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By Tim Sanger | June 7, 2001

Before you chow down that KFC extra-crispy, you’ll have to remember Valerie, the chicken who was resuscitated by mouth-to-beak CPR. This tale and more is at the heart of “The History of Chicken” — an inconsistant, yet entertaining look at the chicken’s impact on humanity. Eye rolls aside, the film takes what could have been a paint-drying exercise into something entertaining, thanks to Mark Lewis’ lively direction.
Some of the stories are fascinating, like the tale of the headless chicken who didn’t die and went on the road to England in the hopes of striking it rich from disgruntled neighbors who sue a chicken breeder over the endless croak of a hundred chickens. Yet several possible entertaining areas of chicken-dom are alluded to, but neglected (game cockfighting, fast food production) leaving a gap in expectation.
Lewis uses reinactments and a sharp story-telling flair to actually make you care about the chickens. A good majority of the characters seem like total crackpots, but the film has a genuine affection for them while still being humorous. There are definite funny moments (the emergency chicken CPR is hysterical) yet none of the stories are connected enough to gel, entertaining as some of the moments are. The film does take a closer look at the chicken than other documentaries, actually putting the camera down with the chickens, and with sharp cinematography above and beyond what is usually found in this type of film. At the very least, it’s an entertaining alternative to the snore of the usual PBS special, and shows Mark Lewis as a unique documentary filmmaker to watch in the future. In the end, it probably is the best documentary on chickens I’ve seen – at least this year.

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