Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, 1974)
By Joshua Cornelius
Recently Alexandra and I had to the opportunity to see Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. The film starts as a rollicking children’s story featuring perhaps the best use of 3-D the world has ever laid eyes on. By films end, Hugo subtly converts into a love-letter to early era silent cinema and a meditation on the power of the filmed image. While we both enjoyed the film immensely, we agreed that children would probably find the film quite boring. The film just takes too long to get going, and by the end, most of the character building groundwork from the earlier portions of the film are fairly inconsequential. We discussed the film at length, equating the film to the kind of leisurely stroll a veteran of cinema is apt to take after a long successful career. “Had Scorsese set out to make a children’s film and wound up making a film for grown children by accident?”, “Did he just make the film for himself, to appease his own tastes and interests?” and finally “Hasn’t Scorsese earned the right to do that by now?”
That very same argument could be broached while discussing what may be the darkest topic The Film League has ever covered, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia – a film that director Sam Peckinpah claims is the only one of his films that was released as he’d intended it to be. The result is one of cinemas most divisive pieces of work, hailed as a masterpiece by Roger Ebert and dismissed altogether by others. The film is a tapestry of themes found in other Peckinpah films. His predilection towards nihilism, misogyny and violence all rear their ugly heads, coupled by an unapologetic performance from Warren Oates who seems at times to be more than aping the demeanor of the confrontational director himself.
We selected Garcia from the Peckinpah catalog because of the filmmaker’s claims that it was his only untarnished cinematic vision. The early days of film saw a great many Hemingway inspired, man’s man, blowhard directors and Peckinpah may have been the last in that great line of hollow men. A great actor in his own story, fighting the light of day with a flask and a syringe, his cult of personality being almost certainly larger than any of his films. Like many of his contemporaries, Peckinpah’s gruff demeanor harbored a fragile ego, and a distorted sense of self that might never have been mended. What is left of the man is his work, which is as much as we need to understand his own view on the world.
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