Archive for Sam Peckinpah

Highway Patrolman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2022 by dcairns

The thing about ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE — the only film directed (and scored) by James William Guercio — or one thing about it, anyway, is that every shot is a hero shot. Conrad Hall photographed it in Monument Valley so that’s unsurprising. I don’t understand why, even if Guercio wasn’t snapped up as a useful talent at the time, he wasn’t snapped up later by Jerry Bruckheimer, whose signature style (we can certainly call Bruckheimer an auteur of the particular kind of thing he makes) seems anticipated by the aggressively photogenic, operatic and at times homoerotic splendour on show here.

But the cutting, acting, music and script are also impressive. The writing is hard to explain — Rupert Hitzig hasn’t written anything else, either, and Robert Boris doesn’t seem to have written anything GOOD. Maybe he has.

Robert Blake is pretty terrific — his natural, ah, ebullience, constrained by playing a really admirable man — Johnny Wintergreen seems to genuinely want the best for everyone. And he so rarely gets it. Mitchell Ryan, who just died this year, is outstanding as the alpha male cop with a core of decay, and there’s a full-on turn by Elisha Cook Jr.

The movie’s weirdly positioned between copoganda and anti-authoritarian. The hippies are as passive as Eloi, except when they’re murderous drug-dealing Manson types. It’s a much, much better film than EASY RIDER. Guercio’s showing-off is always APPROPRIATE.

Oh, and yes, the cutting. In the spectacular chase scene — slightly gratuitous, but the film’s meandering, seemingly picaresque structure disguises a tightness (screenwriters need to learn to DISGUISE their structures) — much admired by Edgar Wright — the first spill (all the stunts look properly SORE) is just getting started — motorcycle hits car and biker flies over the hood in sudden slomo — and then we cut away to a reaction shot at normal speed…. Hold on it a hair TOO LONG — convincing the viewer that s/he’s not going to get to see the body hit asphalt, because it must have done so already — and then we cut back and we SEE IT.

It’s breathtaking, and though the alternating speed is Kurosawa via Peckinpah, the specific timing of it is unique. One of the three cutters was Gerald B. Greenberg whose list of credits will astound you. John F. Link’s are good too. But for all I know, this sequence was cut by the other guy, who directed some episode of Quincy..

Shadowplay Goes West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 1, 2021 by dcairns

Two more video essays —

For Arrow, I wrote and narrated and Stephen C. Horne edited a piece for the MAJOR DUNDEE restoration, entitled inevitably I suppose MOBY DICK ON HORSEBACK. If R.G. Armstrong’s famous phrase causes you to picture a top-heavy, untenable situation on the brink of collapse, that would not be entirely inappropriate. MAJOR DUNDEE is major Peckinpah but universally acknowledged to be flawed. But Peckinpah’s flaws are always interesting.

The main thing I wanted to avoid with this piece is weighing in too heavily on whether Peckinpah’s vision of the film would have resulted in a triumph had he been allowed to finish it the way he planned. I always get a bad feeling when anyone pretends to know whether footage none of us have seen would transform a film. It’s legitimate to ask whether perhaps the Indian raid intended to open the film was poorly filmed owing to time pressures, but unless you have awfully compelling witnesses — and even then — I don’t think you can draw any conclusions for sure.

My other western vid essay is on JOHNNY GUITAR, as contrasting a subject as you could hope for. Chase Barthel is editing this one. I was in the process of planning this one when I woke up one morning from uneasy dreams, mulling over how I was going to make Plasticine models of the characters. As I slowly woke up fully, I realised this would be madness.

A little while later, I decided to do it.

Well, Truffaut calls JOHNNY GUITAR “a dreamed western.” This will be in part a dreamed video essay.

Here comes the cavalry

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 28, 2021 by dcairns

Stephen C. Horne and I collaborated on a video essay for Neil Snowden’s production of Arrow’s release of MAJOR DUNDEE. A fun job! Farran Nehme has contributed a booklet essay which I can’t wait to read, and Glenn Erickson is on commentary duty.

Went into it absolutely sure I was going to tell Charlton Heston’s story of being provoked to the point where he murderously charged Peckinpah on horseback, but then figured it was going to be covered everywhere else. So I found other things. The hardest part was adjusting back to the twenty-minute form after making a feature-length piece for WEIRD WISCONSIN: THE BILL REBANE COLLECTION. But it’s impossible not to have some fun in the mad world of Peckinpah: vicarious insanity.