Thursday, March 18, 2010

1969: The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah)

1969: The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah)
I'll never forget when I first saw this.  It was 1995 in St. Louis at the Tivoli Theatre.  I must have gone to something like the 8:00 showing.  I remember going alone, and when it was over, seriously considering staying for the 10:40 show.  I was that blown away.  

The desire to see something immediately for a second time had never happened to me before nor has it happened since.  I guess it's safe to say that the action sequences, particularly the first and the last, were the most exciting pieces of action filmmaking I had ever seen.  They literally showed me another way of doing things.  Peckinpah's combination of different film speeds and offbeat, elliptical editing style were a revelation.  Of course, John Woo, and even Takeshi Kitano and Wong Kar-Wai, have gone on to reference Peckinpah's inventions here, but the original still packs the greatest punch for me.

I also think its syncopated opening is one of the strongest in the history of the medium.  I find myself moved by its themes of friendship.  And the movie looks so real, I feel like I can almost smell it.  

And what can I say about Robert Ryan and William Holden?  The movie almost serves as an argument to cast more of our legends at later stages in their career.  There's simply a depth and effect that come from their presence that the younger guys can never provide.  

Other contenders for 1969: I still have quite a number of titles to see.  These include:  Costa-Gavras' Z, Frederick Wiseman's High School, Robert Bresson's Une femme douce, Frank Perry's Last Summer, Ken Russell's Women in Love, David Lynch's The Grandmother, Nagisa Oshima's Boy, Sergei Parajanov's The Color of Pomegranates, Satyajit Ray's Days and Nights in the Forest, Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Budd Boetticher's A Time for Dying, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Katzelmacher, Robert Kramer's Ice, Claude Chabrol's La femme infidele, Andy Warhol's Blue Movie, Richard Lester's The Bed Sitting Room, and Jacques Rivette's L'amour fou.  I need to revisit John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy and George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  It's been too long since I've seen either to know where they'd place on this list.  I really like Paul Mazursky's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.  I love Eric Rohmer's Ma nuit chez Maud and Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows.  And my closest runner-up is Ken Loach's Kes.

7/15/12 I watched Andre De Toth's Play Dirty.  There have been many movies depicting the absurdity of war.  But few ring as truthful as this late film by De Toth.  It's gritty, bleak, and one of these films coming at the end of the Hays Code, where you can smell the feeling of liberation.  A cerebral "man on a mission" with some very intelligent direction from De Toth.

9/26/13 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz.  In my opinion a highly underrated film by the master.  It's of interest first off to see what Hitch can do with the Hays code no longer around.  There's a brutality at work and a graphic punch that feels like new territory for the director.  It also features some fantastic set pieces, including most of what's set in Cuba, some typically expressive Hitch camerawork that De Palma had to have seen, and yet another complex and emotive Hitch score.  The ending admittedly lets the film down a little but that's only because much of what comes before is so entertaining.  Like Marnie, this Hitch film deserves far more eyes on it and far more people talking about it.

11/16/13 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey: New Waves - Sweep Around the World.  Some fairly new territory for me, I particularly enjoyed his handling of Tarkovsky, Imamura, Ghatak, Psycho, and Wajda.  

11/30/15 I watched Peter R Hunt's On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Lazenby made and would have continued to make one of the very best Bonds and Savalas was a wonderful, menacing Bond villain.  I am not as big a fan of the direction as Soderbergh or Nolan.  But the hard-hitting ending was unexpected and memorable.  

1/7/16 I watched Costa-Gavras' Z.  It is easy to see its influence on the American New Wave whether it's the sound of the typewriter in All the President's Men, the casting of Marcel Bozzuffi in The French Connection or the zooms in Altman's cinema.  It is not very emotionally involving but as a piece of filmmaking, it carries great interest for its energy and inventiveness. 

7/16/17 I watched Michael Ritchie's Downhill Racer.  Rithchie is definitely a filmmaker that I am now far more curious about, having seen Smile (with him in person), The Bad News Bears and now this.  He has an auteur's deep feel for character and the freewheeling sensibility of Altman and Demme.  The soft shape of scenes and the way he slows down time during some of the races are what most affected me with this one.  I look forward to continuing to investigate more of his work, particularly The Candidate and Prime Cut.

