox are credited with helping Sanderson with the edit.

The breaking-in process was not terribly successful. Charlie was eventually sold to owners better suited to handling him. To try and make something of all the film he'd shot, Sanderson screened a mute rough cut to locals at the Waimarama Marae Social Club, and made audio recordings of their reactions.

Essentially then, Charlie Horse is a home movie, with narration spliced together from live commentaries.

Some film historians have tagged the film experimental; whether this is so is debatable given the largely straightforward breaking-in story. Either way, TV documentaries sure as hell don't look like this any more. Amazingly, the film was produced for TV One, with initial funding from the Arts Council.

Charlie Horse exerts fascination through the simple power of its narrative and there is some haunting imagery. As we watch an animal being castrated and hobbled, a little voice on the soundtrack says, "some people don't know that animals have feelings..." The counterpoint of a horse breaker's casual cruelty, with a child's commentary is almost unbearably poignant.

Beyond summing up the fate of one horse, Sanderson perhaps unwittingly makes a bigger statement about the quixotic aspirations of the Waimarama commune. A subtext of paternalism, and even contempt can be detected in the attitudes of the Hawkes Bay locals against the hippies in their midst.

Sanderson's failure to ‘break' Charlie was probably inevitable. He's too much of a romantic. Too ‘soft'. One can see that in his images of Charlie hobbled, dejected and pathetic. He revels instead in pictures of the horse running wild and free after breaking loose.

The too vast distance between the commune's idealised view of country life and the pragmatic outlook of seasoned rural dwellers is summed up in the horse breaker's parting shot, "animals are clever. They can abuse kindness, or ignorance. Charlie did that".

If you liked this, you might also like...

Collection
Collection image for The Horse Collection

The Horse Collection

This collection features all things equine on NZ screens...

Collection
Collection image for The Geoff Murphy Collection

The Geoff Murphy Collection

This collection pays tribute to filmmaker Geoff Murphy —...

Thumbnail image for The Promise - Sir Tristram's Story

The Promise - Sir Tristram's Story

Another horse story

Thumbnail image for The New Adventures of Black Beauty - The Birdman

The New Adventures of Black Beauty - The Birdman

A children's series based around a spirited horse

Thumbnail image for The Snowline is Their Boundary

The Snowline is Their Boundary

An NFU doco about high country farming featuring horses

Thumbnail image for Start Again

Start Again

A Roger Donaldson-shot documentary on NZ hippy culture

Thumbnail image for Cow

Cow

Features Martyn Sanderson and a cow

Thumbnail image for Numero Bruno

Numero Bruno

A doco on Bruno Lawrence

Thumbnail image for Woodenhead

Woodenhead

Features a donkey as a means of transport

Thumbnail image for An Angel at My Table

An Angel at My Table

Featuring Sanderson as poet Frank Sargeson

Thumbnail image for About Face - Universal Drive

About Face - Universal Drive

Directed by Martyn Sanderson

Thumbnail image for Blerta Revisited

Blerta Revisited

Documentary on Blerta

Thumbnail image for Making Utu

Making Utu

Featuring actor Martyn Sanderson as the headless vicar

Thumbnail image for Sylvia

Sylvia

Featuring Martyn Sanderson

Thumbnail image for Autumn Fires

Autumn Fires

Featuring Martyn Sanderson

Thumbnail image for This Way of Life

This Way of Life

A doco about a unique family and their horses

Thumbnail image for Battletruck

Battletruck

More alternatives to car culture

Thumbnail image for Wild Horses

Wild Horses

More Martyn Sanderson and wild horses

Thumbnail image for Wild Horse Wild Country

Wild Horse Wild Country

Documentary about the Kaimanawa wild horses

Thumbnail image for Uenuku

Uenuku

More Waimarama filming

Thumbnail image for Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree

Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree

A feature film directed by Martyn Sanderson

Thumbnail image for Bred to Win

Bred to Win

NFU documentary on NZ thoroughbred racing

Thumbnail image for The Deadly Ponies Gang

The Deadly Ponies Gang

A story of urban horses

Thumbnail image for Star Runner - First Episode

Star Runner - First Episode

More of Martyn Sanderson with horses

Thumbnail image for Animal House - First Episode

Animal House - First Episode

The SPCA deal with some ponies

Thumbnail image for The New Adventures of Black Beauty - A Horse Like Beauty (Episode Two)

The New Adventures of Black Beauty - A Horse Like Beauty (Episode Two)

Episode of a classic horse drama for kids