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Bennie's quest is stripped to its core so that the brutality of the film is expressive of Bernie himself. There is not a violent film with more validity for its actions than this one, it is the maddening human mind which causes deaths here. Peckinpah shows us everything that is important in this man's life and then shows us what a man is capable of doing once all that is taken away. The difference between this film and other similar films is perhaps that the movie has such humble beginnings. We build ourselves inside of Bennie. When we first meet him he is casually and happily playing the piano, quietly dreaming of settling into a different kind of love. We share a quiet picnic with him, witness his wedding proposal.
Perhaps also there has never been a chaotic killing spree that has seemed this environmental. While usually the hero goes on a rampage in a way that is appropriately heroic itself, Bennie is no hero. He is a man forced into a situation by the world around him, as it seems he is always forced into situations. Since he is never the man he wants to be it seems natural that he would become the kind of man that is the amalgamation of love and hate.
All the emotion a movie in this genre could handle.
This was the one film where director Sam Peckinpah felt he had the most control, the one where we apparently get his own cut and not some chopped up piece of work from interfering executives. Viewing it now some 34 years after its release, it stands up well as a testament to the work of a great director. On the surface it looks trashy, we have homosexual hit men, grave robbing, potential rape, murders abound, prostitution, lower than the low characters, in short the film is awash with Peckinpah traits. Yet it would be a disservice to even think this film isn't rich in thematic texture, for the journey that Bennie, our main protagonist takes is one of meaning, he is a loser, but we find him on this quest to find not only fortune, but respect and love. It's a bloody trail for sure, but it has much depth and no little Peckinpah humour to push the film to it's bloody yet triumphant finale. Warren Oates is rewarded by Peckinpah for years of sterling work for him by getting the lead role of Bennie, and he grasps it with both hands to turn in a wonderful performance that splits sadness and vibrancy with deft of ease.
Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia has a harsh quality about it, be it the violence, or be it the sadness of the characters, but what isn't in doubt to me is that it's harshness is cloaked in Peckinpah splendour. 9/10
I first saw Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia here in Manhattan on the day it opened so many years ago. After the reviews came out, the studio immediately pulled the prints from the theaters and cut the most CRUCIAL scene in the film.
The original release contained a scene wherein upon discovering his lover dead, the Warren Oates character makes love to her corpse. He does so tenderly, and with deep regret. Then he buries her along with Garcia's remains in the grave he's just desecrated.
It is in this moment that he slips into madness. If you watch the film again, note the transition from the "pre-grave" character and the "post-grave" one. (Also note the somewhat disjointed transition from his holding his dead lover in his arms, to his leaving the graveyard.) I'm sure you could view his character change as simply being a reaction to her death. But if you imagine the missing footage, his impending lunacy has greater depth, and makes more sense. It also gives the film a different resonance than his other films that employ a machismo/revenge motif.
It's always driven me crazy (so to speak <G>) that this most important scene was taken out of the film, denying the audience a true understanding of the Oates character in the last third of the film.
I eagerly await a DVD release that restores this footage. I hope it hasn't been lost forever.
Warren Oates was taking Sam's journey for him, as Sam looked from behind the lens. This movie was Peckinpah at his best and his worst at the same time. The old Peckinpah themes are there; Mexico is the final frontier, where one can continue to be what he once was in a changing world, but eventually Mexico begins to change as well. As I said in my review of "Junior Bonner" (be sure to check it out, and get back to me)progress is the main antagonist in the lives of Peckinpah's characters.
Junior Bonner and Bennie (Oates' Character) have a common foe, the twentieth century, which is why we find Bennie in Mexico. The chance to improve his situation, and establish a solid relationship with his hooker girlfriend (played with tough sincerity by Isela Vega) arrives at a time in Bennie's life when he least expects it, but it's not as easy as it is set out to be. All he has to do is bring this head to "El Hefe", and at the last minute BAM!! Bennie grows a conscience. Along the way he loses his woman, and then just goes nuts, thus revealing "The Diseased Soul of Sam Peckinpah".
My favorite scene is actually the picnic, where Elita and Bennie discuss their future. Elita begs Bennie to ask her to marry her, he does and she begins to weep. The simple fact that he says it is a tender moment, and shows how the slightest thing can arouse a woman's emotions. Jerry Fielding's musical score, which successfully created the mood and atmosphere for "Straw Dogs" (my all time favorite Peckinpah film) is present, but very muted. Still, this may be the best scene of the film.
