DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Sam Peckinpah Day

 

‘Famously, and infamously, the majority of the films of Sam Peckinpah were made – and unmade – in the editing room. For instance, as two UK film scholars, John Gibbs and Douglas Pye, demonstrate in a nice essay that contrasts a quiet dialogue scene played out in a single long take in Otto Preminger’s River of No Return (1954) to several no less dramatically muted dialogue sequences in Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner (1972), even in the most anodyne moments (and not just action sequences like the frenetic montage of the final shootout of The Wild Bunch [1969]), Peckinpah was all about filming his story from multiple perspectives, building it up with fragments that fracture space and only vaguely respect chronology and continuity. Of course, one can only edit with the material at hand, but from Major Dundee (1965) on Peckinpah would strive to construct creative possibilities for himself at the editing stage by shooting a lot of footage (an awful lot, in fact), filming it with multiple cameras, and relying on inspiration on-set or on location to give him more and more actions to film and from more and more angles. This meant that there was no necessarily right way to put a scene together in editing, but in the best of cases, key sequences in Peckinpah films can seem right even as we realise how random or arbitrary their assemblage is. For example, that final shootout in The Wild Bunch jumps all over the place – from gringos to Mexicanos, from men to women and children, from killers to the killed, and so on – but it also obeys a seeming logic of escalation: from pistols to machine guns to grenades, the sequence becomes a demonstration of ever more massive firepower and thereby ends up saying something salient about American violence, especially in the film’s historical moment which is also that of escalation of the war in Vietnam.

‘Strikingly, virtually no film of Peckinpah’s from Major Dundee on was allowed by its producers to correspond to his original vision, and there’s grown up around Peckinpah a veritable mythology of the independent visionary destroyed by the ever more bureaucratised administration of the late studio system. But Peckinpah’s own hubris – his sense that artistic vision could be built up piecemeal – is not without its own dire role in the problems that endlessly plagued him as a filmmaker. Thus, in the worst of cases, the over-reliance on editing could lead to flashy but empty demonstrativeness (for instance – a minor instance – in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia [1974], a car almost has a minor fender-bender and the scene is without consequence, yet it is delivered through that combination of multi-shot montage with slow-motion that had become a Peckinpah cliché by the 1970s). Or it could encourage sheer laziness or sloppiness: there are, for instance, few films as lackadaisical as Convoy (1978) and there one senses that a story of good ol’ boys just having a good ol’ time – boozing, brawling, ballin’ – without much diligence or intelligence found its match in a director who was by then just drifting by in a druggy, boozy good-time haze and couldn’t be roused to do anything that demanded effort.

Major Dundee was drastically reworked from Peckinpah’s conception by the Columbia Pictures executives and he was banned from overseeing the final cut. That’s made Peckinpah’s plans for the film take on legendary proportions in the minds of film scholars, so much so that, for instance, a recent restoration that included much of the excised footage found thus far also sported an absolutely new score in rejection of the one the studio had put on the film for its original release. The new score is an invention of the present, of cinephiles who want to project back into the past the film they think Peckinpah should have made – and could have made, had he been given his chance.

‘Yet it is clear from its production history that Peckinpah was no innocent in the chaos and confusions of Major Dundee as a narrative work. If a film like Convoy (and there are in fact few films “like” Convoy in its uncaring ineptitude) suffers from a lazy cynicism – why bother to make a good film since this one has a built-in audience of trailer-trash rednecks? – Major Dundee was a film for which Peckinpah had high ambitions and, at first, he was encouraged in these by Columbia. The studio initially thought of the film as one of their big releases for the year (it was imagined as a possible “roadshow” picture – to be exhibited in its first run at major movie palaces only and with high priced tickets to be purchased in advance, just like at the theatre) and Peckinpah started on pre-production with seeming carte blanche to do whatever he wanted (which, in his case, as noted above, could dangerously tempt him to begin shooting without a worked out script and little but the hope that it would all come together both through inspiration once the shooting began and through creative construction once editing commenced). Immediately, though, Peckinpah alarmed his producers by spending loads of money scouting locations far removed from each other across vast reaches of Mexico, and this threat of an expensively dispersed production (which would require actors and crew to traipse all over the country far from the watchful eyes of the studio executives) set off alarms back at the studio’s administrative offices. Immediately, a scaling back on the production (and on studio ambitions for it as an important picture) was put into place.

