The Austin Chronicle

Chasing the Dream

Not rated, 60 min. Directed by Jeff Fraley, Harry Lynch.

REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Oct. 17, 1997

Rodeo, the national sport of Texas, has its roots in the cowboy's daily tasks of cutting, roping, and horse-breaking, but no one is sure how its most popular event, bullriding, came to be. As one interviewee in this short but engrossing documentary observes, “Ridin' bulls wasn't part of a cowboy's job. It musta been that one day, one of 'em just said to another: `Bet ah can stay on that bull longer'n you can.'” (Pause for female readers to formulate behavioral theories based upon male grey matter residing in non-cranial locales.) But regardless why they do it, one has to concede that it takes guts for a man to climb aboard an enraged 2,000-pound animal whose tennis ball-sized brain is fixed upon the mission of bucking him off and trampling him into redneck tartar. And when the filmmakers turn their cameras on their subjects (including former world champs Don Gay, Harry Tompkins, and Tuf Hedeman, and young studs Brian Herman and Ronny Kitchens), it becomes abundantly clear how unique these guys are. If you've never been to a rodeo before, the hair-raising bullriding footage will leave you ashen and gasping for breath. Even longtime fans will gain fresh insight from the slow-mo sequences showing the uncanny motor skills these cowboys draw upon in their eight-second wars with the rampaging beasts. Interviews with veteran riders, all of whom clearly regard themselves as the reigning mack daddies of the sport, eventually yield the insight that bullriders are more than just the suicidal adrenaline junkies they first appear to be. Few people can be content in life without facing and overcoming their own fears, and every time out of the chute, a bullrider confronts the ultimate fear. Poignant interviews with the family of Austin champion bullrider Brent Thurman, who was killed by a bull in 1994, sensitively reinforce -- even if they don't fully explain -- the cowboy's no-regrets philosophy. But this film doesn't obsess on the sport's dangers or over-intellectualize its visceral thrills. Mostly, it's content to vividly frame the explosive energy of its subject matter with an efficient, no-frills presentation. In its final third, it reports on the cowboys' canny move to capitalize more upon their short, risky careers by creating a pro tour and megabucks tourneys replete with Vegas trappings and six-figure purses. In its unpretentious way, this is a splendid piece of sociological reporting by Austin filmmakers Fraley and Lynch, providing insights into not only human psychology but modern capitalism and pop culture as well. And, not least, it introduces viewers to the first bovine superstar of the Nineties: Bodacious, the baddest, most charismatic rodeo bull on the planet. At one point during Chasing the Dream, a publicist vows that Big Bo's glowering visage will soon greet every Web surfer and TV viewer in the land. Catch him now while he's hot.

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