Horseplay: Equine performance and creaturely acts in cinema


Throughout Béla Tarr’s latest and reputedly final film THE TURIN HORSE (2011), the horse (Ricsi), as the title of the film indicates, leaves the spectator in no doubt that she is an important, if not the most important, individual within the narrative. However, unlike most films which feature animals as central protagonists, at no juncture is the horse’s behaviour articulated in human-driven semantics. Furthermore, she is never presented with what Emmanuel Gouabault, Annik Dubied, and Claudine Burton-Jeangros describe as a superindividual status. This stated, neither does the director devalue the role of the animal. Instead, Ricsi’s performance can be analysed in what Brenda Austin-Smith argues is ‘memorable film characterization’, whereby animal performance is valid and ‘counts for something’. While it cannot be suggested that Ricsi deliberately acts as a character her performance is equally valuable for analysis both within and outside the context of the narrative. Applying performance theory and film theory to a study of the role and performance of the horses in two films, THE TURIN HORSE and OF HORSES AND MEN (Benedikt Erlingsson 2013), this essay proposes an alternative and more fitting approach to the study of animals in film. The contention here is that neither film humanises or ‘starifies’ the horses, yet all of the equine presentations are significant, as well as examples of what Michael Kirby terms simple acting. This essay begins by examining the ways in which animal performance has predominantly been represented and discussed in media and film before proposing Kirby’s notion of simple acting as a mode of analysis.

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Preferred Citation
Hockenhull, Stella: Horseplay: Equine performance and creaturely acts in cinema. In: NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies, Jg. 4 (2015), Nr. 1, S. 181-198. DOI:
 author = {Hockenhull, Stella},
 title = {Horseplay: Equine performance and creaturely acts in cinema},
 year = 2015,
 doi = "\url{}",
 volume = 4,
 address = {Amsterdam},
 journal = {NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies},
 number = 1,
 pages = {181--198},
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