Sam Peckinpahs The Wild Bunch may be one of the greatest westerns ever made,but I would not recommend it to a beginner. This is not a pretty film with good-looking cowboys drawing their guns in the town square and shooting down the bad guys. This is about a bunch of hard men who play out the large themes of trust and betrayal,and sometimes its hard to tell the good guys from the bad.
And there is blood,quarts and quarts of it.
There isnt a story in the accepted sense of the word. Theres just this bunch of guys who ride into a Mexican town,slam bang in the middle of the Mexican Revolution early last century,with rebels and guns all around,and the film tracks what they do and what happens to them.Everything unravels at the pace of a trotting horse,or the trajectory of a bullet. The rhythms match the characters,giving you enough time to get acquainted,get involved.
The new double-disc DVD,which is the original directors cut,puts together a wide range of comment on Peckinpah and his body of work,which not only shines a light on the director who was both difficult and brilliant in equal parts,but also tells us about how movies grew up in America. Peckinpah expected his actors to be shot-ready when they showed up on set: there are horror stories recounting how actors spread out (after being taken to task) on the sprawling set in the Mexican town where a lot of the The Wild Bunch was shot,desperately mugging their lines.
One example of just how innovative he was comes from the way he has his lead characters walk abreast,each holding a gun,and getting the other characters to move across the frame in a seemingly random fashion: soldiers laughing in a corner,women and children in another. It is a living,moving landscape,where the characters are not just dressed in a uniform. They are real,and it became the shot everyone remembers.
If you want to see a classic which is a little easier to handle,watch High Noon,about a lawman and his newly married wife and the bad men who are coming to get him. He has an hour to figure out what he should do: should he light out of town with his missus,or should he stay back,and fight like a man?
Its shot nearly in real time,that is,the film builds up to that crucial hour and then keeps showing us the clock hand,cutting between the villains at the railway station waiting for the bad guy to show up,the whore-with-a-golden-heart,the conflicted wife,and the townspeople,some of whom are with the lawman,and some not.
One of the tightest,and best westerns ever made. A film I would unhesitatingly recommend to a beginner,because theres no confusion. The good guys are good,and the bad guys are evil,and they get theirs.