The self-loathing underworld god-king of masculine genre angst, and the world’s first genuine action craftsman, Sam Peckinpah made movies that bark at the desert sun, and today, buried beneath 20 years of violent film action as car commercial, he is a forgotten giant, his four best films stained and bloodied with desperate self-knowledge. The BAM series offers up Sam’s top 11 features, except the newly restored Major Dundee (1965). Ride the High Country (1962), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), and The Getaway (1972) rate as fascinating also-rans, while Cross of Iron (1977) and The Osterman Weekend (1983) are soused disasters. Things begin boiling with, of course, The Wild Bunch (1969), a protean chop shop that redefined the West as a butcher’s desk, where men with long lives still translate to meat. Such is the graceless heart of Straw Dogs (1971) as well; commonly misread as a brute endorsement of jungle law, it instead bristles at its own obvious revenge scenario, carefully documenting the sheer ugliness of impromptu bloodshed. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) might be Peckinpah’s masterpiece, depending on how you respond to its meta-Leone pathos, lyricism, and historical irony, but salaams should also be made to the derided Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), perhaps the ultimate borderland noir and, with Warren Oates searching for salvation with a severed head in a sack, a rough-hewn black box of metaphors and existential funk you can never finish unpacking.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 18, 2006