a film festival in the mid-seventies, Sam Peckinpah was once questioned about
how the studios regularly bastardised his vision, his intension and more
specifically, if he would ever be able to make a ''pure Peckinpah'' picture. He
replied, '’I did 'Alfredo Garcia' and I did it exactly the way I wanted to.
Good or bad, like it or not, that was my film.''
narrative for Alfredo Garcia is neither complicated nor convoluted. Warren
Oates plays Bennie, a simple pianist residing in a squalid barroom in Mexico.
He is approached by two no-nonsense Americans (Robert Webber and Gig Young) who
are attempting to track down Alfredo Garcia. The womanising Garcia is the man
responsible for the pregnancy of Theresa (Janine Maldonado) the teenage
daughter of a powerful Mexican boss El Jefe (Emilio Fernández). In a display of
power, El Jefe offers $1,000,000 for the delivery of Garcia’s head. Bennie is
unaware of the true bounty, but fully aware that his girlfriend, local prostitute
Elita (Isela Vega) was once involved with Garcia. More importantly, Bennie also
knows that Garcia is in fact, already dead. Bennie recognises this as a way
out, a one off payday opportunity and convinces Elita to take him to Garcia’s
burial place. His plan is to dig up the body, cut off the head and collect on
his fee, an agreed $10,000. Elita shows some hesitancy, and before long the
heavy drinking, paranoiac aspects of Bennie begin to suspect that Elita still
carries feelings for the dead Garcia. After an arduous and testing car journey
they both finally reach their destination, a place where their plans will take
a devastating and unsuspecting twist.
has delivered a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative. The
overall image is beautifully presented and a great deal cleaner than previously
seen. Dirt, debris and all other manner of light wear have now been removed. As
Arrow points out, there are some minor instances of density fluctuation and
photochemical damage, but these really are not distracting. I noticed slight
fluctuations during the torture of Theresa, but this is arguably due to the
condition of the original film elements and to be expected. More importantly it
does not distract from the overall presentation of the film. One could even
suggest that such minor defects are perfectly suited and in line with the
gritty, sweat soaked ambience that Peckinpah arguably sought to present. The 4K
scan has been fully justified and as a result the level of detail has been
greatly improved without ever compromising or hampering the genuine celluloid
look – an element so essential to a movie such as Alfredo Garcia. Colours retain
a realistic and natural quality, almost dry and dusty as opposed to a sun
drenched and over cooked. Thankfully, Arrow has also resisted the temptation to
beef up the audio, so don’t go looking for a falsely created 5.1 mix. Alfredo Garcia was recorded in mono, so purists
will be delighted with the original 1.0 mono mix transferred from the original
35mm single stripe magnetic track. The audio elements are also clean, dynamic and
hold a consistent level of clarity throughout.
Peckinpah on the set in Mexico.
the extras on disc one are two excellent audio commentaries. The first is a new
and exclusively recorded commentary by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema:
Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies. Prince’s narration looks
closely at Peckinpah’s philosophy and theory. It’s a commentary that also
examines the characters to some depth. It also encourages you to think and ask
questions. There are also more generalised observations from Prince involving
the story, in particular the scene with the two bikers (played by Kris Kristofferson
and Donnie Fritts). It’s a scene which has always bothered me, and serves no real
importance to the story. So it was pleasing to hear that Prince agrees, and
that it provides very little - other than slowing down the pace and the
narrative. I don’t mind either film philosophy or debate, but I occasionally
believe it sometimes has a tendency to overstretch or lose itself in some strange
form of self-consumption. Nevertheless, Prince’s commentary does keep your
attention throughout and provides plenty of food for thought.
second audio commentary is moderated by film historian Nick Redman and features
Sam Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. This
commentary first appeared on the Twilight Time Encore Edition Blu-ray and works
extremely well. The advantage of course, is that it provides various different
perspectives and viewpoints. For instance, on this occasion, the same Kristofferson
and Fritts biker scene results in a clear difference of opinion. We, the viewer
are offered a perfectly logical and justified reasoning for this scene, in that
Bennie is provided with the opportunity ‘walk the walk’ rather than just ‘talk
the talk’. The implication of the scene, along with a contrasting perspective
of its inclusion, suddenly offers something new to digest and signifies perhaps
a different level to Bennie’s character. Seydor, Simmons and Weddle are not
afraid of arguing their opinions, but also retain a clear respect for each
other’s knowledge and understanding. It’s a perfect ensemble of experts, each
of whom is clearly on top of their subject.