‘Not just in its mode of production (filming on far-flung locations) but in its very dramatic conception, Major Dundee is a sprawling film. Despite the fact that its title singles out one figure, the film is more epic and episodic than that, giving us a range of interesting characters (grizzled scout, wet-behind-the-ears young recruit, by-the-books-straight-laced-officer, peckerwood good ol’ rebel soldiers, Irish dandy, German and Mexican sexpot senoritas, African-American flag-bearer, Bible-thumping preacher, and so on) and loading on to them a series of weighty issues: racism and prejudice, love versus infidelity, the crisis of masculinity, honour and class (and classiness), personal initiative versus institutional rules and regulations, and so on. Just as The Odyssey is not just Odysseus’ story alone but also that of the men along with him (and the women who wait for them), Major Dundee’s epic tale of men who venture across the waters with the eventual hope of returning home is a tale marked by dispersion, detour, interruption and a wavering of purpose (in its characters, but also, it must be said, in the film itself). It is noteworthy, for instance, how (spoiler alert!) easily and early is resolved the ostensible narrative purpose of the troop’s quest after Charriba and his forces: supposedly, the point is to rescue settler children the Indians have kidnapped, but those kids are returned without fuss to Dundee’s troop within the first third of the film. Or, to take another example of the film’s refusal to solidify its many episodic dramas into solid, consequential narrative, note how the issue of racism simply peters out: in long shot, during the final battle, the African-American flag-bearer is summarily killed and the film gives no special emphasis to the fact. (At the risk of a horribly bad pun, I’m tempted to say that the plotline literally “peters out” since the character is played by the noted actor Brock Peters who – as was often the case with African-American actors at the time – is not used to his full thespian advantage despite the film making segregation one of the explicit issues it raises.)

‘If Amos Dundee tries to hold together within the story world of the film what the film itself is trying to hold together as a work of narrative art, we might well be tempted to think of the film then as an allegory for the filmmaking process and of Dundee as allegorical stand-in for the director. Through the 1960s, there were any number of films about men who come together from diverse backgrounds and with diverse skills to form into a team and undertake a perilous mission together: think, for instance, of John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963) or Richard Brooks’ well-named The Professionals (1966) or Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (1968) or Peckinpah’s own The Wild Bunch (and later well-named The Killer Elite [1975]). These films are all about men who work within a division of labour and engage in veritable feats of engineering that involve complicated gismos and gadgets, but these are also films made by men who work within a division of labour and engage in veritable feats of engineering that involve complicated gismos and gadgets, and in this respect then the films speak of craft and command, labour and leadership, mission and masculinity, and speak of this not just in regards to their fictions but to their own status as makers of fiction. Refusing to give up his quest, even as the desk jockeys back home threaten to pull the plug on him, dealing with recalcitrant labour, fighting for resources, struggling with the material difficulties of working at one’s craft in faraway places (both movie productions and army missions have to rely on scouting trips), confronting one’s own inner demons, Dundee is a veritable stand-in for Peckinpah and his torments hint at those the director would face.

‘In this respect, here’s an interesting moment in Major Dundee, where, having gone into hiding in a Mexican village after being wounded by Indians and proceeding to descend into drunken dissolution there, Dundee looks in a mirror and notices with wonderment how much he’s grown a scraggly beard in the meantime. Despite a voiceover narration – of pages from a diary – that the studio imposed on the film to attempt to give it some narrative coherence, the progression of time is not always clear in the film, and in this scene it almost seems intended to render blurry just how long and how far the seemingly prim Dundee has descended into the pits of self-degradation. Even at their best, the films of Sam Peckinpah hover not far from chaos. The epic ambition of Major Dundee is to take the plunge and hope for the best. It’s up to the viewer today to decide if the gambit worked.’ — Dana Polan, Senses of Cinema

 

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Further

Sam Peckinpah @ IMDb
‘Bloody’ Sam Peckinpah: wasted, insane and indestructibly pure
Inside the head of Sam Peckinpah
Sam Peckinpah • Great Director profile • Senses of Cinema
Guns and Tequila: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah
Sam Peckinpah @ The Criterion Collection
The Badass Hall Of Fame: Sam Peckinpah
“A privilege to work in films”: Sam Peckinpah among friends
SAM PECKINPAH: “DYING IS NOT FUN AND GAMES.”
The Controversial Career of Sam Peckinpah
Sam Peckinpah in Mexico
The Late, Great Sam Peckinpah
The Kinder, Gentler, Sam Peckinpah
Sam Peckinpah, Blood Poet
The ballad of Sam Peckinpah is written in blood
Sam Peckinpah – Interesting Motherfuckers
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO… SAM PECKINPAH
THE STYLE OF SAM PECKINPAH, 1969-1973
Sam Peckinpah’s Long-Buried Script for The Texans Unearthed
The man behind the mirrored sunglasses: An intimate Sam Peckinpah memoir
SAM PECKINPAH: PLAYBOY INTERVIEW (1972)
SAM PECKINPAH EXPLAINS WHY HE WAS A ‘GOOD WHORE

 

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Extras


Sam Peckinpah – Interview (1-12-1976)


Face à l’Histoire : Sam Peckinpah – Blow Up – ARTE


Documental: Sam Peckinpah


James Coburn and Sam Peckinpah on Modern Films, Violence

 

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Interview
from Movietone News

 

I have a question about The Wild Bunch. The first print that was shown in Seattle lasted about seven days. Then it was changed, another print was substituted. Some things were cut, deleted, mainly to conform with some criticisms that Time had about the movie. Who was responsible for the cuts?

