SAM PECKINPAH’S BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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This is a tough, unrelentingly nasty film – no wimps allowed. From many accounts that I’ve read, Sam Peckinpah was battling alcohol addiction during production of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, so as a result, the rough and boozy quality that the film possesses feels all the more authentic and bracing. Warren Oats delivered a staggering performance of ugliness, instability, and wasted melancholy. As usual for Sam the Man, gritty violence is in abundance, with his fascination for rape and sexual violence still very much intact and on sad, brutal display. He was a complicated man who made troubling films, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is easily his bleakest, most nihilistic effort, even more so than Straw Dogs, chiefly because there’s ZERO chance for reflection by the time Alfredo Garcia’s narrative has come to a close. I’m a Student of Sam, and having seen nearly all of his films, I can easily state that this one is likely my favorite. I’m not sure what that might say about me, but there’s something so unique about Alfredo Garcia which allows it to stand out from the pack.

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And given that Peckinpah’s filmography is peppered with underrated gems and seminal classics, it can be a daunting task to try and single out one as your “favorite.” There’s a tragic sense of desperation that hangs all over this sadistic film, with Oates conveying an inherent disheveled sloppiness that worked in perfect tandem with the raggedy, exploitation-y filmmaking that still reached the typically operatic heights of Peckinpah’s ultra-violent, revisionist Westerns and thrillers. Oates is playing such an un-remorseful character that it becomes easy to notice the seething rage that accompanies much of the narrative, from the open contempt for women, to the shockingly direct use of violent force that everyone seems capable of delivering throughout the course of this sordid story. And when coupled with an ending that is beyond any sense of hope and which plunges straight into a hellish abyss of death, Alfredo Garcia will likely feel too morally, ethically, and spiritually repugnant for many viewers. The action centers on a crime boss who tortures his pregnant teenage daughter in an effort to find out who has knocked her up. Once the boss, known simply as El Jefe, determines that it was his underling and possible successor who has impregnated his daughter, El Jefe offers a $1 million bounty to whoever can “bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia.”

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Oates plays a habitually cocked and extra-skeevy piano player and broken-down bar manager in Mexico City named Bennie, and after hearing about the potential reward, he goes looking for Alfredo Garcia. Upon learning that Alfredo has died in a car accident a few weeks prior, he sets off to find the body and remove the head so that he can get paid. Along the way there are double crosses, multiple murders, and all sorts of depraved acts of psychological violence, all carried out with a matter of fact bluntness that really pushes this movie into a very different category. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia feels like the sort of film that could never get remade, even in the independent landscape (despite repeated attempts), because it feels so singular and so much a product of inner artistic turmoil that came from a clearly personal place. As you might expect, at the time of its release, the film was a critical and commercial failure, but over the years, it has gained a rightful cult reputation as a movie that pushes buttons to the extreme.

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