Tag Archives: Sam Peckinpah

XL Popcorn – Straw Dogs

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 666/1007
Title: Straw Dogs
Directors: Sam Peckinpah
Year: 1971
Country: USA/UK

It’s not been that long since I saw Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia and I’m not too surprised to find myself watching another film by Sam Peckinpah. Like Alfredo Garcia, there is still a fair bit of controversy surrounding Straw Dogs. So let’s dig into that.

Firstly, if I was a resident of the Cornish village that Straw Dogs was filmed in I would be pissed off at how my community was being portrayed. In the same vein as the beginning of An American Werewolf In London we begin the film with the central character David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) finding himself in a remote village that does not want to welcome him. Quite the opposite really… as a number of the residents want to freak him out and rape his wife.

Now, this brings me to the first of the two controversies – the multiple rape scenes. When this film was first released cuts had to be made to be released in certain territories. Having watched the uncut version I really question the reason behind cutting the second rape as it makes it look like a borderline rape fantasy consensual rather than being the grievous act of sexual assault that it is.

The other controversy comes in the final half hour where the home of David and his wife Amy is being invaded. In short, this sequence is like an extended adult version of Home Alone complete with boiling oil traps and people having their feet shot off by a shotgun. Compared to the earlier rape and some of the scenes in Funny Games some of the violence appeared to verge on comic book (down to the death by the extra-large bear trap).

The thing is, the whole point of this film is about violence and the innate violence that lays beneath the surface – it’s just that it’s buried deeper for some than others. Considering the crap that David and Amy have to deal with for most of the movie (including the murder and desecration of their cat) I found myself cheering them on as they took out their invaders.

So there’s one more Peckinpah film left on the 1001 list and, as things stand, I think I may need to give The Wild Bunch another go before I hit up Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. There’s a particular set of beats that his films seem to follow and, now that I am getting to know his films a bit better, I bet a second viewing will reap big benefits.

Advertisements

XL Popcorn – Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 656/1007
Title: Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Year: 1974
Country: Mexico/USA

Being a big fan of Gilmore Girls, the first time that I heard about Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia was in one the many references that comes out of Rory Gilmore’s mouth. Now that I’ve seen this film… I have to say that I question that Lorelai Gilmore let her daughter see it at such a young age. Then again, this is a mother-daughter combo that refuse to eat vegetables so there’s probably bigger things at play.

Anyway, back on task, I find it hard to believe that, upon release, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garica was tarred by some critics as one of the worst films ever made. I mean, I get that this is a very bleak and violent film, but this is also blackly comic and unpredictable (in an intentional way, unlike The Black Cat). You also have a fantastic performance from Warren Oates as Benny – the man who locates the titular head.

The central plot of this film is simple: a hit is put out on Alfredo Garcia to the sum of a million dollars. The man who brings back his head has the rights to claim the money. The kicker being that he is already dead.

Out of this weird conceit comes a film that takes a deep dark look at humanity. Sure there’s a lot of murder, an almost rape and a rotting head (the growing number of flies around that head is utterly revolting… in an almost comic sense), but there’s also the fact that we’re watching a man who, without much to lose to begin with, gains a chance of love and money only to have it violently taken away from him so senselessly.

It really takes a lot to lead a film like this. As a character Benny has to go through the mangle from being this smart talking, piano playing guy to someone so consumed and singular that a severed head becomes his best friend. Seriously. He has full blown conversations with a severed head because, in all this craziness, it’s probably the only thing that can provide Benny with some modicum of comfort.

I know that The Wild Bunch is said to Sam Peckinpah’s best film, but seriously there is no competition if you ask me. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is fascinating and manages to keep up pace and interest throughout it’s run time. With there being two more films by Peckinpah left on this list (Straw Dogs and Pat Garret & Billy The Kid) I wonder what my final thoughts on this director will end up being.

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.