Life on the Circle Ranch in California (1912)


There’s always a danger, when watching documentaries, of imagining that we are seeing unmediated reality, rather than a filmmaker’s attempt to simulate it. All the more true when the documentary comes from a remote period or is about an exotic subject, but this movie shows certain tell-tale signs of staging and of playing to an audience’s expectations. For example, did cowboys in 1912 actually wear gunbelts while going about their daily chores, or was that an expected convention? The film purports to show two days in the life of a Western cattle ranch, and there’s no denying that the horses and cows, as well as the skills with which they are handled, are real. Most of the movie takes place on the “open range,” and a dawn shot of a campfire and a coffee pot establish the ruggedness of our heroes early on. The production company was connected with the ranch, and I suspect that the cameraman had little other experience. There is a lack of imagination in the framing, and the focal length of the camera seems to be over-estimated, resulting in several blurry backgrounds where there should be majestic backdrops. Still, for horse-lovers and cowboy historians, there will be some material of interest here.

Director: John B. O’Brien

Run Time: 12 Min

I have not been able to locate this movie online. If you know where it can be seen, please comment below.