We’ve all witnessed that one scene in a Western — or, at the very least, one iconic Del Rancho commercial for the Steak Sandwich Supreme — where the cowboy enters the room, often through swinging saloon doors.
He’s cast in silhouette, looking alien for a split-second until your brain registers the outline as a man wearing a hat. The room falls to an intimidated hush. Spurs clank menacingly as he steps purposefully inside, each boot heel hitting the wooden floor as a harbinger of crap about to hit the fan.
Only the night of June 21, it wasn’t like that at all.
When Buck Brannaman entered the theater at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24 just after a preview audience had screened the new documentary about him, “Buck,” he was unmistakably the man they had witnessed over the previous 88 minutes: a friendly vision, a tall glass of water — only this one life-sized — wearing a crooked smile and a too-short tie.
His boots bore no spurs that jingled jangled jingled, nor was his entrance accompanied by a whistle- and-harmonica lick courtesy of Ennio Morricone. Instead, AMC’s slideshow played on; theater employees had failed to kill the sound immediately, but the wave of enthusiastic applause took care of that.
The packed house wasn’t on its feet yet — perhaps they couldn’t believe that the star was actually there, as if some cruel PR stunt were being pulled — but in less than an hour, they would be.
Brannaman took one of the two chairs that had been positioned under the screen — nothing fancy, mind you, which was appropriate — with myself taking the other, to field questions from the audience.
Ask Buck a simple question, you’ll get a cowboy’s answer: wide as the day is long. With his “aw, shucks” manner and utter humility, void of ego, the audience lapped up every word, just as they did every minute of the movie (which you should see at AMC before it tumbles away). Without trying, by just being himself, the man has a magnetic pull, which has to be why director Cindy Meehl decided to follow this unassuming equine trainer for nearly three years, filming him at work breaking horses — and sometimes their owners.
Our time up — after all, whoever attends a 10:45 p.m. screening of “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” soon would be shuffling in — I took the mike from Brannaman and told him I had one last ... well, not a question, really, but a request.
“I noticed in the film that there was some footage behind the scenes of ‘The Horse Whisperer’ where Scarlett Johansson was touching your shoulder. So, if you don’t mind, I’d just like to —” I said, reaching out to let my hand touch brush his right shoulder, leaping me but one degree away from the über-sexy ScarJo.
Brannaman exhaled a laugh and announced, “It felt better when she did it.”