11 December 2010
I watched this back-to-back as a western double feature with a screener of the Coens' True Grit, and that may have colored my approach here. They certainly have a lot in common. (And full disclosure: I've seen the first half of this several times, but this was the first time that circumstances have allowed me to view the film in its entirety.) Of course the big deal about this film is its depiction of violence as visceral and gruesome, and impactful on the world of the story, not just there to titillate or excite you. Children fill the edges of almost every fight scene, witnessing, sometimes in shock, sometimes in joy and awe. Innocents are mowed down by the law enforcement men (the railroad agents and their hired guns; the junta military) and only mourned by the titular band of robbers, who seem to understand a tacit "soldiers-vs-civilians" attitude toward killing that nobody else does -- though even that is thrown out the window more than once in the story, as violence has a tendency to spread like wildfire and rarely ends well.
There's also of course the same bleak tone at the ending as True Grit, though here much more pronounced and poignant: nearly everyone we are led to care about dies at the end of the film in what is sort of like a hero's massacre and also sort of like a poorly thought out, hollowly pyrrhic victory.
...I'm going to be honest with you here. I wrote a lot more about the bleak ending. Then I wrote a whole long thing about the constant raucous laughter throughout, about how they "party hard," comparing the Wild Bunch gang to vikings and conquistadors. I commented about how they are always laughing at someone else's (one of their own's) misfortune or humiliation. I said all sorts of clever things about how the other characters in the story lacked the moral core that our anti-heroes had. But Safari logged me out of blogspot without warning me, and when I went to hit "post," it was all lost. No amount of hitting "back" resurrected all my work, and I don't feel like doing it all again. (What you're looking at here is the last draft before it fucked me. Thanks, Safari.)
And then I ended with the following, which I had saved in my copy/paste clipboard:
It's a little overlong and meanders in the middle, and it hits a lot of the same notes repeatedly -- which worked, but also wore on me. So while it's not my favorite Pekinpah film (maybe Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia?) or my favorite "revisionist western" (maybe McCabe & Mrs. Miller, or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, if that counts? or an Eastwood like Pale Rider, Unforgiven or Josey Wales), it's still undeniably a great film, and I'm really glad I finally saw it all the way through.