Great Chicken Scenes #5: ‘Five Element Ninjas’ (1982)

In this short extract from Chang Cheh’s magnificent martial arts comic-strip Five Element Ninjas (1982), Shao Tien-hao (Tien-chi Cheng), the only survivor of a ninja massacre that wiped out his entire clan, is introduced to his future comrades-in-arms and is impressed by their abilities – which include catching a flying chicken in slow motion.  With that kind of skill, they’re clearly well equipped to take on the legendary Five Element Ninjas in the thrilling climax.

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The World as a Chicken

A few years ago, Japanese artist Kentaro Nagai rearranged the various continents to make up the twelve creatures of the Chinese zodiac. Naturally, a chicken was among them.
Kentaro Nagai's rearrangement of the continents to form a chicken

And here are the rest.  (Hat tip: Anne Billson)

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Great Chicken Scenes #4: ‘Withnail & I’ (1986)

Possibly the finest and certainly the funniest chicken scene in the whole of British cinema history, this is what happens when Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) take up the local farmer’s offer to supply the core ingredient of a roast chicken dinner.

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Colour coding (corrected)

OK, so yesterday’s supposedly educated guesswork actually turned out to be far less accurate than our rather more blatant guesswork from before.  And I hold my own hands up to this, since my wife Jane stuck to the previous guesswork throughout and insisted she was right.  She was.  Mea culpa.

Fully aware that yesterday’s post might be howlingly inaccurate, I was determined to work out beyond any possible doubt exactly which hens were laying which eggs, even to the extent of concocting an elaborate plan involving an iPhone, a time-lapse photography app, and a lot of parcel tape to stick it to the pen out of beak range – the idea would be to take photos at sufficient intervals to get a good idea of who was in the hen house at particular times,  check for eggs every half an hour, and match up the photographic evidence with the physical kind.  But this plan was only practicable on a day that could be guaranteed rain-free, and we haven’t had many of those of late.

But today, I was able to match one specific hen to one specific colour quite by chance.  When I did my regular noon(ish) check, I found two of the nesting bays empty, and the third occupied by Pearl, who reacted much the same way that anyone would react if you burst in on them on a private moment.  So I discreetly shut the hen house, went to the kitchen, sliced up an apple, and tossed the pieces into the pen.  The other three chickens predictably went mental, but Pearl remained in situ, thus proving beyond any doubt that she was too busy to come out – under any other circumstances she’d have shot out to wonder what the fuss was about and whether she could get a share in it too.

And then, when she eventually emerged about ten minutes later, I checked the nesting bay again and found a small medium-brown egg.

Pearl and one of her eggs

Which simultaneously proved that:

  1. Our assumption that Pearl was the first hen to start laying (based largely on her size and seniority) was correct;
  2. She must have been the one to lay two eggs on Monday – presumably one literally first thing;
  3. Yesterday’s guesswork was hilariously inaccurate.

As for the other two (excluding Ida, who’s still too young), we always were reasonably sure that Queenie was producing the pale brown eggs with darker speckles.  She’s essentially the same breed as Pearl (they’re both Rhode Island Red X Light Sussex chickens), which means that their eggs should be similar in colour – so even if Pearl had been laying the creamy white ones, that still meant that Queenie’s would be the pale brown ones, on account of being closest.  Further evidence came when we realised that the last remaining shop-bought eggs in the fridge were also produced by Columbian Blacktails like Queenie, and a quick comparison revealed the same speckly pattern.

Queenie and one of her eggs

Which means that Vi must be producing the creamy white eggs.

Vi and one of her eggs

As an interesting footnote, although Pearl and Queenie’s eggs have remained similar in size (on the small side), Vi’s have steadily increased to the point where her third one would comfortably qualify as ‘large’ in a supermarket box.  We still had all three of her eggs, so here’s the evidence:

Vi's first three eggs, in ascending order of laying

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Colour coding

After Monday’s blatant guesswork, the chickens’ egg production over Tuesday and Wednesday has enabled us to draw some hopefully firmer conclusions about who’s laying what.  [UPDATE: Much of this turned out to be wildly inaccurate - see the corrected version posted the next day]  And, happily, it seems that all three of the hens that are actually laying (Ida is probably still three or four weeks too young) are producing their own distinctive colours.

Vi and her medium brown egg

We now think that it was actually Vi who started laying first, and that she’s the one producing the brown eggs – apparently her breed, the Bluebelle, is noted for its impressive productivity, which may also explain the two eggs on Monday.

Queenie's pale, faintly speckly egg

The paler brown eggs with a faint speckle seem to be characteristic of Queenie’s breed, the Columbian Blacktail, so we’re attributing those to her for the moment.

Pearl and her creamy-white egg

Which leaves the creamy-white eggs – and it seems that that is indeed the colour that Pearl’s breed, the Sussex Star, is expected to lay.

So that’s what we’re assuming for now, though I suspect if we catch one of them actually in the act of laying we might have to have yet another rethink.

Egg production has continued at a similar breakneck pace – as of sundown yesterday (i.e. just three days into Week 4), they’d produced eight since Monday morning.  To put that in perspective, they’ve doubled the combined total of weeks 2 and 3 in less than half the time.