Sam Peckinpah finally had complete control to dictate the direction of this film; Free from the money men, and left to his own devices in Mexico where he felt at home. A lot of people say that Pat Garret and Billy the Kid was the last Peckinpah masterpiece, but I think Alfredo Garcia was the last one. It throws you off at the beginning with the horses, then all of a sudden a Corvette screeches by; This is the paradox that really signifies that "The West" is over, bringing Sam Peckinpah and his love for the west full circle.
The critics literally hated this film, but 30 years later because of it we have a Martin Scorcese, a Robert Rodriguez, and a Quentin Tarantino (yeah) to name a few, as well as achieving underground cult status. I'm proud to call "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" one of my favorite films.
He's bounty for El Jefe, a wealthy Mexican rancher who sees a scandal in his daughter becoming "involved" with the notorious Garcia, and asks not too bluntly to bring his head, period. This leads to Bennie becoming involved, who is basically a drifter barfly who plays piano and has it in him to want a lot of money really bad. Bad enough, as it turns out, to bring along Elita (Isela Vega) along for the ride to find the grave he's been buried in after a car accident. But, as it's not too surprising to see in a Sam Peckinpah film, a form of hell breaks loose...actually, when it comes down to it, a form of purgatory. The question, as one might gather watching the film, is more directed to the soul than anything; how much is life worth? It's incalculable, is Peckinpah's thesis, I think, and it's this aspect of how life can lose its value in an instant that gives his film allegorical lift.
It's not just a question of the loss of life that brings some of the most extraordinary parts of 'Alfredo Garcia'. This was one of Peckinpah's most personal projects- the only one he had final cut on- and here and there I got the sense that it's as much a nihilistic plunge into the blackest despair in murderous revenge as it is a pulp fiction kind of take on film-making itself. Peckinpah, therefore, is appropriately mimicked through Oates (it's easier to see after watching a documentary on the director, though even without that it's pretty clear this has to be based on someone), as a desperado who at first is fine with selling himself out, as it were, but then as his trip goes darker and more violent and without a slice of hope- with the money turning to moot as the casualties pile up- the worth of a job well done, or what a job entails, comes into question. Peckinpah dealt with a lot of s*** in the movie business, and one could perhaps make parallels to the gun-toting Mexicans on his trail, or even the men who he's supposed to report to with said head, as producers or studio execs.
But without all of this in mind, even as it adds a bit of fascination to how Benny's fate unfolds, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia works on the levels that Peckinpah's work at its best does: it reveals violence and murder as the most unglamorous, frighteningly quick and graphically empty thing known to man. And while Peckinpah isn't quite as successful as in the Wild Bunch of corralling a perfect array of the devastating effects of shoot-em-ups in his brand of subversion, he comes close to that same level of ironic exhilaration with Bennie's path.
He even does his best to fit in a depressing love story between Benny and Elita, as they can't leave one another but all the same Elita just can't understand why he needs to get that head. It doesn't help matters that she almost gets raped- in a one-of-a-kind scene involving Kris Kristofferson in a role unlike any other I've seen him in- and is ready to call off their engagement...until there's the incident at Garcia's grave. From there on in, love is no longer the issue but- getting back to the 'soul' theme Peckipah's after, about loss. Lots and lots of loss.
And all the while Oates makes this a quintessential turn in his career. An actor in more TV shows than I could even attempt to watch, he took on this role, which doesn't allow much for easy sympathy or sentiment, and makes it completely compelling. Some may take issue with him, as well as with Vega in the role of Elita (and, in truth, she's not the greatest actress out there), not to mention Peckinpah's own warped view of humanity as taken in the film. But it's a fearless turn all the same, and by the end I couldn't see anyone else in the role, for that moment in time anyway, where Oates had a parallel wavelength with Peckinpah as to the vision of the picture.
All in all, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is about as grim and almost ludicrously hopeless, but it has some of the grittiest moments in American 70s film-making, where being uncompromising just goes with the territory. That it also gets the mind going on what it means to be self-destructive or to lose one's soul, or to just be a filmmaker, is a very good plus. A+
Nothing could be further from the truth. When I watch this movie, it reminds me of what movies are all about, it is instructive, it elevates the consciousness of the form, which tends to be a factor in all great art.
`Alfredo Garcia' actually has more in common with Cocteau's `Orphee' than action vehicles; like it's predecessor, it is an adaptation of the Orpheus myth, albeit more subtle. I'm not going to get exhaustive in analysis, but will highlight some of the most obvious metaphors and references:
The first blatant clue is early in the film, after Benny (Warren Oates) gets the contract to bring back Alfredo Garcia's head, he tells his girlfriend `this is our golden fleece, baby.' Orpheus, of course, was one of the Argonauts who accompanied Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece.