Well, Time magazine was not responsible. It was … I was cutting Cable at the time. I got a call from [producer Phil] Feldman; he said they wanted to try it out in one theater—a shorter version. I said “Fine—in one theater.” Next thing I knew, it had been cut to pieces all over the country. So you can thank Mr. Feldman for doing it. And a man named Weintraub, who also was very active at Warner Brothers at the time.

Does an intact print still exist?

Uh—not as much as I would like. But the European version does exist, and I think that’s shown in l6-millimeter.

Yes, we showed it here.

I think it’s two hours and 27 minutes, something like that. I think right now it’s down to a three-minute short.

Is there an intact print of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid?

Oho! Rumors! [Pause] Somebody said there was a print stolen. [Pause] Let you know next year. [General laughter] Something about redubbing it.

I have a question about One Eyed Jacks, which this filmography says you worked on. I understand the movie ran about four hours and then was cut. Does a print of the four-hour-long version still exist?

It was written for [producer] Frank Rosenberg who gave me a book called The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones [by Charles Neider]. And I did the script, and we had some problems. It was a damn good script. Which I threw at him, by the way; and it was not bound, so it was all over his livingroom—it was really one of my last great moves. I told him to send it to Brando. And damned if he didn’t, and Brando bought it. I worked with Marlon for three and a half weeks before he fired me. I was asked to come back on the show, but I was directing at that time, and passed. There’s very little of Mr. Neider’s work or mine. There’s two scenes of mine in the picture and I did not receive credit for it.

How do you contact you if you’re an actor if you want to work with you, because you do such great things with heavies? How do you get to you? Do you need an agent or can, uh— [General laughter]

Send money! No, the whole thing is looking, is first looking at film. And if you don’t have film, get some. Video camera—you can do it with all kinds of things. I like to look at film first. I saw Bo Hopkins in some sort of l6mm number and yeah. And Warren just happened to show up one day, and was dumb enough to like working with me and I liked working with him. Ben Johnson knows how to ride pretty good—he can hold the horses. I got lucky. I can’t afford any of them anymore.

Since the movie moguls and producers seem to like to chop your movies up, is there something in a personal philosophy of yours that you could characterize that leads to this?

Well … I suffer fools badly and they take it personally.

I’d like to know what you think of Sergio Leone’s movies, like Once upon a Time in the West. And also, what western movies do you personally like?

I like Leone’s movies and I like him. They’re always too long but they’re fun to watch. A marvelous man to talk to, and I think he does really interesting things. Western movies? I, uh—what was the last Hoot Gibson I saw? No, I really loved Red River until the ending—the phony arrow in the chest, and the chick. Ford did a great western with Fonda and Victor Mature, My Darling Clementine. I recall, uh … a lot of good films. The best western I’ve ever seen is—I think it was a serial I saw one Saturday morning on TV in Fresno, California, when I was eleven; forget the name of it.

Do you think you’d ever do another war film?

I hope not.

When you made Cross of Iron what were some of the things you encountered as problems?

Germans. [Laughter] Gerrrrmannnsssss!

The actors?

No, groovy actors. The German producer was a mini-Nazi. Which I could talk about for years—the porno king of Munich. Kept asking why I didn’t get a closeup when his wife bit the joint off Art Brauss. Well, I think that speaks for itself. Then we had two great entrepreneurs, Arlene Sellers and Alex Winitsky, who were financing or sub-financing the picture, and that became a disaster. There was one person who made the picture finally get finished and done right, and that’s Nat Cohen from England. I missed him on my last picture, very definitely.

What kind of stories do you like? What do you look for when looking at a script and thinking about whether to make it?

What you see. I turned down King Kong to do Cross of Iron because I didn’t feel I was competent enough to deal with … puppets. And actually Cross of Iron was based—more than anything else it was based on the Willi Heinrich book, but it was also based on James Jones’ sensational book—I think it was actually a pictorial history, but it was some of his best work. I stole outrageously from that.

One of the main criticisms I’ve heard leveled at your work had to do with your portrayals of women. Do you have any comments on that?

I like ’em. I try to portray them as they are. They’re like everybody else: they’re human beings. I try to get ’em off a pedestal—not too successfully, but …

I was wondering if you’d thought of toning down the violence in your films.

What violence? … I just try to portray what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen. I’m concerned with violence because I see so much of it in myself and in people that I know. I’d like to know why and I’d like to channel the positive effects. I suppose I feel that the basic thing is that I feel Robert Ardrey should be required reading for everyone.

I don’t understand. Are you saying you do that kind of violence?

No [emphatically]. No, I deny that, I’m not guilty. On occasion. I usually don’t make a film about something I don’t know about firsthand.

