From Apathy to Vengeance: Sam Peckinpah’s BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA

Sam Peckinpah would have been ninety-six years old recently. For a guy whose legacy is nearly pushing 100, Peckinpah surely left his mark on cinema. He capitalized on telling the story of the forgotten man, or more specifically the man that time left behind. He often focused on the escapism to Mexico; the freedom of it. No laws, but more importantly it did not require the confinement and limitations of the society that lay just above of the border. More importantly, Peckinpah’s cinematic hallmark was nihilism wrapped in angst. 

With BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, it starts off so mean, so angry. A Mexican gangster has one of his thugs break the arm of his pregnant daughter so she’ll tell him who the father is. When she screams in agony that it is Alfredo Garcia, what ensues is a strange odyssey that is propelled forward with a brilliant Warren Oates as a drunk piano man who lives in Mexico and his street walking girlfriend (magnificently played by Isela Vega) who are seeking Alfredo Garcia for a $10,000 reward. Along their antiheroes journey, they encounter bikers, two gay hitmen, and a host of other surreal obstacles – all so Oates can “start over”. 

The overall character arc of Warren Oates’ Bennie is the traditional ronin narrative coupled with placing an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation.  Of course Bennie is a rube, and Alfredo Garcia’s head is worth $1,000,000 and not just $10,000 – hence his revolving encounter with two presumably gay hitmen played by Robert Webber and Gig Young. The subtext of their relationship just accentuates the oddity that is the film.

Then along comes Kris Kristofferson, at the height of his musical star power, as a would-be rapist, who has his partner hold Oates at gunpoint, so he can take Vega off into the tall grass to rape her, all the while playing the part with a bashful vulnerability. The same sort of somber vulnerability that started the scene; Oates and Vega having a picnic, realizing that their plan to find Garcia’s head and run off with $10,000 is a noble, but ultimately futile plan. They both know the reality of their dead-end lives and share a beautiful moment together that is as bittersweet as tender where they silently acknowledge the reality of everything, together. Of course, Oates saves the day, shoots down Kristofferson and his partner, and he and Vega get back on the road to nowhere, seeking the head of Alfredo Garcia. 

  • BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA
  • 1974
  • dir. Sam Peckinpah
  • feat. Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Emilio Fernandez, and Kris Kristofferson.
  • ed. Arrow Video

The picture absolutely takes a tonal shift after Oates finds Alfredo’s grave, digs him up, and takes his head. As soon as that happens, the journey takes an absolute nose dive. Oates, who started out as this apathetic and fashionably tacky sap, then becomes a steamroller that is fueled by anger and sorrow. He has nothing left to lose, and lets go of any fear that weighed him down prior, he carries Alfredo Garcia’s head in a burlap sack filled with dry ice, and kills anything that stands in his way. 

What started as what Bennie thought was a fast money job, evolves into a kinship between Bennie and Alfredo’s head. From the start Bennie knew that Alfredo had a relationship with his girlfriend. Whether he was a paying customer or not is a moot point, because Vega feels an absolutely fondness for Alfredo Garcia, which causes Bennie’s jealousy to erode to feeling a deep connection to Alfredo Garcia. Before the carnage of the third act begins, all that Bennie has left is Al’s head, and he is damn sure going to find out why all these people died just for Al’s head. 

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA showcases the best of 70s film. It was headlined by an unconventional leading man, conveyed society’s angst of 70s America, while also embracing the previous generations passing into society’s memory. The film is hard and mean, much like life, it isn’t fair and sometimes a shit hand gets dealt, but at the same time is beautiful and Peckinpah is here to say, ain’t life grand? 

Episode 28: JONATHAN GLAZER’S SEXY BEAST

Ep28

We get back to our roots with a REGULAR episode dedicated to a single film with two top fives.  This time we talk about Jonathan Glazer’s SEXY BEAST and top five Ben Kingsley performances and top five English gangster films.  We plan on doing more of these regular podcasts in the future, hope you guys enjoy!

JOHN IRVIN’S THE DOGS OF WAR — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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John Irvin’s take-no-shit war drama The Dogs of War is the sort of action picture rarely made these days — unsentimental, lean, and thoroughly engrossing (David Ayer’s underrated Fury feels cut from the same cloth, as do portions of Antoine Fuqua’s compromised Tears of the Sun). Gritty, violent, masculine, and shot with rugged panache by director of photography Jack Cardiff, this 1980 mercenary adventure has received the Blu-ray treatment from the fine folks at Twilight Time DVD Label and if you’re a fan of unpretentious, straight ahead war films, then check this one out. Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger deliver intense and extremely effective performances, with a surly and gruff supporting cast which included Colin Blakely, Hugh Millais, and Ed O’neil. Irvin would later direct the outstanding Vietnam film Hamburger Hill, 80’s classic Raw Deal, and the underrated Michael Caine thriller Shiner. According to the internet, Michael Cimino did a re-write on Gary DeVore and George Malko’s terse and disciplined script. The opening action sequence, which plunges the viewer into the middle a full scale Central American war-zone, is outstanding, especially for the days of zero CGI, with all sorts of for-real pyrotechnics and incredible stunt-work. The final act is essentially a battle, with some ridiculous fire-power on display. Geoffrey Burgon’s pulse-pounding score was more than up to the task. This is one of those excellent films that may have snuck through the cracks that’s totally worth re-discovering.

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