When Orpheus was killed, his head was torn off, yet it continued to sing. In the same way, it is Alfredo's head luring Benny to the sweet tune of $10K, enough to start a new life, enough to find happiness. (Note also, when Benny asks
But Benny is in fact himself Orpheus, Alfredo Garcia simply his double. To wit, Alfredo had been sleeping with Benny's woman; her love is split between the two of them. More obvious is the scene when the two hit men come into Benny's piano bar, showing him the picture of Alfredo and asking if he's knows his whereabouts. Benny's reply is `You got me.' (Note also the thematic foreshadowing in this scene when Benny ask the Gig Young character for his name and he replies `Fred C. Dobbs', the name of Humphrey Bogart's doomed character in `Treasure of Sierra Madre.')
Our introduction to Benny is as a jaded singer in a low rent piano bar in Mexico. However, like Orpheus, he is able to inspire even the pathetic patronage to sing with relish.
Orpheus was said to be able to tame even the wild beasts with his sweet lyre, and later in the film, when Benny finds himself in great jeopardy, having fallen under the power of two random psycho's in the badlands (great Kris Kristopherson cameo by the way,) he uses the guitar to overcome his captor, first lulling him with song, then bashing him with the instrument.
Like the doomed Orpheus and Euridice, before Benny can marry his true love, she is randomly killed. In the old myth, Euridice is slain by an actual snake, in this film, she it is human snakes, i.e. devious, treacherous men.
(As Benny returns, cracking up over the death of his lover, he beings talking to Alfredo's severed head, now rotting in the heat. Could this be a statement on the rotten reality of the materialistic American dream?) Regardless, the head is clearly `singing' to him, although now it may be a bitter song of regret.
I don't want to spoil the ending (which is far more true romance than Tarantino's screenplay and the subsequent film of the same name, if one is familiar with the Tristan & Isolde paradigm,) but suffice it to say, at `the gates of the underworld,' home free, Benny, like Orpheus cannot resist `looking back' at his departed lover, and bring about his ruin.
The opening to this film is indisputably one of the greatest in cinematic history. As a parting note, I will elucidate this claim, as most people tend not to get it:
Set in Mexico, the film is a modern western and to bring this home, Peckinpah must bridge time.
It opens with old time Mexican music and an antique-looking black and white photo, which shifts into color and becomes the opening shot, a pastoral scene by a pond.
We see a pregnant girl in a very simple, homespun white gown dangling, her feet in the water. A maid in the garb of a timeless Mexican peasant, complete with shawl, comes up and consoles her. Two well dressed cowboys, complete with spurs and Colt .45's in their gun belts, approach to fetch her. In the background, a few more cowboys on horses ride past, one holding a rifle. In the background is an old style adobe building. Everything is right out of the 19th century.
This timeframe is reinforced when the girl is led to her father's office, the first view of which is of old-style oil paintings, on of a conquistador. This is actually a great hall with the architecture and furnishings of the 19th century. Her father, the quintessential Mexican Don from innumerable westerns is surrounded but surrounded by women in black, various functionaries, a priest and some nuns, all the antique garb of the era.
It only towards the end of the scene, if you looks very closely, will you notice that one man, a gringo, is wearing a dark banker's suit and has on a modern looking tie.
And very quickly after this, we cut to a motorcycle and then a line of cars driving out of the courtyard of the great house! And the next major cut is to a jet plane landing.
The film opens in the old west and after the set up, phases us abruptly into modern times when it is actually set. I'm not sure how this can be described as anything other than genius.
It is moments like this, along with great depth of character, emotion and theme, dramatic and symbolic unity, that makes this film an artistic achievement.
In my limited sphere of understanding, Peckinpah is as much in the ranks with Kurosawa and Pasolini, as with John Ford, Sam Fuller and other great Western and Action directors.
Great art, great entertainment and a quintessential action flick; this is a tremendous film that bears multiple viewings.
The film features plenty of Sam Peckinpah's trademark slow-motion violence in some very well-staged action set pieces. The cast (particularly Oates and Isle Vega, as his Mexican girlfriend) are good, and the film conjures up a powerful atmosphere of despair and casual cruelty and violence.
The film , however, features moments of genuine tenderness between Oates and Vega. Oates plays Benny as a man on the edge. Basically decent but forced to do some pretty horrible things to survive.
Reviled by critics on it's first release, this film will prompt some strong reactions in viewers. While not one of Peckinpah's best films, his enormous talent is still visible throughout this film.