I’d like to go to the subject of your films that have been cut. I’d like to know why they do it. Is it that you have a conflict or—?

Yeah, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was strictly a conflict with Melnick. Dundee was strictly Jerry Bresler….

Are their motivations commercial or are they going to put you in your place?

It’s a whole big ego trip. Agents and executives like to be creators and filmmakers—and they’re not: But sometimes the damnedest thing happens: they’re right. Usually it’s trying to get a picture down to two hours or less so they can have another chance to sell popcorn. You all watch TV, so you’re as guilty as … I am.

 

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11 of Sam Peckinpah’s 12 films

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Major Dundee (1965)
‘”[He has] the face of a potential hero,” wrote Norman Mailer in late 1963, “but he embodies nothing, he personifies nothing, he is power, rather a quizzical power, without light or principle.” The quote concerns John F. Kennedy, a politician in whom Mailer had invested both optimistic energy and a voluminous word count, and by whose first few in-office fumbles Mailer felt bamboozled. It’s worth considering that this opprobrium was published around the time that Sam Peckinpah was developing Major Dundee from its initial script draft by Harry Julian Fink; it’s equally worth considering that both pieces were written prior to November 22nd of the same year, the day that rendered all such criticisms not only moot, but calumnious. The protagonist of Peckinpah’s film, a craven and anchorless mid-ranking Union soldier played with bitingly self-reflective arrhythmia by Charlton Heston, has neither Kennedy’s cerebral suavity nor his managerial gift for inspiring the throng. Dundee does, however, represent an attack on the pageantry of authority so similar to Mailer’s that one wonders whether the symmetry partly explains the film’s infamous failure at the box office. How would the movie have played at the end of Kennedy’s first term had he lived to accelerate the Vietnam police action himself?’ — Slant Magazine


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The Wild Bunch (1969)
‘Director Sam Peckinpah was considered a spendthrift, a loose cannon, and a failure by the time he shot The Wild Bunch in 1968. His last feature, Major Dundee, had been an acrimonious experience. It had been released in a brutally truncated and mutilated form to middling reviews. In the interim Peckinpah had regained a measure of respect for his beautiful TV adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s 1937 novel Noon Wine. It is the least seen of his great works, and demonstrated, at the time, that he was not the madman of recent legend (not that there wasn’t plenty of legendary madness to come). Offered the screenplay for The Wild Bunch, he tore it apart with a vengeance, retrofitting it to accommodate his own key concerns and themes: men out of time facing obsolescence and death (it could easily be called No Country for Old Men); violence as a ballet of brutality; and corruption as all-encompassing, with every transaction, be it moral, monetary or sexual, deeply stained by betrayal. By the time The Wild Bunch hit screens and became the most controversial movie of 1969, Peckinpah’s erstwhile detractors were elevating him to the pantheon, up there with Stanley Kubrick and John Ford.’ — John Patterson, The Guardian


Trailer


The final shootout

 

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The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue, like Ride the High Country (1962) and The Wild Bunch before it, and Junior Bonner and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)after, is an elegiac work symbolising the end of an era.As David Weddle states, “At its core, the film is yet one more act of mourning for the Old West”. The film received a poor release in the US at the time and, like Junior Bonner, does not seem to have attained the same level of recognition as Peckinpah’s more confrontational – and controversial – works. As the director himself said, “It was really a shame. Cable Hogue is possibly my best film. A real love story. I am always criticized for putting violence in my films, but it seems that when I leave it out nobody bothers to see the picture. Jason Robards and Stella Stevens gave two of their finest performances in that film. I still cry when he says to her, ‘Now, there is a picture.’ And she says, ‘You’ve seen it before, Hogue.’ And Jason replies, ‘Lady, nobody’s ever seen you before.’ Talk about a love scene. They were sensational.”‘ — Martyn Bamber


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Straw Dogs (1971)
‘In this thriller, perhaps Sam Peckinpah’s most controversial film, David (Dustin Hoffman), a young American mathematician, moves with his English wife, Amy (Susan George), to the village where she grew up. Their sense of safety unravels as the local men David has hired to repair their house prove more interested in leering at Amy and intimidating David, beginning an agonizing initiation into the iron laws of violent masculinity that govern Peckinpah’s world. Working outside the U.S. for the first time, the filmmaker airlifts the ruthlessness of the western frontier into Cornwall in Straw Dogs, pushing his characters to their breaking points as the men brutalize Amy and David discovers how far he’ll go to protect his home—culminating in a harrowing climax that lays out this cinematic mastermind’s eloquent and bloody vision of humanity.’ — The Criterion Collection


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Straw Dogs behind the scenes with Sam Peckinpah, Dustin Hoffman and Susan George

 

