Peckinpah’s existence is a mysterious one: how did he come to make films? Is he considered a laughing stock, or an embarrassment? I’m inclined to guess the latter, since many of his films are large period-pieces, obviously expensive to produce. So far I haven’t seen anything from Peckinpah that can be considered entertaining. His films have their place in history, certainly, but it is a entirely academic, and not altogether meritable. He was an undeniable innovator of the craft: key elements of his style have been adopted as standard in Hollywood action-suspense-thrillers (and television!) of the past 20 years. This will be seen as a good thing by fans, and maybe for these fans Peckinpah will entertain, but it is my opinion that Peckinpah and all those who imitate his style, are the jocks of the film world. Peckinpah is particularly crude, and, I’m fairly certain, stupid. Despite the banal, utterly insipid movement he spawned, the worst of these film-jocks has a producer to, presumably, keep him from embarrassing himself and the studio. THE WILD BUNCH was released by Warner Bros, and in it Peckinpah gives us a moronic, brutish view of the world that the worst of his imitators can not begin to rival. Where, I ask, was the producer on this film? It was shot on location -- a prudent necessity taken by Peckinpah to get away from the studio’s watchful eye? Was there no-one around with enough aesthetic sense to realize that they were participating in a travesty?
I need to calm down. In THE WILD BUNCH, Sam Peckinpah uses long, lingering shots underscored by mournful, diagetic Mariachi music to show us his gang of brutal bandits. They are filmed with an obvious poetic vision glamorizing simplicity, indicating that Peckinpah is actually idealizing his characters, as though they were “real men;” and it is an unsophisticated vision that would fall flat even if its subjects were not idiots. His characters are completely unsubtle, unoriginal, absent of any interesting qualities. The one potentially meaningful was Robert Ryan’s “Deke Thornton,” the ex-gang member stalking behind “Pike” (William Holden’s) hardened gang with his own crew of gutter-rats. As he is virtually ignored for the entire film, the character remaining unexplored and only half-developed by the end, I can only assume that the potential for interest in Deke Thornton is entirely accidental, or was the actor’s attempt to take the character somewhere interesting, half-baked because of the director’s lack of involvement.
The single aspect of this film that I can see to justify its existence is Peckinpah’s method of filming action, which owes a lot to comic books: cutting quickly between point-of-view and wide-shots, action is shown sequentially, in the manner of comics, to present us with the character’s perspective and give the viewer a sense of “happening.”
Himself devoid of any sense of cool, hipness or style, his characters and their actors reflect this: they are thoughtless brutes, played blandly by boring-looking men, neither ugly nor attractive. Despite this, they are still filmed with a technique that has become (since Tarantino’s films of the ’90s, particularly RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)), the stereotypical technique to portray “cool.” Rather than take this as a sign that he was a stylistic innovator, it is my opinion that the “film jock” mentioned above takes from a collective aesthetic; that it was only a matter of time before they infiltrated cinema, which used to be a classy business; and that if it hadn’t been Peckinpah, it would have been someone else.