A documentary that doesn’t really tell a story but instead is a portrait of Montana’s Fishtail Basin Ranch. The film is quietly beautiful as the filmmakers watch the ranch’s cowboys during the calving season, there are no talking heads the camera is the fly on the wall watching the day to day of the work. What’s added to the images is the narration of Harry Dean Stanton who reads passages and songs reflecting on what were watching during the film.
Fishtail looks gorgeous, shot and developed to have a visual style resembling a 1970’s western. It reinforces how the men working at the ranch are almost from a different time, their profession is one of America’s oldest industries. While technology advances, the cattle stays the same and you actually see a cow give birth so brace yourself for that. At times its like watching a visual poem but the film’s calm nature can be off-putting for some. The documentary isn’t a thrill ride but a modest, composed piece of art.
Stanton’s narration is a great addition, the film works just from its editing, the readings from him just strengthens the themes of the film. That sense of tradition and working the land, providing for your family. The simplicity of the work juxtaposed with Stanton’s readings of Walt Whitman passages show how life is more than just the images we see before us.
There isn’t much I can say about Fishtail it’s a film that just needs to be seen to be appreciated. A glimpse of a world that we thought long gone but somehow still remains as our societies evolve perhaps if you’re earning to remember when life was simpler than this film is for you.