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Junior Bonner (1972)
‘In Junior Bonner, Sam Peckinpah uses montage to express the cascading nature of longing and regret. Junior (Steve McQueen) is a fading rodeo star, son of a legend of the field, Ace (Robert Preston). In the film’s opening, via a series of freeze frames, Junior takes a tumble off a vicious bull. One doesn’t need to understand the rules of bull riding to discern the defeat in his body language, or in the bandages that he wraps around his stomach. Peckinpah intersperses Junior’s memories of the bull with his drive to Prescott, Arizona. Piquant details abound, such as when Junior stops at a gas station to buy gas for his convertible and apples for his horse—a moment that encapsulates the film’s concern with the clash between the antiquated and the modern.’ — Chuck Bowen, Slant


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The Getaway (1972)
‘Sam Peckinpah’s action-packed crime thriller The Getaway was a huge hit. It was just what the director needed at the beginning of the seventies—a box office champion. Things, however, hardly went smooth in the creation of this classic. The controversy stemmed not only from Peckinpah’s alcohol abuse that led him into numerous arguments with The Getaway‘s star Steve McQueen—the situation got so out of control that, at one point, even a bottle of champagne was flung at Peckinpah’s head—but also from the fact that the two leading stars of the film, McQueen and Ali MacGraw, started an affair which destroyed the actress’ marriage to Paramount producer Robert Evans. It was a problematic, risky project that, luckily for both us and everyone involved, turned out to be one of the most thrilling films of the decade. The film is based on Jim Thompson’s novel of the same name, and after Thompson’s adaptation failed to win over McQueen, Walter Hill came onto the project and rewrote the screenplay to everyone’s satisfaction. Hill did a marvelous job, and when he later contemplated on his career, he stated he felt it was the best film he had done up to that point. Full of tension, both on the scene and behind it, The Getaway remains one of the highlights that Peckinpah’s rich career has to offer. Given the chaotic circumstances and the whirlwind of egos from which it developed, this collective effort of a group of extraordinarily talented artists deserves even more admiration and praise.’ — Cinephilia and Beyond


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Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
‘Hailed as one of Sam Peckinpah’s misunderstood masterpieces, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is the film that ended the filmmaker’s informal revisionist western trilogy, after Ride the High Country and The Wild Bunch. The creation of the story of an aging sheriff hired to kill his old friend Billy the Kid, however, was riddled with problems. Peckinpah fought a serious battle with MGM, whose president James Aubrey was reluctant to give Peckinpah the time or budget required to make the film the way he wanted. Tensions on set were further empowered by the employment of Bob Dylan in charge of the score: not only did Peckinpah’s usual composer Jerry Fielding find such a decision offensive, but Peckinpah later also claimed that he agreed to hire inexperienced Dylan only after considerable pressure from the studio. As if all this wasn’t enough, the crew had to cope with malfunctioning cameras and a sudden surge of influenza. The final product that was eventually showcased in theaters was a shortened version that both Peckinpah and a large part of the crew refused to acknowledge as the legitimate version they went through hell to complete. But Peckinpah worked weekends and during lunch hours, determined to fully convey his vision of Pat Garret’s story to the screen, and it took ten years for the rest of the world to see this hidden version. The imperfect, crippled MGM film wasn’t greeted enthusiastically, failing both with the critics and in the box office arena, but in 1988 the tables turned and a part of the injustice to Peckinpah was undone. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid finally got the respect it deserved. Written by Rudy Wurlitzer and starring the great James Coburn and country music star Kris Kristofferson, with Dylan’s beautiful score, Peckinpah’s film deserves to stand side by side with The Wild Bunch as the troubled genius’ most consequential contribution to the western genre.’ — Cinephilia and Beyond


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Excerpts

 

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Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is easily Peckinpah’s bleakest, most brutal film, and that in itself is saying something. It’s also a film that seems almost wilfully self-destructive, inasmuch as it is completely uncompromising in its vision of an utterly amoral and violent world. Peckinpah was just coming off the failure of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), which despite the “stunt” casting of Bob Dylan, a number of impressive performances and some bravura sequences showcasing the director’s trademark bloodshed, had performed poorly at the box office. In this atmosphere of professional uncertainty, pursuing a project like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was hardly designed to restart one’s career. Yet, as many of his closest associates were convinced, it was only with this film, and the later Cross of Iron (1977), that Peckinpah had what amounted to final cut; a degree of control over the final film, for better or worse, that had eluded him throughout much of his career. Even The Wild Bunch (1969), Peckinpah’s most famous film, suffered extensive cuts and re-edits before it went into general release. People always seemed to be trying to rein Peckinpah in, and he didn’t appreciate it one bit.’ — Wheeler Winston Dixon


