Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Wild Bunch

Sam Peckinpah, 1969, 144m

Three sets of brigands, white or chocolate skinned, some in military uniforms, real or stolen, engage in a prolonged shooting spree sprawled over the Mexican-US border. Who was shooting whom and why was less than crystal clear to me and did not seem particularly important. I was drawn to this movie as the magnum opus of a celebrated director whose work I am unfamiliar with but it did not prove to be my cup of tea, and it was something of an achievement to complete the marathon in about twenty interruptions spread out over two days, to be able to add Peckinpah's Wild Bunch to my array of scalps. There is much scenic splendor of a colorfully barren landscape, and the quaint Mexican villages with their poor, bawdy and ragged inhabitants belong to a medieval age, though the year is 1913. The villainous General treats us to a feast of women, killings and and drunkenness. But it is make believe violence and the bodies collapsing like nine-pins might as well be dummies. The male camaraderie is rather self conscious and the style of speech also sounds stereotyped. The attempted humanization of the outlaws does not touch any chord. Everything is deja vu. Maybe Westerns, like War movies, is an extinct genre. More likely, at some point, movie watching itself becomes wearisome.

8 comments:

Jack L said...

Well, that's a shame, still one shouldn't expect to agree on everything...

I didn't find this film to be at all similar to any of it's kind before, I thought it was rather fresh and still is even after all these years, but that's just my opinion.

Maybe Peckinpah films just aren't your thing. Although you might want to see some of his more restrained, simpler films like Junior Bonner.

Nathanael Hood said...

Well, first let me say that I'm glad that you're finally back!

It's good to see one of my favorite blogs updating again!

Sorry that you didn't like the film...

I guess Peckinpah isn't for everyone...

S. M. Rana said...

Jack L: Anyway, I'm glad I added this milestone to my so called cinematic pilgrimage. We grew up on satchel fulls of comics and Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Lone Ranger and Zorro were our staples, as were the novels of Zane Grey. But I'm feeling kind of overdosed and time pressured film wise, and, like a hardened addict, only responsive to my own brands of dope.

S. M. Rana said...

Nathanael Hood: I guess I'm becoming a little grouchy with movies. At another time I might have relished this spicy Mexican dish, with the fine photography, and the evocation of period and locale. You guys approach movies with a professional attitude, for me it's subjective and a pastime, and I might see the same thing oppositely on different occasions. I know this is a much lauded movie.

S. M. Rana said...

Jack and Nat:

Here are Pauline Kael's views on the Wild Bunch. She was nothing, if not honest:

It’s a traumatic poem of violence, with imagery as ambivalent as Goya’s. By a supreme burst of filmmaking energy Sam Peckinpah is able to convert chaotic romanticism into exaltation; the film is perched right on the edge of incoherence, yet it’s comparable in scale and sheer poetic force to Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. There are images of great subtlety and emotional sophistication: a blown-up bridge, with horses and riders falling to the water in an instant extended (by slow motion) to eternity; a vulture sits on a dead man’s chest and turns his squalid, naked head to stare at the camera. The movie is set in the Texas and Mexico of 1913, and, in Peckinpah’s words,

“I was trying to tell a simple story about bad men in changing times. The Wild Bunch is simply what happens when killers go to Mexico. The strange thing is that you feel a great sense of loss when these killers reach the end of the line.”

That’s accurate, as far as it goes. But Peckinpah has very intricate, contradictory feelings, and he got so wound up in the aesthetics of violence that what had begun as a realistic treatment—a deglamorization of warfare that would show how horribly gruesome killing is—became instead an almost abstract fantasy about violence. The bloody deaths are voluptuous, frightening, beautiful. Pouring new wine into the bottle of the Western, Peckinpah explodes the bottle; his story is too simple for this imagist epic. And it’s no accident that you feel a sense of loss for each killer of the Bunch: Peckinpah has made them seem heroically, mythically alive on screen.

S. M. Rana said...

Now I'm almost tempted to see another one!

kaist455 said...

How about "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia"? You may not like it either, but I think it is worth a try.

S M Rana said...

Thanks for suggestion, seems better idea than seeing same one again.