Today I watched The Wild Bunch, directed by Sam Peckinpah in 1969. It's a fantastic western - gritty and violent, with a great plot. I feel like I always say I hate westerns and then I wind up watching the ones I like for this project. I mean, I'm glad I don't have to watch a whole haul of American westerns, but it seems hypocritical if 90% of the westerns I watch for this project are ones that I already love and are prefaced with my normal cry of "but I hate them!" This film has so much of what I like about westerns - it uses the time period as a backdrop for a great story, and it deals with that era without any romanticism or fantasy. It is, as Peckinpah himself has said, "...not fun and games and cowboys and Indians. It's a terrible, ugly thing" (From here). I feel a deep love for him for saying this, since I'm always whining about realism in westerns, or something like that.
The film has a great plot, but I'll just summarize the idea of it briefly, since reading plot summary is probably a little dull. The movie is about a group of aging outlaws in the west, during the time when a lot of new technology and ideas were moving in. They try to pull off one last bank robbery in the start of the movie, but they fail horribly. They know they aren't going to survive in the changing landscape, but it's hard to retire when the law is still looking for you. The film also is about the problem of violence being passed down from generation to generation - the theme of children mimicking violent behavior that they see around them comes up often. The movie itself was very controversial for it's violence, which some people had many issues with. I personally am not going to speak on the bigger issue of whether violence in movies is a problem or not. I think it is appropriate in this film - he wanted to show the ugliness of violence and death, which he does very well. That means it might be harder to watch and more upsetting, but it is fitting here, I think.
The movie is shot beautifully, especially for an action film. There are quick cuts, but they are often interspersed with speed-ramped shots, where actors fall or die in slow motion as the action rages on around them. It's really unique and a great effect. It seems to, for me at least, trigger both my adrenaline and my empathy. I bought the movie on Blu-ray, and the colors really popped. I think it's important to keep in mind how every western before this one was not violent or gritty. Peckinpah brought them into a new age with his violence, and took it far away from the corny John Wayne movies people were used to. The action sequences hold up well for me today, but imagine how shocking they were only a few years ago. Now, we see the bright red fake blood and many of us can't understand why it's so awful. We're also used to action scenes being slowed down (thanks, Zach Synder, you asshole), it can be harder to appreciate this editing. I will say that the violence of The Wild Bunch still bothered me. It's unrelenting and still really gross. There is a scene where a guy is dragged around by a car, and when they stand him up, he is dirty, his face looks burned, and his skin is peeling and oozing blood. I can't even remember seeing that sort of thing in recent movies - like, closeups of his face after he's been dragged face-down through the sand.
It's a long movie, and I can imagine for many people, is a difficult movie to watch because of some of the violence. For me, I admire his rule-breaking in this film. Since I so hate the cheerful, campy westerns, I love his horrible, ugly vision of it. The themes and plot are also really great, and in my and Anthony's limited western experience, not themes that come up very often. I love that it doesn't just use the west as a backdrop for lawlessness and nonsense, but actually addresses historical changes and difficulties. It just works really well for me, and I am so happy that he paved the way for many different, gritty westerns. I love this movie, so I hope you check it out, but I do understand that not everyone wants to watch something violent or unsettling all the time. If you do see it, let me know what you think!
As a side note, because, yunno, westerns - the other night Anthony finally finished playing Red Dead Redemption after much nagging on my part. A bit behind the times, I guess. To get to the point, if you play video games and like westerns or films or have weird, stupid tastes like mine, I highly recommend playing this (or looking up some of the videos/discussion of the ending online). It had, hands down, the best ending of any game I've played in a very long time. It was badass and so...cinematic. I personally didn't play the game because the missions made me sleepy, but I liked the story a lot, and the end really delighted me. I'm not bringing this up to start any sort of "are video games art?" rubbish (the real issue that should be discussed is "why does it matter if video games are art?"), but just because maybe there are some crossover film and movie nerds, and I think those people would really love that. Plus, the game is sort of about what The Wild Bunch is about - that weird time when the "old ways" were ending, and different times were starting. The main character in Red Dead is an "old ways" kind of guy, caught in the tide of the changing times. It seemed a little more heady than what I'm used to seeing in games, and for doofus film nerds like me, it was REALLY EXCITING to basically see a do-it-yourself Peckinpah film. So, if you have any interest in things like this, do some googling and checking, it's interesting!
Have any thoughts on The Wild Bunch? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Wild Bunch