Before Appellate Judge James A. Stewart steps into the bullfighting ring, he'll make sure all the bulls are back at the ranch that day.
"Compared to a bull, a human being is something built out of toothpicks."—Alex LeMay
Alex LeMay may have been born in the U.S.A., but he grew up in Spain, thanks to a dad who taught at the University of Madrid. "In those early years," LeMay says, "I was as much Spanish as American. Bullfighting was my baseball."
LeMay never considered grabbing a red cape and taking up the sport, though, until he went to a bullfight with his father, three months after LeMay quit the bottle. "Now I felt the mystery that eluded me as a child. I wanted to know everything about it. I wanted to understand. I had to be part of it. I needed it," he says in American Bullfighter (also known as The Bulls of Suburbia), a documentary about his journey into the bull ring.
LeMay studied under Coleman Cooney at San Diego's California Academy of Tauromaquia, and then headed to Mexico and Spain to practice on bull ranches before going into the ring for an actual bullfight. American Bullfighter follows him and other students as they learn the sport—getting "thumpings" from the bulls along the way.
LeMay doesn't focus much on his recovery (except for the occasional wry comment such as, "Having experienced unconsciousness for the first time, at least sober…"). The movie becomes a tutorial on bullfighting, briefly detailing its history and customs, introducing its terms (which are printed on the screen), and showing what it takes to get into the ring. There's not much blood, but the scenes of amateur bullfighters testing their mettle are fascinating.
The movie does have a few scenes of LeMay with his father, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when American Bullfighter was made. These manage to be touching while not distracting from the movie's—and LeMay's—focus on bullfighting, as LeMay honors his father with his ring session.
The picture and sound are typical for a documentary, with the usual problems associated with natural light present but minimal.
The best of the extras is a bullfighting montage that sets footage to music to emphasize the poetry of the sport. The deleted scenes aren't bad, but there's nothing necessary there. A photo gallery is way too sparse.
The DVD cover indicates the presence of a commentary track that I just couldn't find; it would have been nice to see how LeMay is doing and whether he continued with bullfighting. Of course, the cover also suggests a focus on his addiction in the film. While I found the DVD good, I wasn't impressed with its cover.
The glimpses of traditional Spanish culture and people testing their limits make American Bullfighter worth a look.
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