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The Killer Elite (1975)
‘Like Clint Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction, Sam Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite is considered a minor work of a legendary director. Both were released in 1975 to little acclaim and remain buried near the bottom of each filmmaker’s oeuvre. Given the complicated package that was Peckinpah’s personal and political beliefs, it comes as little surprise that within the first ten minutes, The Killer Elite offers examples of his much-discussed skepticism of the government and his troubled and troubling relationship with women. Onscreen text introduces us to COMTEG, the shadowy organization that agents Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) work for. COMTEG may or may not be based on reality, counts the C.I.A. as a client, and deals in the protection and / or elimination of individuals who are of special interest to foreign governments as well as our own. Locken and Hansen are partners in work and have a very close relationship outside of it, marked by both hetero competitiveness and homoerotic tension. This is very effectively encapsulated at the start: after a successful job, Locken and Hansen enjoy a small party in their bachelor pad, which includes casually topless women, Caan impressing one of the women with his push-up prowess, and, of course, Caan bedding down said woman.’ — OBSCURE ONE SHEET


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Cross of Iron (1977)
‘Orson Welles described it as the greatest war film ever made and Quentin Tarantino acknowledged it as a key influence on his decision to make Inglorious Basterds. But to frame Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron in terms of influence wielded over successive generations of action film-makers (such as Tarantino, John Woo, Michael Mann, Park Chan-Wook and the like) would be to understate the power of this film. Peckinpah’s unique ability to frame action is undeniable but action is not the core of the film. Tarantino may have been wowed by the visual artistry and technical brilliance on display, Welles’ admiration was likely for the deeper themes and nuances. Although ostensibly based upon a little known novel by Willi Heinrich, The Willing Flesh (titled The Cross of Iron in the USA), Peckinpah wrote the script and encouraged copious amounts of improvisation, rewriting as he went. A famously heavy drinker, Peckinpah was, at the time, experiencing one of his serious relapses into alcoholism and pill abuse, sleeping three hours and drinking three bottles of vodka or slivovitz per day. In addition he had a tempestuous relationship with producer Wolf Hartwig, a former pornography producer and (he boldly claimed) panzer commandant. Things were further complicated by the Yugoslavian crew who, still smarting from recent memories of Nazi atrocities, hated Hartwig’s guts and did everything they could to disrupt his work. The result is a complex beast that reflects all of Sam Peckinpah’s attitudes to manliness. Throughout all of his films, he explored his belief that men revel in conflict and, in Straw Dogs particularly, he expressed that only through violence can a man truly protect what he holds to be valuable.’ — Andrew Stimpson, The Quietus


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Convoy (1978)
‘The world is often cruel to geniuses, and vice versa. Case in point: Sam Peckinpah. The Wild Bunch director made movies that were like his life: violent, angry, ragged, and filled with alcohol, sex, profanity, and a vitriolic rage aimed at corrupt authority. (Or authority in general, really.) Peckinpah established himself as arguably the greatest American action filmmaker before developing a reputation for drunkenness and erratic behavior that left him barely able to handle jobs that should have been beneath him, like directing the music video for Julian Lennon’s “Too Late For Goodbyes,” and making C.W. McCall’s novelty hit “Convoy” into a feature film.’ — The Dissolve


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The Osterman Weekend (1983)
‘I do not understand this movie. I sat before the screen, quiet, attentive and alert, and gradually a certain anger began to stir inside me, because the movie was not holding up its side of the bargain. It was making no sense. I don’t demand that all movies make sense. I sometimes enjoy movies that make no sense whatsoever, if that’s their intention. But a thriller is supposed to hold together in some sort of logical way, isn’t it? “The Osterman Weekend” doesn’t bother. I don’t know who to blame. The movie was directed by Sam Peckinpah, that grand and weathered veteran of so many good movies (“The Wild Bunch,” “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”). It’s his comeback, of sorts, after a five-year layoff. But it is not a Peckinpah movie in any meaningful sense. In interviews, he has complained that the movie was re-edited after he turned it over to 20th Century-Fox, that this isn’t his own final cut. And yet he says it’s still a pretty damn good movie. That’s where we disagree.’ — Roger Ebert


