12 August 2006

99. the wild bunch

so, the wild bunch. i like this movie. it revolves around a theme that i like a lot in movies, and one that i find myself returning to very often in my own screenwriting: the nature of violence. violence is fucking powerful in film, and if done well it can be profound. one recent example was in "brokeback mountain", several scenes showing how ennis' repressed homosexuality exploded into him either beating bikers up at the fourth of july fireworks, or fighting a man in truck who happened to almost run him over. but in this movie, we see the passing of that violence on, from a wild, out-of-control sense of violence used by the older generation, to a more impersonal and casual use of violence by the younger generation, either through technology or gameplay.

the best example of this is in the magnificent opening sequence, where the wild bunch rides into town as officers to rob a bank, and before and after the actual heist we see a circle of kids placing a scorpion in the middle of a teeming collection of fire ants, who envelope and kill the scorpion. then, as the old robbers ride away, we see a very quick shot of children miming shooting at them.

the second example is when the wild bunch return to the mexican village to find their old comrade strung up, drug around the town square behind a car. to these men, the worst thing you could do is kill by proxy; at least have the decency to shoot someone yourself.

finally, there's a quick shot in the mexican village of a woman breast-feeding her baby with a bandolier of bullets covering the other side of her chest! peckinpah isn't the most subtle of moviemakers in the world, and this is an example.

oh, and did i mention that pike is finally shot and killed by a kid?

so i believe the theme of the movie is the increasingly casual nature of violence and how it is being passed to the younger generation, but the movie also is filled with an atmosphere and stench of death and a passing way of life. it wasn't set in 1913 for no reason -- peckinpah wanted to show the last gasp of the wild west as we think of it, and to show a dying way of life, the kind that is expressed in pike's quote: "we gotta start thinking beyond our guns...those days are closing fast."

this makes sense for peckinpah, who i imagine thought of himself as old-school, old-fashioned, out-of-date, past his prime. he made his movie in the swinging 60's, full of hippies and hair and drugs and all that, and there he was, an anachronistic old drunk. i believe this movie is his elegy for men, who are professionals, who take care of business, who fuck prostitutes, who use guns. no free love, no hippie bullshit. and i think peckinpah used genre to take on his own feelings about society at that point in time, and how he didn't care for what he saw. as pike says: "it ain't what it used to be, but it will do."

that said, i'm curious about why this movie was included in this list. it is well-written, to be sure, but in my mind the greater strengths of the movie lie in the photography, the direction, the music, the acting (especially holden and borgenine), and above all, peckinpah's ability to create atmosphere, usually through editing.