TNB Night Owl–The Natural History of the Chicken

A slice of Strawberry Cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli. Photo by Pilauricey.

I’ll admit–I’m a sucker for a strange documentary. Whether about bugs or strange messages embedded in pavement, if it’s something different, I’ll watch it.

This week’s movie, THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE CHICKEN (2000) comes from the mind of Mark Lewis. Lewis previously directed another documentary I feature here: CANE TOADS: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY. 

Unlike CANE TOADS, this CHICKEN doesn’t have a timeline or direct story. Instead it’s a collection of vignettes about chickens, those who eat them, and those who love them. We get to see the inside of a hatchery and an industrial chicken farm. While Lewis never glosses over the inhumanity of large scale mean processing, he avoids the gruesome parts, and still finds beauty in the chickens who spend their lives there.

Where CHICKEN really shines is when we talk to individuals and hear their stories. There’s the woman who gave CPR to a chicken, a neighborhood fight over what may or may not be battle roosters, and even the tale of Mike the Headless Chicken, which had already been covered once as a Night Owl. There are more stories, but I don’t want to give more away than I already have.

True to the style he established in CANE TOADS, Lewis combines interviews with some fascinating folks with reenactments of the events they’re discussing, using the actual people instead of actors. This not only adds authenticity to those sequences, but it also brings what could easily be a dry documentary to life. Even without an actual story, the movie has a definite arch and, really, is a lot more fun than I expected an hour of chickens to be.

There are two ways to watch this on YouTube. One is in its entirety. The downside is two portions for about fifteen seconds each where the sound drops off:

You can also watch it with complete sound, but broken into six parts:

Question of the night: do you spoil your pets?

HEY! If you enjoyed this piece and feel like you have something you’d like to contribute or share – an oddity, a pleasant memory, a cool web link you’ve found, or something else entirely – please feel invited to contribute. We’re always looking for as many different voices as possible for the Owl, and yours could easily be one of them. You can use the Guest Editorial form (just put Night Owl in the title) or contact one of the regular writers or moderators directly. I’d say more, but at least I’ve got chicken.

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