Natural History of the Chicken
Running time: Approximately 60 minutes
Copyright 2000 Mark Lewis Radio Pictures, Inc.
From the back of the case:
Most of us best know the chicken from our dinner plates. Whether as thigh, wing or drumstick, we barely pause a moment to consider the bird's many virtues. This program expands the frontiers of popular awareness and delightfully reveals that this small, common and seemingly simple animal is as complex and grand as any of God's creatures.
The stories are illustrated with narrative vignettes depicting these birds at their magical best, inspiring fascination and gentle humor. The film allows us to rethink our relationship with a creature we have previously take for granted, while at the same time providing a lens through which we look at ourselves. It is the "natural history" for an animal like no other.
This movie originally aired on television on PBS in mid July. I purchased it via Amazon on the day it became availible, August 7, 2001
. It made its Everything
debut at a gathering
, but most of us were having to much fun
to pay attention to it, really. The next weeked, a thousand miles away, at yet another gathering
we were able to appreciate it in all of its glory.
This is easily the most surreal thing to be found on my television in recent memory. From the opening vignette about the frozen, then resurrected via mouth-to-mouth chicken, to the moving tale of Liza, the chicken that offered her life to protect her chicks, there is no time to reflect in the profundity of what you are seeing.
There is a woman the bathes her chicken daily, blow drys it, then puts its "panties" on so it doesn't shit in her house. She turns Pavoratti on the TV when she leaves for the day, because the chicken likes opera.
There is a farmer that imitates chickens. Not just the sounds they make; he is on film scratching and strutting, just like the chickens he keeps. And he is really good at it, too.
Liza's story is, I feel, the most poignant. It is written as a children's book, by a pastor that is perhaps overly fond of his chicken. It seems that Liza was picked upon by the other chickens, and was never allowed to become a mother, because she was so small. This bothered Pastor John, becuase he thought the she would make an excellent mother. He went so far as to build a special love shack for Liza to lay and hatch her egs in. Liza, at the end of the story, protects her chicks from a chicken hawk (cue Loony Toons joke) by covering them with her body and taking the attack herself. She lives, to the disappointment of all watching. (What is most disturbing about this segment of the documentary is the language Pastor John uses to describe Liza. "Warm, moist flesh" is not something I immediately associate with a pet chicken, do you?)
My favorite piece is about Mike, the headless chicken, probably for one quote. Mike's head was severed by his owner, but he didn't die. enough of the brain stem remained for Mike to live on, hand fed, and carefully attended to for the rest of his life, which was about two years. At one point, a farmer that knew Mike's owner looks into the camera, and (in complete sincerity) says "Any other man would have reached down, picked that chicken up, and cut off its head... Again."
Unfortunately, Natural History of the Chicken is only availble on VHS. Still, I believe everyone that loves the theatre of the absurd should own it.