Sam Peckinpah, iconic filmmaker, may not be a natural fit for TvFILM. He made Hollywood films his whole career, and the films he made were very divisive- some hate them and some love them. His filmography ranges from the genre re-defining, “The Wild Bunch,” to the car chase staple, “The Getaway,” to his old west character study,“Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” to his vastly underrated, “The Osterman Weekend.” Unfortunately, he passed away in 1984, but his legacy lives on.
My first exposure to Sam was watching the documentary, “Hollywood Mavericks.” The film tells how many of our beloved American filmmaking auteurs such as John Ford, Orson Welles and Martin Scorsese made films, their way, in Hollywood. It included archived footage of Sam Peckinpah being interviewed on television, I think sometime in sixties. Sam sat the on stage wearing silver-mirrored aviator sunglasses, a pencil thin moustache, smoking a cigarette. He mumbled his answers, barely answering the question that was presented to him. The fourteen-year-old version of me was not particularly struck by him, considering I had not seen any of his films yet. It was when Paul Schrader, writer of “Taxi Driver,” (which at that time just blew my mind) started to talk about Peckinpah’s films. Schrader explained that many of Peckinpah’s protagonists are usually not good men. Peckinpah did not sugar coat who these men were, but even in showing their true nature-killers, gangsters, rapists, he felt they could still do good. This is apparent in his masterpiece, “The Wild Bunch.” The film tells the story of a group of aging gun fighters facing the twilight of the western frontier. They do whatever it takes to survive, including letting a rogue Mexican General torture one of their own. In the end they choose one last stand to help their man in the face of the General and his many armed men. Cue bloodshed. As a filmmaker he is most known for how he used violence in his films, most notably the use of slow motion while depicting violence. This is most evident in the climax of “The Wild Bunch.”
Sam told stories from material that other filmmakers of his time would deem as nothing more than Saturday morning serials. He used standard film genres like the western or war film to explore themes concerning change, masculinity, violence, technology, and morality, just to name a few. In this sense, I think he is very much in step with TvFILM’s independent spirit. It is well documented how much Peckinpah butted heads with Hollywood studio bosses. I have no doubt that if he lived longer he would have made independent films.
Sam Peckinpah would have been 90 years old on Saturday, February 21. I’ll admit-I’m a fan. I recently purchased a limited release, Blu-Ray copy of his 1974 film, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.” Do I like all his films? No, and learning about his real-life problems with alcohol and drugs is very sad. It’s his spirit of creating something so personal on such a broad stage that resonates with me most and pushes me to do the same. I recommend you check out some of his films or even re-watch some of your Peckinpah favorites.