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My TV Dinner

Every Friday The Social's digital correspondent, Jessica Allen, answers two questions we face every day. What should I eat? And what should I watch? The answer for one is frequently found in the other.

Deeply moving Coppola classic The Black Stallion still perfect years later

First-time grilled halloumi with veggies paired well with another viewing of artsy family-friendly film

I attended my first horse race on Sunday; the 157th Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack, to be precise.

And “attend” is a bit of a stretch: I was there, working actually, so I only saw the races on screens stationed throughout the grounds. But I did manage to sneak away to the track, standing just north of the grandstand, trying to visualize the scenes that were shot here nearly 41 years ago to the day from The Black Stallion.

The Francis Ford Coppola-produced film was helmed by first-time director, and Coppola’s former UCLA classmate, Carroll Ballard, working from a script co-written by first-time screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who’d go on to pen E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

It was only the second feature film for Caleb Deschanel, who’d go on to win five Academy Awards for his cinematography — although scandalously he did not so much as score a nomination for his exceptional work on The Black Stallion. And it was the first acting role for Kelly Reno, who plays the freckle-faced boy Alec. Reno, bright, quiet, and unaffected — reminding me of my older brother at that age — didn’t so much act. He just was.

Ballard said that because the “big suits” didn’t know what to do with this “art film for kids,” The Black Stallion was shelved for two years — until Coppola used his Godfather clout to make sure it saw the light of day in 1979. It was nominated for two Academy Awards, and earned a special Oscar for sound editing (during the final racing scene you can hear the Black breathing and the sound of his hooves pounding the track.) Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert adored it. Never mind all that: To my eyes, it’s a perfect film.

Now, normally I make a big feast for our Sunday night dinner but the Queen’s Plate meant that I got home, hot and exhausted, after Simon finished work.“What’s for dinner?” I asked, astonished by these novel words coming out of my mouth.

To my delight, he was prepared: “I think it’s outrageous that we haven’t had grilled halloumi yet this year,” he said, “so I picked some up.” While I sliced the white, firm-but-spongy cheese for the first time this year, he prepared the peppers, zucchini and some garlic scapes. We sat outside under pink clouds, cicadas singing, and grilled out dinner. “We’re watching The Black Stallion tonight,” I said. There was no debate.

“Did I ever tell you that my high school film teacher made us watch the first half of the movie, when there’s hardly any dialogue, just Alec and the Black on the deserted island?” Simon said. “He used it as an example of pure cinema.”

And it’s only intensified by the original score composed by Francis’ father, Carmine Coppola.

During the second half of the film, we tried to guess the Queen Street East Toronto locations doubling as Queens, New York locales from the 1950s. We also spied a porch that we suspect belongs to a grand old home on High Park Blvd, just around the corner from us. Simon fell asleep for the finale. I was bright-eyed —anticipating the moment during the race that fades from the track back to Alec riding the Black on the beach — and then, quite unexpectedly, teary-eyed. I sat back while the credits rolls, in wonderment that a film I’ve watched countless times throughout both my childhood and adulthood, could still so deeply affect me.

What an extraordinary thing.

Jessica Allen is the digital correspondent on CTV’s The Social.

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