Tough Guy Cinema ventures into new territory this month as director Sam Peckinpah’s most celebrated masterpiece blasts its way across the screen in brutal 35mm and demands a deeper understanding of what it means to be a genuinely TOUGH guy.
William Holden leads a band of aging robbers through the hard world of the Old West as they try to outrun a corporate-backed bounty hunter (the legendary Robert Ryan) who is hot on their trail. The balletic violence and weary fatalism that Peckinpah brings to his vision of the American West is underscored by some of sweatiest, dirtiest, bloodiest performances from some of the the toughest, ugliest actors of all time. Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates shoot, screw, drink, and ride horses all while imbuing the film’s harsh, empty world with a sense of real poetry. This is a film about the mantle of violence passing from old professionals, who live by a code, to even more chaotic and deadly future generations. And what is the code these old men live by? Stand by your friends and against the world, take what you can get, and don’t kill civilians... unless they get in the way.
When THE WILD BUNCH exploded on movie screens in 1969 it was like a shrapnel bomb in the mailbox of middle America. People were appalled but drawn to the rampant bloody carnage strewn in the wake of these old men on horses. Today its violence, though still disturbing, has lost its sensationalism but the depletion of its shock value has made room for a deeper appreciation of its rich characterizations, textured detail, and thematic complexity.
The movie’s scathing vision of the American frontier slowly strangling to death in the grip of big business, corrupt politicians, and their hired henchmen is more relevant than ever. Peckinpah injects his own spiritual crisis and personal despair into a larger mythological framework that speaks directly to the garbage-strewn, money-hungry warzone of desperation that is the modern world. Peckinpah weaves an incredibly intricate thematic web, stitched with ironies, psychological dichotomies, and troubling truths .The theme, as Paul Seydor has succinctly and perceptively written, is: “What does it profit a man to gain the world if he loses his soul?”
“The Wild Bunch is a powerful film because it comes from the gut of America, and from a man who is trying to get America out of his gut,” says director Paul Schrader. “The trauma of expatriatism is a common theme in American art, but nowhere is the pain quite so evident as in the life of Sam Peckinpah. The Wild Bunch is the agony of a Westerner who stayed too long, and it is the agony of America.” That’s some tuff stuff.
March 23rd and 24th at Ritz! Get your tickets here.