Peckinpah: Man of Iron is Paul Joyce’s feature-length (93minutes) 1993
documentary featuring interviews with James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Monte
Hellman, Ali MacGraw, Jason Robards and many others. Its inclusion on Arrow’s
special edition marks the first time it is available on home video in the UK.
The documentary was released prior on Criterion’s Straw Dogs (1971) DVD release
but omitted some film clips due to copyright and reduced the running time by
some 10 minutes. Man of Iron is a very personal and enjoyable reflection of the
man and told by the people that knew him best. It is a brutally honest account
which shows Peckinpah, not only for his craftsmanship, but also for his flaws,
for which there were many. As gifted as Peckinpah was, there are also accounts
of his cruelty, manipulation and his complexity. His demise into alcohol and
later his cocaine use is arguably pitiful and reflected to some degree in his
later films. Regardless of this, he remained loved by his friends, many of
which returned to work with him over and over again. Whilst Man of Iron
celebrates the man and his work, it never attempts to paper over the cracks or
his personal frailties. It provides a well-balanced account and as a result,
makes for fascinating viewing.
up is The John Player Lecture: Sam Peckinpah, an audio only recording of the
director’s on-stage appearance at the National Film Theatre in London (47 minutes).
Whilst there is no indication, this recording possibly dates from around 1971.
Peckinpah does make a reference to his next film to be released, The Ballad of
Cable Hogue (1970) and because he is in the UK at this time may be an
indication that he was in pre-production stages for his next film Straw Dogs
(1971) which was shot in Cornwall. Peckinpah does sound a little uncomfortable in
front of an audience and not entirely at ease. There is almost a sense of
comfort knowing that his friend Warren Oates is sitting among the audience and
on several occasions Peckinpah tries to draw him actively into the
conversation. When questioned about certain aspects of his work, Peckinpah does
at times seem a little reluctant to answer and the sighs picked up by his
microphone appear to back this up. However, Peckinpah does reveal a great deal
of insightful information, as well as taking the opportunity in criticising the
film establishment, such as the censors and producers and in the way they have
handled his work. Historically, it is an important piece to include; my only minor
gripe is when it comes to the audience questions, which are at times close to
inaudible. As the audio interview is carried out over a still image of
Peckinpah, it might have been an idea to overlay some text in reference to the
actual audience questions. In doing so it would have made it a great deal
easier to decipher exactly what Peckinpah was referring to in his answers.
Kris Kristofferson songs, is a separate chapter which contains full versions of the 4 songs featured in the Man of Iron documentary – which is a nice touch. Rounding off the first disc is the original theatrical trailer for Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The trailer has also been beautifully cleaned up and has those vivid red titles practically bursting out from the screen.
Arrow has also provided an additional Blu-ray bonus disc as part of this special edition, and what a treat it is too. Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, The Directors Cut features an incredible collection of never-before-seen interviews with Peckinpah colleagues and contemporaries including Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn, Monte Hellman, L.Q. Jones, Alan Sharp, Katherine Haber and many more. It is basically all of the original interview material filmed for the Man of Iron documentary. This priceless material was thankfully preserved by Paul Joyce who also provides a new introduction and closing. There is also the bonus of a newly recorded interview with Peckinpah’s regularly featured actor David Warner. All of the interview footage (all 10 hours and 43 minutes of it) fell into the hands of Michael Brooke who has done a wonderful job of polishing and presenting the material over individual chapters. Brooke has intelligently edited the footage to remove clapperboards (except for the L.Q. Jones interview which became a running gag) and a few minor technical issues. To enhance each of the interviews further, Brooke has also overlaid posters and stills to fit in with relevant conversation pieces. There is also the advantage of hearing Paul Joyce’s questions (asked off camera) which help provide a cohesive, smooth continuity in context to the responses. As a result, we are provided with some nicely assembled, self-contained episodes, all of which are completely absorbing. In addition there is also the option of a new introduction to each of the interviews which are provided by Katherine Haber, arguably the woman who became closest to Peckinpah throughout the Seventies. Her extended interview from 1993 (lasting 51 minutes), is at times heart-breaking but nevertheless remains riveting. None of the interview material has to be watched in any particular order. However, the interview with Convoy (1978) producer Michael Deeley (the shortest at 10 minutes), serves as a great introduction and sets the overall tone rather nicely.
In Addition, Arrow has provided a very informative 43 page booklet, which includes a couple of in depth articles on Alfredo Garcia and an Interview with Warren Oates, both reprinted from the respected publication Film Comment magazine. Overall, it’s a pretty outstanding collection.