First image: wildness and freedom to contrast with the prison scenes to follow. Also: alertness.
Nowadays, when we speak of Steve McQueen’s hunger, we are most likely thinking of the conceptual artist turned filmmaker’s Bobby Sands biopic, not the look in the eyes of a movie star in a Sam Peckinpah film.
I screened the first eight minutes of THE GETAWAY to students in a class on separation of sound and image and non-literal filmmaking. The inspiration for the class, which was assigned to me, was a few lines from Robert Bresson’s Notes on Cinematography, so naturally I run to “Bloody Sam,” an artist on the far end of any spectrum you care to concoct that might have Bresson and Peckinpah on its chromatic scale.
But this sequence, which takes its time to set up in an almost wordless manner the facts and emotions concerning a bank robber in prison, does show the unique value of divorcing sound from image. The key device is to take the sound of the prison workshop — a repetitive rattle of mechanized equipment (cotton looms, if looms is the word I’m looking for) — and play it over a whole range of material of prison life. It becomes background noise, an inescapable, enervating irritation, the fact of loss of freedom captured in aural form.
Peckinpah and his editors do some great stuff with picture too, treating the shots of Ali McGraw’s portrait on the cell wall as blipverts, tiny flashes that snap past almost too fast to be acknowledged, and triggering flashback caresses — hands stroking skin or hair — which are equally fleeting. The whole montage reaches a crescendo after we see the prisoners showering, as if the assembled celluloid were thrown into a spasm of homosexual panic, all that available male flesh impossible to cancel out with a few frames of feminine company, snippets of film dropped into the flow of footage like pebbles in a stream.