Head Hunter: Peckinpah’s Anarchic Nixon-Era Neo-Noir


The underworld demon king of masculine genre angst and the world’s first genuine action craftsman, Sam Peckinpah was also a quintessentially American artist, contemplating the dusty edges of frontier and social responsibility with a self-crucifying rumbum’s bloody gaze. Given his feral pessimism, rampant misogyny, and acceptance of bloodshed as a narrative imperative, Sam was a backyard liquor too strong for most people to drink, and his proper ascension to the auteurist pantheon’s high shelves may take a few more years. In the meantime, as a restored Major Dundee readies for re-release (at Film Forum April 8), the DVD of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) emerges.

Loathed upon its first appearance as a violent, hope-deprived neo-noir that even the Nixon era couldn’t handle, Garcia was reportedly the only Peckinpah film the man was happy to call his own. It remains today, in addition to a dirge in reverence to Warren Oates, a graceless, dire vision of cheap humanity, trailing Oates’s waste-case roadhouse piano player across a Mexican wilderness in search of reward, salvation, and a severed head in a sack. Desultorily shot, full of dead ends, and as lean as a Beckett monologue, the movie is also coarse and anarchic, a capitalist dream of free-for-all commerce gone scrap crazy. Was Peckinpah thinking about Hollywood? He was virtually through with movies, whether he knew it or not, making four more over the next 10 years, all of which were either wrecked by the producers or Peckinpah’s death-drinking, or both. The disc, priced to rock at under 15 bucks, is supplemented by the U.S. trailer and audio commentaries by a gaggle of Peckinpah scholars.