Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A new book about Peckinpah

Over on Cinema Retro the estimable Lee Pfeiffer discusses a new book about Sam Peckinpah:

"Entered His House Justified: The Making of the Films of Sam Peckinpah" may have one of the longest titles of the year, but anything relating to the master maverick director is difficult to summarize. The latest in a line of shelf-breaking volumes dedicated to Peckinpah is from author Jeff Slater, who has amassed an impressive list of interviewees to shed new light on one of the film industry's most analyzed personalities. Peckinpah, like so many other geniuses, was not completely appreciated in his own time, partly due to the inability of studio executives to recognize his innovative filmmaking techniques and partly because Peckinpah- like Orson Welles- specialized in forming circular firing squads. His own excesses often did more damage than did the legendary studio interference with the classic movies he produced.

"Slater's book is niche market in the best sense of the word. As an author, he has gone the self-publishing route through Booksurge. As such, he has not had to make the kind of literary compromises his subject had to in order to pacify the corporate "suits". The book features insights from Peckinpah scholars and associates, but what really justifies the book's hefty $72.95 price tag is the abundance of stunning photos, many of which will be rare to even the most fervent Peckinpah collector. Particularly impressive are some wonderful candid photos taken of Peckinpah behind the scenes on some of his most famous films. Peckinpah was the ultimate independent movie maker trapped in an era in which one had to play ball with the studio moguls in order to get financing for his films. Thus, some of his more personal works were cut without his consent and watered down in the process (i.e Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.)"

for the rest go here:

Ed here: I feel sorrier for Peckinpah than I do Welles. Too often Welles seemed to be a jerk just because he felt he was entitled to by rights of his genius. I've mentioned before an audio tape of Welles cutting a voice over for the wine company he represented in the 70s or 80s. I've been in dozens of such sessions myself. The people from the ad agency, the talent and the engineers want to get the best results in the easiest way. It's generally a pleasant atmosphere (though as the great Herschel Bernardi showed in his famous spoof tape about cutting a spot, sometimes it gets insane--"Could you goose the word `Good" a little more? The client is trying to copyright `good?'") but not with Welles involved. He breaks out with one of the most abusive and extended spoiled brat rages I've ever heard. He singles out the agency boys and rubs their faces in his opinion of their copy and their suggestions for reading it. He makes it very personal and he makes them grovel. This is a guy whose ship had sailed long ago and who should be grateful that he's making big bucks for very little work--I mean, c'mon, voice overs anin't exactly like working in coal mines. Or anywhere near as dangerous.

Peckinpah on the other hand was a stubborn drink, true, but unlike Welles he did his work despite the odds. They cut his pictures but he went on anyway. He was a prick on the set and a prick in meetings with the suits but that never deterred him from realizing his vision. Welles fans always talk about how the Magnificent Ambersons was cut by Robert Wise at the studio's request and direction. Well, maybe if Welles had stuck around for the editing in the first place (I mean, he was the director after all) he might have been able to buck the studio. But he was off on another (failed, as I recall) project. I don't mean to demean Welles. Citzien Kane is one of the two or three finest films ever made. No doubt about it. And I love several of his movies. And I don't doubt he was forced to work with idiots. But this myth about him as this suffering matter how brilliant you are you have to stay focused and do your work. And you have to somehow make deals with the devil as Peckinpah somehow did in his sad and ragged career.


David Cranmer said...

I would get this to read. He's a director I want to know more about. I've seen most of his films and am watching season one of Peckinpah's THE RIFLEMAN now.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Welles was wheedled by FDR and I seem to remember, one of the Rockefellers, to go to South America and make It's All True as part of the U.S.'s Good Neighbor program. Welles had editing equipment shipped there to complete editing on Ambersons and was assured by RKO he could. Then Ambersons had a bad test screening, the management changed at RKO and they wrested control of the film from Welles.

It is one of the compounding tragedies of Welles' life that, in addition to being denied the resources he needed to make films when he was alive, he continues to be hounded posthumously by the slur that he was a irresponsible, profligate filmmaker when the record proves just he opposite. Just look at what he did in Touch of Evil with the raw material for what otherwise would have been a forgettable B-movie.

Mike Dennis said...

Great post, Ed. Peckinpah was one of my favorites, and THE WILD BUNCH (director's cut) remains to this day my second favorite film of all time. I have a three-sheet of the movie, framed and hanging on a wall in my house.

A few years ago, I found myself alone on a car trip for a couple of hours with LQ Jones, one of Peckinpah's favorite character actors, and one whom he used extensively in his films. He told me many Hollywood stories on that trip, including a couple of good ones involving Peckinpah. He was LQ's favorite director, also.

Ed Gorman said...

I meant no slur on Welles, Peter. But I would split the difference with you. I don't think he's quite the wronged saint you'd have and maybe I over emphasized the difficulty people had in dealing with him. We are social beings, after all, and telling morons they're morons is not a way to get the money you need to make a picture. Touch of Evil is brilliant and you're right--he saved a forgtettable B-movie from extinction by turning it into a true masterpiece. He was a masterful director, actor and sometimes writer. I

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

I think the Western Encore channel sometimes shows a very good documentary on Peckinpah. If I'm not mistaken it's been shown on TCM, too.

"No matter how brilliant you are you have to stay focused and do your work."

Very well said. :)

Thomas Burchfield said...

Nice post, though, I think I might prefer Welles as a dinner guest over Sam, even though for years, "The Wild Bunch" was my favorite movie ever . . .

Why that may be longer true for me I wrote about in an essay for "this--an ezine" at:

PS: Don Herron sent me the link to this.