Archive for the ‘1970’s Cinema’ Category


January 24, 2008

Warren Oates as Bennie.

Sam Peckinpah was one of the most widely revered Wild West filmmakers in his day, and although he went on to different depths of moviemaking later in his life, he will always be remembered most for the television series Gunsmoke, which launched his career, and also for the film The Wild Bunch. The normal route one would usually take when first diving into a legendary director’s work, in this case Peckinpah’s, would be to begin with the commercial successes, like the aformentioned pieces, and then ease into more obscure offerings from there. I chose to introduce myself to the director with his controversial 1974 picture, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. At first mention one would think that choosing a film so non-related to what made Peckinpah a name in the business as a starting point of getting to know his work would be pure insanity, but it turns out that there really is no better way to become truly familiar with the man. In fact, after reading into more of what he went through in his all-too short life (he died of a stroke in 1984, at the age of 59) I would guarantee that if you asked him which work he would most like to be considered entirely made his way, it would be Garcia.

Warren Oates gives a harrowing performance as lead character Bennie, who we are following on a strange ride in this hellbent piece of work that seeps into every part of your movie-going mind more and more, and long after it’s run its course. Peckinpah was told to be a hard abuser of alcohol and a frequently tedious director to work with. On many accounts actors have told stories related to this, and although many have said they would never work with him a second time around, the work they accomplished, being pushed to the edge, was worth it and culminated in a unique and distinctive time capsule. If everything Peckinpah created was as hard and wringing as I’ve heard it was, then Garcia had to be the most nerve-wracking experience of all, because it is a pure and evident labor of love. Nearly everything about Bennie mirrors what Peckinpah personally put himself through. The film’s premise is simple, but convention will not be found with its developing themes and metaphors. In the opening sequence we find a rich Mexican rancher discovering that his young daughter is pregnant, and although he is delighted in anticipation for a grandson, he denounces her, and even more so the absent man who seeded her. He is so powerful that he announces he will award $1 million to anyone that can bring him the head of this young man, named Alfredo Garcia. The manhunt begins from there, but it is only a side note to what Peckinpah is really trying to get to, which is Bennie. There are dozens of different hungry men suddenly turned bounty hunters in an effort to become instant millionaires, including a couple of Americans, who encounter Bennie as he is drinking himself away at a bar in Mexico, quietly playing some piano. They sort of contract him out to find Garcia because he mentions that he might have a connection with him through Garcia’s former girlfriend, Elita, who is now his fiancee. With a number of others tailing him through the rustic trails of Mexico, he and Elita embark on a journey that leads toward a dark hole of devastating, grimy consequences.

I do not want to dive into any other details from here, because to do that would be to say in writing what should be seen to be believed first. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is the kind of movie that you can find yourself getting lost inside of at first look, which can either be a good or bad thing. If you find yourself on the lost end that causes a feeling of emptiness, then please give it another chance. On the other hand, if you’ve lost yourself in the pure and deep paranoia and drunkenness that is poured all around the project, then you’re a Peckinpah lover and it’s cemented. There are haunting parallels to not only Bennie and Peckinpah, but also Oates, who died in his 50’s as well. I’ve never been affected by a film quite like I was with Garcia, which I think should get a re-release sometime down the road due to its unfair hatred upon its opening in ’74. Audiences in today’s movie-going world would take to the metaphoric madness and odd beauty of it all.

Rating: A+

113 minutes