8/13/17 I watched Claude Chabrol's Que La Bete Meure.  Chabrol's work does not have the playfulness of Godard, Truffaut, or even Rohmer, so I am not quite drawn to it in the same way.  But I like the way he uses his camera, moving through frames, capturing details, gestures, expressions gracefully and silently.  The locations and nature bring a warmth that balances out the cold, calculating nature of Chabrol's filmmaking approach.  

11/25/17 I watched Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?.  Certainly to be commended for its uniqueness and loyalty to its vision as claustrophobic and uncommercial as it may be.  Amazing to think this is from the same filmmaker that gave us Tootsie.  The performances are great and the ending brings a certain amount of satisfaction, but the theatricality of its approach is not my thing.

6/7/18 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Law and Order.  Aside from Wiseman's complete formal discipline, what might be most impressive about his work are the moments he is able to capture.  Whether it is the angry father at the end or the belligerent juvenile early on, the characters he finds in the scenes he shows us feel so raw, so real, and so rich it is like we have never seen humans going through real emotions on film before.  It is such pure cinema, Wiseman's work, and such a successful approach.  For anyone that wants to see moments deflected exactly as the artist found them, without any fluff and without any fear that the sheer moment would have enough heft or interest on its own, these are hours full of reward.     

4/21/20  I watched Robert Bresson's Une femme douce.  Not my favorite of Bresson's work.  It just does not have the lift or payoff at the end that his more successful films do.  But the restraint and authority are again impressive and as always certain moments of poetry shine through.  

6/24/20 I watched Charles Burnett's Several Friends.  Burnett's first short already signals a major talent.  His films feel unusually lived-in, so real and honest that you can almost smell and taste everything on screen.  The sound was not great in this one, which took away from the experience a little, but the locations, the acting and the feel Burnett creates all add up to something uniquely poetic and true.

10/17/20 I watched Robert Downey Senior's Putney Swope.  It is amazing how boundary pushing it still feels more than fifty years later.  I am not sure race relations have improved at all in this country since it first came out.  As a film, it feels a bit unfocused at times, messy, but it is all probably due to the fact that it felt it needed to speak in that way to be heard.  

3/29/22 I watched Paul Morrison's 24 Hours: The World of John and Yoko.  Pretty bland, uneventful short doc but mildly interesting to see a day in the life of John and Yoko.  

7/8/22 I watched Budd Boetticher's A Time for Dying.  An abstract, stripped down western that stylistically got me thinking of late sixty works like Hellman's The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind.  From an emotional and thematic standpoint, it certainly seemed to suggest an endangered state for the future and morals and ethics of the western.  Good no longer prevails over bad and the sense of community that Ford evangelized no longer exists. 

7/9/22 I watched Claude Chabrol's The Unfaithful Wife.  Chabrol, as much as any French filmmaker I can recall, seems driven to remake the same kind of film over and over again.  Hitchcock's influence can be felt, film noir looms large and there doesn't seem to be much optimism or trust in the sacred institutions of marriage and family.  Chabrol's films also possess much of Lang's cynical feelings toward human beings and life itself.    


  1. My Own #1 Film of 1969:

    Kes (Loach; UK)


    The Colour of Pomegranates (Paradjanov; USSR)
    Days and Nights in the Foreset (Ray; India)
    Boy (Oshima; Japan)
    High School (Wiseman; USA)
    Un Femme Douce (Bresson; France)
    Army of Shadows (Melville; France)
    Blind Beast (Massumoto; Japan)
    Eros + Massacre (Yoshida; Japan)
    Le Boucher (Chabrol; France)
    Funeral Parade of Roses (Matsumoto; Japan)
    Witches Hammer (Vavra; Czechoslovakia)
    Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Neame; UK)
    My Night at Maud's (Rohmer; France)
    Salesman (Masyles; USA)
    Midnight Cowboy (Schesinger; USA)
    Women in Love (Russell; UK)
    Satyricon (Fellini; Italy)
    The Passion of Anna (Bergman; Sweden)
    The Sorrow and the Pity (Ophuls; France)
    Z (Costa Gavres; Greece/France)
    Adelheid (Vlacil; Czechoslovakia)

    Jeffrey, I have never warmed to nor have ever been engaged with THE WILD BUNCH, which I find epidodic, scattered and emotionally distancing. it's violent of course, but that's not what bothers me, as I like Peckipah's STRAW DOGS. But you are among a sizable favorable majority who think this a classic, and I respect that.

