Essential DVDs: Ride The High Country (1962), Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Straw Dogs (1971), The Getaway (1972), Pat Garrett And Billy the Kid (1973), Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), The Cross of Iron (1977)
In His Own Words: “The point of [The Wild Bunch] is to take this facade of movie violence and open it up, get people involved in it… and then twist it so that it’s not fun anymore, just a wave of sickness in the gut.”
The unprecedented cataclysm of blood-soaked violence that wrapped up Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was a cinematic watershed. Critics walked out disgusted. A ban was called for. “Bloody Sam”, the “Picasso of violence” in one stroke created a reputation that persists to this day.
But to dismiss Peckinpah as just a purveyor of pornographic violence is foolhardy. In fact, Peckinpah’s cinematic legacy is not his graphic action, but rather his stylistic and thematic approach: neither film editing nor the way traditional genres were represented remained untouched by his coruscating impact.
Using several cameras running at multiple speeds together with extravagant cross-editing to create dazzling, kaleidoscopic montages of action and exposition, Peckinpah’s technical and stylistic innovations reverberate through De Palma and Scorsese, to Stone and Tarantino. His total distrust of institutionalized power particularly the studios for which he worked resulted in films so inimitably Peckinpah in both message and execution, that he blazed a trail for the auteur generation which succeeded him. He re-wrote scripts during shoots, embraced spontaneity and improvisation, and rarely delivered on-budget. After Peckinpah’s increasingly ill-tempered, drug and alcohol-fueled excesses and confrontational material, even the most troublesome of subsequent bad-boy directors would appear a pussycat to studio bosses.
Although The Wild Bunch’s Western revisionism remains the touch-stone for his work, Peckinpah tackled multiple genres. Straw Dogs is a shockingly provocative psychological horror, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is a beguilingly nihilistic road movie, and The Cross Of Iron was to Orson Welles the best anti-war film ever made, predating Saving Private Ryan’s hand-held, in-the-trenches approach by 20 years. Just don’t mention his treatment of women.