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p.s. Hey. So early tomorrow morning I’m training up to Rotterdam for the world premiere of ‘Permanent Green Light’, and I’ll also be there for the other showings at the festival on the following three days, training back to Paris on Wednesday night. I’m going to take an educated guess that I’ll be too busy with stuff to do the p.s. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so you’ll get a couple of restored posts and the monthly slave post on those days, and I’ll be back here in the saddle to give you a new post, restart the p.s., and catch up with whatever comments you’ve left in the meantime on Thursday morning. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Oh, thank you. Well, I can’t say that, for all my brain’s multi-tasking skills, I don’t get a little sloppy, ha ha. Great you’ve got the esoteric book and feel optimistic about the assignment. I’ll be very curious to hear how that proceeds, of course. Did you enjoy the time with your good friend? No doubt, right? Nothing much happened yesterday other than the usual. I did walk down to the Seine to check out its swollen flooding current state, and it is crazily full and leaky. And work. And pre-Rotterdam arranging. And yet more ridiculous problems arose with the contracts for the ‘mystery’ project. All I can say is there’s someone of great unreasonableness and greed that we have to work with on the project that I really, really wish we hadn’t innocently agreed to work with. But everything is coming to a head finally, and this coming week should either get it done finally or be a disaster. Urgh. Well, have a lovely next few days, and keep a record, and I’ll talk with you again very soon. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Ah, possibly as a play, very interesting. Warner Bros’s diehard support of and loyalty to The Flaming Lips is a mysterious and wonderful rarity. Someone high up there obviously loves them. Ha, I very, very vaguely remember Cell. Wow. ** Tomk, Hi, man. Great! And Jamie’s interested too, so the ball is rolling! Everyone, as I mentioned and as you likely saw, Tom Kendall aka Tomk is organising an online writers workshop, and Bernard and Jamie are on board, so it looks like a really killer thing and opportunity, so I urge any of you who enjoy that prospect to hook up. Here’s Tom: ‘To Everybody: If you are interested in being part of an online writing workshop please email me at thomaspatrick.kendall@gmail.com.’ Thanks for the invite to participate. If I have any writing and any time at all, I would love to. Thanks a lot, man. It’s so really great to have you back! ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Ah, I did forget Lucas Samaras strangely. Thanks. ** Bill, Hi, B-ster. Obviously sorry to hear about the already intense week. ‘The Mirror Wall’ is really chilly/magical, no? Maybe my fave of them. Not hugely surprised that ‘LS’ is entertainingly semi-defunct. Have a great weekend and a bit beyond, pal. ** Sypha, That did entertain me! Ha ha, that’s wild. Please express my gratitude to your subconscious the next time that you and it are together in the same dimension. ** Jamie, Howdy! Thanks a lot about the post. You are its ideal. Very with you on The Fall, although I do think they put out some sporadically close to genius stuff here and there still in recent years. The Fall on acid does seem like a very bad combo now that you mention it. If you ever go back in a time machine to the 1970s, don’t see Led Zeppelin live on acid. I did, and I was told by my companions that I spent most of their set begging them to kill Robert Plant, not because I thought he was demonic but because I thought he was too horrible a singer to be allowed to live. My day was mostly uneventful other than seeing the rain-swollen, roiling Seine up close. Wow, that’s great about that conference and Hannah’s participation. It sounds like a most excellent thing. So she’s going to write about Ann Quin? I hope I get to read that, if so. I love Ann Quin, as you probably know. Fantastic! I haven’t seen a new movie in ages, it feels like. I’ll see a bunch, I hope, at the Rotterdam festival. Funny you mention flying monkeys because about 50 orangutans escaped from their cage at the Paris zoo yesterday, and I did wonder if I wished I had been there with ecstatic, vengeful orangutans cavorting all around me. May your days between now and Wednesday contextualise an endless parade of sullen Emos dancing like Barney the Dinosaur that wends for miles behind you, its grand marshall. Irresolutely resolute love, Dennis. ** Cal Graves, Hi, Cal. Ooh, what’s that Psychic Kids one called? I could use that. Right, yeah, those inescapable classic poet guys, hard to get around them, not that one should, I suppose, I don’t know. Yeah, get some contemporaries in there if you can. Maybe the prof would go for old or dead ones? Contemporary-ish? Have a super swell long weekend, my friend! ** _Black_Acrylic, I heard a bit of Iranian disco. It’s odd, that’s for sure. There’s some pretty interesting Iranian techno out there, as you probably know. ** Keithanne, I like that name. It’s miroir. I only know that because one of the characters in ‘PGL’ looks in his once in a while. Potential story idea bonanza, twink/absence/mirror, I say, but then I would. Wow, so your complexity runs deep. Bon. ** Kyler. Good morning to you. Thanks, cool. Well, my parent definitely way the hell did. Yeah, I’m pretty into logic, and maybe my mom’s thing plus her alcoholism — bad combo, I don’t recommend it — is a root. That’s a very interesting understanding of your father’s diagnosis of dementia. Huh. ** Okay. I decided to do a post about Sam Peckinpah. Seemed like a good idea. And, again, the blog will be here as usual through Wednesday without my blabbing, but do leave comments because I’ll read them, and I’ll say things with, about, and in regards to them on Thursday. Have a great next several days!

9 Comments

  1. Hi!

    Yes, we had an amazing time yesterday! Especially because my friend has a 6-month-old giant of a puppy who was super lovely, haha.
    I can imagine! The Danube is creeping very high too! I find swollen rivers quite beautiful but intimidating.
    Oh no. Oh no about the problems around the mystery project! I’m so sorry you have to deal with this person and all this. I keep my fingers very crossed! It should really work out now!

    Thank you! I’ll definitely let you know about the highlights of my next few days!
    I wish you all the joy and luck and pride for the World Premiere! I’m sure it’ll be a total blast!!

  2. That’s a great story about seeing Led Zep on acid. The Robert Plant solo album that came out last year was far better than I expected – parts of it suggested “Kashmir” taken further.