    My won #1 film, KES by Ken Loach is still only available on Region 2 DVD, which for the moment I can't copy. But I'm expecting soon I have this issue resolved as I just paid for Region Free DVD capabilities, but they have not yet released the go ahead. KES is a painful, shattering realistic coming-of-age tale of loss and confinement, set in a coal mining town in the UK. It's one of the greatest films ever made in Britain, it is a film that will move you as deeply as any film ever made, and it's one that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Ken Loach is a master, perhaps the greatest British director, edging out Davies and Leigh.

    The Paradjanov and the S. Ray as well as the others here are very great films.

  2. The Tivoli is one of my favorite theaters. It's great you saw The Wild Bunch there, it's one of my favorites as well, and features two of my all-time favorite actors (Warren Oates and Robert Ryan). With Peckinpah it's always the little things, those microscopic poetic gestures that elevate all the action. My choice for '69 would be L'amour fou.

  3. Yeah, this film was definitely a game changer for the western genre as Peckinpah shattered genre expectations with his depiction of violence. geez, how many films and filmmakers have imitated this film since? Too numerous to mention but it just goes to show what a long shadow this film casts.

  4. Sam, I am a HUGE fan of KES! As you can see I chose it as my #1 runner-up. I completely understand how certain films just don't connect and appreciate that position.

    I look forward to seeing some of your other picks. Thanks so much, Sam!

  5. Doniphon, great to hear from you! I still need to see that Rivette.

    Great to hear that you love the Tivoli, as well. Always a treat to have you here!

  6. JD, great to hear from you! Well put, and I couldn't agree more.

    Thanks so much, JD. Always wonderful to have you here!

  7. Jeffrey,
    The Wild Bunch is a great film, the action scenes are shot as a violent slow motion ballet.
    I consider this film, The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Straw Dogs his most significant works.

    #1 Army of Shadows

    Runner ups

    The Wild Bunch
    Midnight Cowboy
    They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
    Last Summer
    Women in Love
    Medium Cool
    Alice’s Restaurant
    Le Femme Infidele
    Tell Them Willie Boy is Here

  8. John, I couldn't agree more about what you say in reference to THE WILD BUNCH! I like MIDNIGHT COWBOY and MEDIUM COOL although a little less than the ones I mention above. I still need to see ALICE'S RESTAURANT and TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE.

    Thanks, John. Always wonderful to have your perspective here!

  9. Jeffrey, I'd seen The Wild Bunch on TV but during the Nineties re-release I saw it at the Harvard Square, and I suspect any big screen will have the same effect on anyone. Praise is due to the entire acting ensemble for their collective portrait of a certain style of manhood at the end of its tether. It has to be a mighty film to top Army of Shadows on my 1969 list.

  10. Samuel, very well said:

    "Praise is due to the entire acting ensemble for their collective portrait of a certain style of manhood at the end of its tether."

    Thanks so much. Always great to have you here!

  11. You've seen The Wild Bunch at the Tivoli!?? I'm jealous. For as long as I've been going to the Tivoli (the past two years), it hasn't been here. To be sure, I own this masterpiece on DVD, but I'd give anything to see it on the big screen. Huge Peckinpah fan.

    Have you seen Midnight Cowboy, Jeffrey? It's not my #1 pick for 1969, but I adore it nevertheless. Schlesinger had a pretty good run in the 60's and 70's, I must say.

  12. Adam, great to hear from you! Yes, it was almost fifteen years ago now, but it was really wonderful to see it at the Tivoli. It was a brand new print. Absoultely gorgeous.

    I have seen MIDNIGHT COWBOY, but it's been a realy long time. It's one I'll need to revisit at some point.

    Thanks, Adam. Always a treat to have you here!

  13. I'm catching up here after getting back from my mini-vacation. So, I'll make this one short and sweet and just say that Melville's ARMY OF SHADOWS is maybe the best French film that I have ever seen. I love it.

  14. Thanks, Dave! I absolutely share your admiration for ARMY OF SHADOWS. It's a terrific film.

    Always great to have you here and welcome back! Thanks, Dave.

  15. Midnight Cowboy is a sure contender for 1969.

    Some WB stuff:

  16. completely agree. midnight cowboy should receive a mention above. i am adjusting accordingly.