Any rodeo fans out there? Having been exposed to the culture a little during my trips to Vegas while the Professional Bull Riding circuit was in town. So I was curious to learn a bit more about it from Meredith Danluck who has made a documentary about it having its world premiere at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival,
Cinematical: The mythos of the cowboy is something suggested during the opening monologue. But what is the idea of the modern cowboy that all these guys are chasing that is either in sync or contradicts the Old West paradigm that we fall in love with as little boys?
MEREDITH: I think these guys arent necessarily "chasing" the idea of the cowboy, but rather are cowboys. Growing up outside of the ranching community, the mythology of the cowboy was propped up mainly by whatever Hollywood dictated; courtesy, pride, strength etc. These guys grew up with those values. I think, like with any archetype, there are evolutions of the characteristics that maybe on the surface seem contradictory. Winning a million dollars might not make sense with our idea of a cowboy, but once you strip away all the superficial layers, the core is the same.
Are there camps of resentment from the old school farmhand cowboys vs. the guys who just put on the costume? Or the old bulls vs. the young calves?
MEREDITH: There are cowboys that embody the full lifestyle more than others, even within the PBR. There are those that grew up ranching and when they leave tour, they return to ranching and others that were simply drawn to bull riding as a kind of "extreme" sport. I'm not sure there's resentment, but there are social groups, just like you would find anywhere.
The most thankless participant of the rodeo has always got to be the clown. They don't get the money or the glory and yet are always out there as a moving target to distract the bull that has been riled up by the guy now running away. Is there any empathy out there for guys like the one portrayed in your film and how often do they suffer the consequences?
MEREDITH: Flint, who describes himself as "an entertainer" and actually gets quite frustrated when he has to explain his job as a "rodeo clown" is almost like a rock star to the fans. He gets paid pretty darn well too. I'm not sure he's ever suffered an injury from a bull, but shortly after we finished filming he did suffer a heart attack, which didn't surprise me. He's out there running up and down stadium seats for 2 hours 3 nights a week, trying to single-handedly entertain a crowd of 15,000, travelling 45 weeks out of the year- yeah- I might have a heart attack too.
For the average viewer, what do you think the fascination is with the sport other than the potential car wreck effect of seeing a nasty spill every once in a while?
MEREDITH: I think there's a fundamental interest in the age old conflict of man versus nature. It's the most elemental struggle which manifests in a thousand different ways every day, but here they have managed to package it as a sport. I was not remotely into bull riding when I fist went to a PBR, but I got it immediately. Not only was the actual struggle interesting, it was beautiful.
Considering the amount of money tossed around in these competitions and how at least one is referred to as a millionaire at such a young age, can the modern day cowboys portrayed in The Ride continue to cop to the everyman/"real" American boasting that is often attached to their lifestyle?
MEREDITH: I guess that's a question that we'll have to let them answer in the coming years. Right now you have a group of guys who are super humble, gracious and embody all the ideals of the cowboy we imagine they do. I cant answer whether or not they will turn into jaded pro atheletes with the wave of cash knocking at their door.
While bull riding is mostly prevalent in the South, if you want to get a real sense of how rodeo has expanded in the mainstream, one only needs to go to Vegas in December to see the National competition televised by ESPN. Tombstone never saw so many cowboy hats. Has the demand grown over the years and what is the sport's goals for the future?
MEREDITH: I know the demand has grown over the years, as it's America's fastest growing sport, but I don't know what the goals of the sport are. I do know that there is a cultural resurgence of Americana across the board right now. People in this country are looking for some sense of place and connection. There's so much right here to be inspired by that perhaps was brushed under the table before for being too camp, or red neck but now its all game.
Are there any aspirations to find bull riding a place in the Olympics? Seems like it would fit in just right with all the judged and timed competitions.
MEREDITH: Haha, I have no idea. I'll pass this one onto Randy Bernard.
-- Meredith Danluck's The Ride will have its singular showing in SXSW on Wednesday, March 17 at 7:00 PM at the Austin Convention Center's G-Tech Theater.