    One problem I’ve heard with indie bands signing to major labels is that they initially have a supportive A&R person and then he or she gets fired and they get stuck with someone who wants to change them into a top 40-ready artist or the whole label decides to change direction. Josh Homme has said that Queens of the Stone Age left Interscope for Matador because the former label decided they were no longer interested in releasing rock music (and Matador went on to get QOTSA their first #1 album.)

  3. David Ehrenstein

    January 27, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    Peckinpah’s a fascinating character in that his technical skill and overall expressivity is without peer but is interests are those I’d call that of a “Functional Psychotic.” Everything in Peckinpah pushes towards death and obliteration. The difference with my favorite cinematic “Functional Psychotic, ” Donald Cammell is that Cammell regarded Death as a “Trip Experience” — the Ultimate Drug.

    With Peckinpah, Death is an inevitable outcome of the sub-genre in which he worked — but was never identified by anyone save Raymond Durgnat. The sub-genre I’m speaking of is the “Male Weepie.” These are films made by and for heterosexual men bemoaning the state of being a heterosexual man who has no interest in woman, other than providing place for them to stick their cocks, yet are not sexually attracted to other men. Emotionally they’re entirely dependent on other men. “The Wild Bunch,” which is not only Peckipah’s masterpiece but THE Film He Was Born To Make illuminates this with great clarity. Jerry Harvey, the L.A. Cable programmer whose “Z Channel” was such a boon in the early days of cable was obsessed with “The Wild Bunch” (and “Heaven’s Gate”) and it’s no surprise he ended up a murder-suicide — taking his hapless wife along with him.

    The opening line of “The Wild Bunch” is one of my favorites in all of cinema: “I know what you MEANT to do — it’s what you DID that I don’t like!”

    The other Peckinpah film of primary interest is “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.” Warren Oates is magnificent in it. Not a western, but it has the “feel” of one. Many years ago in New York I found myself on a bus travelling across town with a group of black high school boys — all very jovial and sweet. They started to talk about movies and one of them declared his favorite was “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.” The other chimed in with their enthusiastic approval. Fascinating.

  4. Sorry to hear about the travails around the “mystery project”. Obviously I’m intrigued to hear more, when the time comes.

    I’ve only seen a handful of the more famous Peckinpah films; when I scroll through them in the post, I’m surprised at the range of approaches and materials. I remember being blown away by the manic energy of the last section of Straw Dogs; then there’s the sparse but tense Pat Garrett/Billy the Kid. Does Osterman Weekend hold up ok? It looks so different from the rest.

    Not a work-free weekend, but I did squeeze in a kind of Bay area improv reunion gig last night, and will go to a new music concert this afternoon. Not bad.

    By the way, the rivers are definitely far from overflowing here. We could totally use some of that overflow.

    Bill

  5. Dennis, I actually agree with you re: getting a tooth pulled like that. However, I wish the “totally anesthetized” part had been part of this last one. My first two, including an abscessed wisdom tooth, were totally without any feeling or pain and were interesting as hell. This one, I felt just about every bit of it, even after the six shots of lidocaine. Ugh, it was hellish. At one point, I felt like the dentist was making me suffer because I chose extraction over that stupid root canal.

    I’m still swollen a bit and sore. Ibuprofen is taking care of the latter. I guess it’ll take a while for that bruised nerve or whatever it is to resolve itself. I might call and get them to prescribe that antibiotic they said was unnecessary because there was no sign of infection.

    Halfway through, I asked the assistant if she’d ever had anyone pass out from the pain. She said no but that they did have someone pass out…before they even did anything. The fear of pain knocked them out. That’s pretty crazy and interesting.

    Hope you’re weekend’s been well, mystery project issues or not. We just keep on keeping on.

  6. Strangely, I’ve never seen a one of Peckinpah’s films. What’s wrong with me? Then again, what’s right with me? Probably nothing, but it is strange.

  7. Hey Dennis, don’t know when you’ll see this, but wanted to wish you all the best for Rotterdam and PGL’s premiere. Has it already happened? Wow. Hope everything goes great for you all and the film gets a good response. How very exciting! Look forward to seeing you back here.
    Lots of love,
    Jamie

  8. Had a quiet weekend here, just watched most of 5 football matches on TV as it’s FA Cup weekend when they put them all on telly. Is it possible to OD on football? Think I maybe just did.

    But wait, we had a good Yuck ‘n Yum meeting online yesterday – myself, Morgan and Alex – and the 3 of us are very much on the same page re the long term future of the project, which is really good to know. And the Seattle callout should be going online probably Tuesday. It’s all ticking over nicely in that department.

  9. May you be hit with the directors chair! Good luck in Rotterdam! Watching Sterlings Night Gallery. Cameos like a young Clint Howard, cheesy interludes, and tons of evil. Perhaps new stories soon. Saw an awful looking ghost in the Bay tonight. Head on a stick so to speak. Best wishes

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