Friday, October 06, 2006

Hollywood Outlaw

Rereleased in 1995, The Wild Bunch continued to challenge the ratings system. Several countires rated the rerelease with an X. Others NC-17.

"We all dream of being a child again, even the worst of us" Don Jose in The Wild Bunch.

Mister Anchovy and I had probably seen The Wild Bunch several times before it's theatrical rerelease in 1995 but we ventured out to a small theatre on College Street in our neighbourhood to see it on the big screen. What a thrill, what a ride!

Sam Peckenpah has made several of my very favourite movies of all time so when I saw a documentary on his westerns on cable I was pretty excited to follow along. The documentary Sam Peckenpah's West: The Legend of a Hollywood Renegade is narrarated by Kris Kristopherson and has several excellent interviews and many black and white stills from the movie sets. The documentary doesn't shy away from Peckanpah's legendary drinking, one shoot the directors local bar bill came to $75,000. Now that is what they mean by world class drinker! And it was the 70's.

Mostly though, the interviews from his assistant, props and co-workers as well as Billy Bob Thornton and family members, including son and sister are academic, informed and reverential towards his movies. This approach is well earned.

When The Wild Bunch was originally released in 1969 to half a dozen critics, one woman from Reader's Digest stood up after the film and asked, "Why was this movie made?" Sensing the complete revulsion of the other critics a young man stood up and began to defend the movie saying it was a masterpeice. The young man of course was a fellow rebel like Peckenpah, Roger Ebert.

The documentary gets in deep with the recurrant thems in Peckanpahs movies, especially the westerns. Peckenpah was obsessed with redemption, betrayal, illusory nature of life, trust between men and friendship, and who exactly can you trust? Always outcast, but more so borndering on old age and the push of developement his major characters are cruel savage killers who discover their humanity often doing something for somebody else before they die.

Traditional westerns have several formulas, a young stranger comes to town, is mysteriously surprisingly discovered to be related to a former hero, and the community needs him to help them. Peckenpahs strangers are old, beaten, alienated from civilization particularily the encroachment of industry, modernity and lack of open spaces into the wilderness.

For example, the trailer for Junior Bonner, starring the brilliant Steve McQuenn, says "he only had one problem, the 20th century."

For The Wild Bunch "driven to the border by the irresistible thrust of civilization were the breed that made the west wild."

Some of his films had huge critical sucess in Europe, winning many awards. I didn't really know very much about Peckepah's career and had no idea he had such a battle to get funding and producers were always trying to control him. He had a long history of rejecting authority, and in this documentary we find out where that independance and suspicion came from...where his paranoia of double crossing really had specific roots to his loss of childhood.

I would recommend this movie for both fans of Peckenpahs and for film buffs.

Westerns often draw a specific fan base. Peckanpah is really way outside that film base, his movies are universal despite the specific story lines and genre. The violence is still shocking today even after years of Scorcese, Tarantino and Brian De Palma.

Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid shows the betrayal of a friend reveals the ultimate betrayal of oneself.

I believe Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, Junior Bonner, The Wild Bunch and Ride The High Country are must see movies.

But be warned, if you are addicted to speedy plot lines, fast paced camera work and trendy fashion of contemporay movies, you will struggle to surrender to the themes hidden and outright in the body of allegorical magic.

If you think you might now like an older revisionist Western, check out this documentary and please reconsider. You are missing out on one of the worlds most brilliant film makers.

Ride The High Country: "We're gonna stick together just like we used to. When you side with a man you stick with him or else you're some kind of animal."

Now...I think I'm gonna go look for Straw Dogs, it's been a while...

There is something magnificent about the vision of a transformative experience manifesting in his characters once they have run out of options.

A different opinion. NYTs 1973.


* (asterisk) said...

Thanks Candy. My Peckinpah knowledge is sorely lacking, and I really ought to see The Wild Bunch atleast. I've had it on tape for years; not even sure I know where it is now... I must try to check it out.

Candy Minx said...

I think it would be great to have a discussion of some of these treasures. the Wild bunch would still have it self as keeping up with todays movies, for action. but Peckenpah was the master and kind of set the tome for slo-mo being used for action. The movie Bring Me The Head f Alfredo Garcia might not hold the attention span of contemporary viewers, I don't know. I love it, it is really out there. It fowllows a man who is so work etchically motivated he must finish his task at whatever cost. I find it tragic and funny and sick.

I miss the days of moviemaking where the movie worshiped and followed the human body and face. Long shots on the face, almost does this anymore. In Peckenpah we watch the body being shot and gushing and falling. I miss movies that the camera sat on the face and we could really look at the face. Now so many movies are cut super music videos where you can't see the guitar playing at length or the body playing. We watched Sign of The Times last night, Princes fabulous opera and the camera stayed on him, on the dancers and their faces, it was critical to the performances and presentation. As much as I like lots of action films, and I do, sometimes I like a variety in style and pace of movies.

* (asterisk) said...

I think super-fast cutting does have its place, in comic-book style films, perhaps, but for true character studies it just won't fly. And unfortunately character pieces just aren't in vogue these days, and certainly not in mainstream Hollywood. Sign O The Times is great, isn't it? I bought it on VHS when it came out. I'm debating buying the DVD, but I may even just see if I can copy my VHS to disc; see how the quality holds up.