Saturday, April 11, 2009

Target #267: The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah)

TSPDT placing: #58
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Written by: Roy N. Sickner (story), Walon Green (story & screenplay), Sam Peckinpah (screenplay)

The Wild Bunch (1969) is about the end of the Western era, a theme director Sam Peckinpah also explored in his first success, Ride the High Country (1962). The year is 1913, and the aging gunslingers of yesteryear now find themselves strangers in a modern, civilised world: the once indispensable horse is being replaced by the automobile, and traditional firearm duels now play out with M1917 Browning machine guns, which belt out bullets at 450 rounds/minute. So advanced, in fact, has the American West become that its cowboys must seek out action over the national border in "primitive" Mexico, where oppressed civilians fight valiantly, with minimal resources, to overthrow the resident dictatorship of General Mapache (Emilio Fernández); it is only in these revolutionists that the heroic spirit of the Old West survives. Aside from Angel (Jaime Sánchez), who is fighting for an ideal, there is not a single noble character in the film, not even the law-enforcer (Albert Dekker), who arrogantly and cowardly bullies criminal bounty-hunters into doing his work.

The surviving outlaws of the Old West – William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien – cling to the tattered vestiges of their former ways, embracing an outdated code of "honour" that feels woefully inadequate in the modern world: they are "unchanged men in a changing land. Out of step, out of place, and desperately out of time." But unlike 'Ride the High Country,' which featured genre stalwarts Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott as washed-up Western heroes, none of the "Wild Bunch" ever were heroes. Having always lived on the dark side of the law, as wanted outlaws, how can these men possibly recover any sense of nobility? They do, indeed, march wordlessly across General Mapache's headquarters to reclaim their captive member, but only after passively watching him endure hours of torture. Is it guilt that prompts Pike Bishop to come to the aid of his companion? With the old Western heroes long dead, must it fall to its villains to display some sort of decency? Is that what our society has come to?

The stylisation of Sergio Leone (particularly Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)) was clearly an influence on The Wild Bunch, but Peckinpah also makes the style his own. Unlike Leone, whose greatest mastery is in the prolonged build-up rather than the climax, Peckinpah simply prolongs the climax itself. The tempo of Lou Lombardo's editing seems to resemble, if anything, the spatter of machine gun fire, cutting ferociously from one shot to another – often utilising almost balletic slow-motion – and consciously mimicking the feverish confusion of a shootout. Though one might describe Peckinpah's use of violence as gratuitous (and many did in 1969, with the film almost landing an X-rating, and garnering plenty of controversy), there is a clear streak of disapproval running through the film's two major bloodbaths, in which the participants are seemingly depicted as immature children gunning each other with toy weapons; it is as though the anachronistic outlaws are merely grasping for their younger years, when their actions were considered significant, and their environment well within their control.

Currently my #3 film of 1969:
1) Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger)
2) Andrey Rublyov {Andrei Rublev} (Andrei Tarkovsky)
3) The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah)
4) Take the Money and Run (Woody Allen)


Jump_Raven said...

That's two down pretty quick Andrew. Trying to catch up, jk. Since I am trying to finish by the end of the year, there are some films that I am in desperate need to find. Would you happen to have access to hard to find movie like Michael Snow La Region Centrale.

ackatsis said...

You just wait - I've got 'Cat People' coming up next!
I know two people online who have seen "La Region Centrale." One of them saw it at a cinema screening, but I'll wager the other downloaded it from somewhere.

I'll drop him an e-mail, and see what he says.

Jump_Raven said...

See if you can track down these to, haven't been able to find them anywhere:
Fellini's Casanova (#442)
There's Always Tomorrow (#491)
Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Every Man for Himself) (#516)

ackatsis said...

I got a reply. Apparently, he acquired "La region Centrale" using a programme called "emule" - which I'm not very familiar with.

Use that as your starting point, I suppose.

Jump_Raven said...

I am familiar with that program. I am attempting to procure a copy of the film right now.