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Great Chicken Scenes #3: ‘City of God’ (2002)

What with all the excitement over Sunday’s discovery of the chickens’ psychic powers, I completely forgot to upload the regular weekly Great Chicken Scene.  But better late than never, as this is the show-stopping chase that opens Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s Brazilian film City of God (2002), in which a chicken clearly destined for the pot manages to break free, scurrying along the back streets of a Rio favela with an armed gang in hot pursuit.  Subtitles have been deliberately disabled in order to better convey things from the chicken’s point of view.

(Hat tip to Tim Nelson and Stephen Leslie for their near-simultaneous suggestion)

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Make that 300%

Following this morning’s two eggs, this evening brought two more – so today’s total is two medium brown, one pale brown and slightly speckly, and one closer to white.

This was wholly unexpected, because Ida isn’t technically ready yet (she’s four to five weeks younger than the others, and looks it), and in any case her eggs are supposed to be blue.

So that leaves two possibilities: either I missed an egg that was actually laid yesterday when I checked the nesting bays first thing this morning (though I’m close to certain that they were empty, and I don’t see how the hens could have hidden it and then moved it into position), or one of the chooks has laid two in one day.

The Backyard Chickens forum suggests that it’s unusual but not unknown for a single hen to produce two eggs in one day, but the second one is often not fully developed.  This may explain the white egg, or else it may not: as Hilaire Belloc parenthetically concluded his immortal poem The Yak, “(I cannot be positive which)”.

But it’s clear that our egg production will increase dramatically this week: even if only three chickens are involved, there should be at least another six eggs turning up before Sunday.

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Production up 100%

I’ve just popped down to the hen house to check on the egg production situation, and found two nestling side by side – and one of them was so fresh it was still warm.

The two eggs found side by side in the hen house

Since there weren’t any there three hours earlier, they’d obviously have come from two different chickens even if they’d been absolutely identical – but in fact the warm one was noticeably paler than the four we’ve had so far.  Although I’m reasonably certain that the first four came from Pearl, I can’t tell who produced the paler one, though I hope it was Queenie, as it means we can tell the difference between their eggs even though they’re from the same breed.

Anyway, I’ve updated the graph on the egg production page to reflect that there are now two different colours to contend with.

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Psychic chickens!

During the 2010 World Cup, a British-born, German-based octopus named Paul made the headlines for his unerringly accurate forecasts of the results of key football matches.

Sadly, Paul passed away shortly afterwards, exhausted by all that psychic energy, but this leaves an obvious opening for other creatures to display similarly astonishing predictive feats.

So this morning, following an inspired Facebook suggestion by Damian Counsell, I placed the same amount of corn onto identical plates marked with the initials of today’s Wimbledon men’s singles finalists Roger Federer and Andy Murray, placed them at either side of the ramp leading up to the hen house (by the time I did this, I had no idea which plate was which any more), and opened the door…

As you can see, despite Queenie gamely sticking up for her fellow underdog, the result could hardly have been more conclusive.  We’ll know the truth in a few hours’ time.

UPDATE: And the psychic chickens got it right!  Woohoo!  Not only that, they even suggested a surge from Murray that ultimately came to nothing.

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Cluck!

The postman has just been, delivering a replacement copy of Jon-Stephen Fink and Mieke van der Linden’s fine book Cluck! The True Story of Chickens in the Cinema, a work of scholarship published 31 years ago that clearly remains the last word on the subject, as I’m not aware of any successors.

The cover of 'Cluck! The True Story of Chickens in the Cinema'

I’d actually owned a copy almost since then, probably bought for next to nothing from a remainder bookshop, but I gave it away some time in the 1990s, under the misguided impression that I’d have no further need for its valuable and indeed unique research.  Thankfully, although it’s been out of print for decades, a week ago a second-hand copy was going on Amazon for a mere £2.10, so I snapped it up.  I’m very glad I did, as the price rocketed tenfold since then.

I’ve only had a chance to skim it thus far, but I vividly remember its combination of obsessive detail and impressively wide-ranging research, which included first-hand interviews with the likes of John Landis, Monte Hellman, Russ Meyer, Dan O’Bannon and many others, though they failed to get hold of Jack Nicholson (who has allegedly “appeared in more chicken scenes than any other actor in the world”) and a handful of other key names.  The book generally blames these research setbacks on a conspiracy involving a mysterious ‘Council’ that, amongst other things,

allegedly decides when, where and what kind of chicken scene will be in a film.  These decisions apparently are made at semi-annual meetings held in Petaluma, California.

Unsurprisingly, they regard Pathé News, whose newsreels were preceded by the image of a crowing rooster, as “a primary indoctrination tool”.

There’s also a vast amount of historical detail about chickens and the cinema that wouldn’t have been apparent onscreen: for instance, Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle made his fortune from chickens and continued to raise them in parallel with his other business interests.  Similarly, while audiences can appreciate Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe enjoying an onscreen chicken dinner in Some Like It Hot, they may not be aware that he had to take a bite out of 42 drumsticks because she kept fluffing her lines.  In short, it’s an immensely important contribution to film scholarship, and I’m delighted to have it back in my library.

That said, it’s not quite as thorough as it first appears: it doesn’t include an entry on El Bruto (the first in my own series of Great Chicken Scenes), either in the main body of the text or its list of recommendations for further viewing.  But it does include Stroszek.

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