XL Popcorn – The Wild Bunch

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 571/1007
Title: The Wild Bunch
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Year: 1969
Country: USA

Seriously, is it just me or have I been consuming an inordinate number of westerns? Hell, despite the fact that iCheckMovies doesn’t recognise Giant as a western it is most certainly of the western ilk. At least I can say that there won’t be too many of these left for me between now and finishing the 1001 list.

The reasoning behind watching The Wild Bunch was the same as when I watched Easy Rider not too long ago. Both films are entries on the American Film Institute’s 100 best films and now that I have watched The Wild Bunch there is only one film left: Sophie’s Choice. Now, since that is not a film on the 1001 list I won’t be blogging it… but I am almost certain that there will be tears (thanks again Channel 4 for ruining that ending for me).

In many ways this film reminds me of a telegraph line. Great strong beginning, great strong ending and then whole lot of sag in the middle. At nearly two and a half hours long you have to admit that is a whole lot of sag. Still, a lot of that was worth it for watching Ernest Borgnine playing a bad guy (try as he might I kept thinking “oh Marty why’d you do that”).

Now, one of my big issues with this film was how long it took me to fully realise which side was which. I think that is partially the point though as evidenced in the opening exchange. There is no other word to describe the opening (and closing) scene other than ‘massacre’. The ending might be bloodier, but it is the opener that is far more shocking.

Picture the scene: a gang of outlaws take cover in amongst members of a temperance organisation that are breaching abstinence from alcohol. A group of bounty hunters show up (one of whom is a former member of that gang) and a shoot out occurs. The sheer amount of (fake) blood and dead bystanders is still mildly shocking some 50 years later, so God only knows how it was viewed back when it was first released. I also found the opening bit where the village children were playing with ants and a scorpion (before setting it on fire) mildly disturbing too.

One thing that it really noticeable about this film is just how modern it felt in a number of places. Now this will have been help as it is much more a ‘revisionist western’ than a traditional one, but the big thing is the number of cuts. I am used to seeing westerns that feel a bit sleepy due to a lot of long takes and focussing on vistas, with The Wild Bunch there are times when the pace is extremely brisk (the opposite is also true in places though… around the middle). If I saw a good Blu Ray fix of this film I would swear this was newer than 1969… and then Ernest Borgnine would bring me right on back.

I know that many view this film as a classic, but it was just not able to sustain me for two and a half hours. The opening and ending sequences aside, the only things I enjoyed about this film was the overarching themes of morality and a mild history lesson in the fall of the old west. In the end, if I want an enjoyable western experience I know that I always have Red Dead Redemption to fall back on. Something quite comforting in that.

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