Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Peckinpah – who had scripted Marlon Brando’s take on Billy the Kid, One Eyed Jacks, right at the start of his career, took his cue from John Ford. He knew the West was spent. But no one, not even Ford in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, composed such a beautiful, aching, anguished lament as this. Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn perform the funeral rites, but the real drama is in the New Mexico sunsets, Bob Dylan’s haunting dirges, and Slim Pickens expiring in the arms of Katy Jurado. This entire movie is one long death scene. Peckinpah appears as an undertaker, for chrissakes, and announces his intention to “leave the territory.” There’s some controversy about how much of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door Peckinpah meant to include (not the vocal, apparently). But if that’s true, he was wrong. The sequence stands as the most poignant he ever filmed.
Peckinpah’s secret is this: yes, he was brutal, cynical, hateful towards women and disgusted by men, but in every instance the reverse is also the case. Only a true romantic has so much pain inside. Publicly, Peckinpah aligned himself exclusively with the outlaws, the renegades and mavericks, but he knew that he was as much Pat Garrett as Billy the Kid – they’re the same man, really, conflicted and self-loathing.
Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) is also featured in our Ragged Glory: Summer in the 70s series.
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a towering, unfinished masterpiece and one of the saddest movies I have ever seen. A compromised work about how compromise eats the soul, it has a boozy, slouchy grandeur that troubles your dreams for weeks after the closing credits roll. This is Peckinpah’s final word on a genre he helped to define, and what a hopeless, despairing word that is. It’s the greatest movie you almost never got a chance to see.
Definitely the most interesting film of its time… It is a dark but intensely romantic vision. If for nothing else, Peckinpah admires his heroes for their staunch individualism in the face of a world that is changing for the worse, eroding under the blindly ruthless power of money. This overriding sense of poetic despair achieved its fullest expression in the early ’70s with Peckinpah’s two greatest and bleakest films: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974).
Maximillian Le Cain, Senses of Cinema
July 26 Only: Introduction from screenwriter and filmmaker Ana Valine
Roger Spottiswoode, Garth Craven, Robert L. Wolfe, Richard Halsey, David Berlatsky, Tony de Zarraga