Monday, April 09, 2012

The heroic bloodshed genre... originating in the U.S.

Something I had not considered in the films of Sam Peckinpah, who did influence John Woo, until I read Bill Kauffman's Peckinpah Country.

But the memory of that lost place—the pain of watching that which one loves disappear—informs his best movies: “The Wild Bunch,” “Ride the High Country,” “Junior Bonner,” “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.”

This last, with its elegiac score by Bob Dylan, is at once listless and haunting, as it treats Peckinpah’s two favorite themes: men out of time and the imperative of loyalty. Its tersely poetical script is by the underrated novelist Rudolph Wurlitzer (check out his brutal and ethereal The Drop Edge of Yonder) of the jukebox family.

Queried why he doesn’t kill his pursuer Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid (played by Kris Kristofferson) says simply, “He’s my friend.” No other explanation is necessary, or even possible. It’s the same reason Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch go on a mission perdu to rescue their compadre Angel from the sleazy federale Mapache.

“Aren’t your losers and misfits conformists to outdated codes?” asked a Playboy interviewer in 1972. Peckinpah replied, “outdated codes like courage, loyalty, friendship, grace under pressure, all the simple virtues that have become clichés, sure. They’re cats who ran out of territory and they know it, but they’re not going to bend, either: they refuse to be diminished by it. They play their string out to the end.”

It is difficult to sympathize with the bad guys in The Wild Bunch, since they have very little scruples in killing in order to save themselves. (I don't think they feel much remorse when civilians are shot in the crossfire?) The noble criminals of John Woo's movies do have some scruples...

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