Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sam Peckinpah

Ed here: I'm not much for machismo or male swagger. Even the ones who are good at it are often just posing. To some degree drugs have changed this. There were monsters throughout history but today's drug-addled monsters are more numerous and more dangerous. But that don't make them cool.

I mention all this after reading a fine piece on Sam Peckinpah's films over on Cinema Retro. Oddly enough, for all the violence, machismo seemed alien to Peckinpah. His men were not John Wayne conquerors, they were the anti-thesis. Look at the roles of William Holden and Robert Ryan in The Wild Bunch. Or look how he turns macho upside down in Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. Peckinpah's men are generally losers, often forlorn, with no prospects. The more I watch Peckinpah's films the more I realize that his men are as confused and scared as modern men. The neuroses in his only war film The Iron Cross would keep an army of shrinks busy for a decade. I think that's why so much of today's book and screen violence strikes me as showy and empty. The men are like male runways models with guns. Posing.

From Cinema Retro:

"We’re perilously numb to the word ‘violence’ these days – and that’s the very last thing Sam Peckinpah was after. When he started shooting pictures in 1961 with The Deadly Companions (rarely screened since the ‘70s in the UK), Hollywood still had qualms about showing blood. The Wild Bunch (1969) changed everything; it was probably changing anyway – Bonnie and Clyde (1967) paved the way – but Peckinpah’s masterpiece was a seismic event in cinematic storytelling. The director wanted to bring Vietnam into the story, the daily diet of destruction on the TV news, but the violence wasn’t the point. The pointlessness was the point. Desperados who are no good and finally they know it. It’s only when they choose to die in vain that they find some kind of self-respect. But the art of it is how intensely we feel for them, every step of the way, every shuddering bullet wound, and every last breath.

"Though Peckinpah was brutal, cynical, hateful towards women and disgusted by men, in every instance the reverse is also the case. Only a true romantic has so much pain inside. Publicly, Peckinpah aligned himself exclusively with the outlaws and the mavericks, full of conflict and self-loathing; you see him in Dustin Hoffman’s David Sumner in Straw Dogs (1971), in James Coburn’s Garrett in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and in Warren Oates’ Benny in Alfredo Garcia – self portraits in which impotence and rage go hand in hand."

For the rest go here:


Fred Blosser said...

Amen Ed. Peckinpah's vision was no nihilistic that even the deaths or comeuppances of the bad guys -- Robert Webber and Gig Young as the hit men in ALFREDO GARCIA, LQ Jones dying alone on the mountainside in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, Arthur Hill in KILLER ELITE, Maximillian Schell in CROSS OF IRON -- bring no dramatic catharsis, only a sense of futility. Except maybe for John Ford's stock company, did any other director have so many memorable actors in his troupe of supporting players -- Webber, Young, Borgnine, Jones, James Coburn, Warren Oates, John Davis Chandler, Bo Hopkins, Burt Young, Richard Bright ... PAT GARRETT is practically a gallery of three generations of western actors from Chill Wills and Slim Pickens to Harry Dean Stanton and Matt Clark. Reading the accounts in the books by Simmons, Seydor, and Weddle about Peckinpah's personal demons, it's amazing he left as many good movies as he did.

Todd Mason said...

The only one I've liked is RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, but I haven't seen CROSS OF IRON yet, nor GARCIA. THE GETAWAY, perhaps the most offhandedly misogynist film I can recall, was dissuasive...

Lee Goldberg said...

I've been watching early GUNSMOKE episodes and Sam Peckinpah wrote bunch of them. It's not the physical violence that's striking about them but the raw, emotional pain that the characters experience. It's surprisingly tough stuff for 50s TV. He later left GUNSMOKE and went on to do the classic western series THE WESTERNER with Brian Keith.