Friday, April 11, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Natural History of the Chicken (2000) ****

NR, 54 min.
Director/Writer: Mark Lewis
Featuring: Janet Bonney, Karin Estrada, David Forrester, Clyde ‘Babe’ Gore, Ray Johnson, Elwynjohn ‘Bud’ Johnston, John Kogge, Harold ‘Doc’ Lloyd, Joseph Martinez, John Simak, Leslye Simak, Pastor Joseph Tauer

Werner Herzog has called the chicken one of the stupidest creatures on Earth. He hates chickens and isn’t shy about it. He’s even featured the vile creatures in some of his films to make negative points about his characters. I don’t believe Werner Herzog would be a fan of the movie “The Natural History of the Chicken”. It is a movie that celebrates the chicken through the very strange people who also celebrate them.

“The Natural History of the Chicken” is hardly any sort of history of the birds at all. Perhaps the title is a reference to Mark Lewis’s previous film “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History”, which featured the exploding cane toad population on the continent of Australia. The toads were introduced to the country as a natural pest control measure for the country’s cane sugar crops but had no natural enemies on the island continent, and so exploded in population. The film is a comical look at the truly problematic issue of the toads and the strange people that study and worship them. Lewis was recently inspired to produce a sequel in 3D.

“The Natural History of the Chicken” is also a comical look at the people whose lives are influenced by chickens in America. It is equally as fascinating and humorous as his “Cane Toads” and is just as much of a must-see documentary. It explores stories of a chicken who returns from the dead, a chicken who lives for years without a head, a lady who keeps a chicken as a pet, a community forced into legal action to stop a cock farm with 100 roosters, a pastor with an amazing tale about a chicken who wants to be a mother, and even provides a few facts about chickens along the way.

In many ways “The Natural History of the Chicken” also reminds me of Errol Morris’s first feature documentary “Gates of Heaven”, because its highlights are not the chickens so much as the eccentric people who love and hate them. Actually the people who hate them seem pretty sane. The eccentrics aren’t so bad either and are highlighted in greater quantities, hence my conclusion that Herzog would not approve.

Watch the entire movie below.

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