Total Pageviews

Violent Montage:The Wild Bunch Author: David Macdonald








      Published on: December 1, 2000 


      I must confess that blood and guts don`t do it for me. I don`t watch all 
      of these current horror films and other shoot-em-up action flicks that 
      everyone seems to think is necessary for my generation. Scream? I Know 
      What You Did Last Summer? Don`t ask me what they are about, because I`ve 
      never watched them. 
      So when I went a little crazy a few weeks ago and actually purchased the 
      30th Anniversary Edition of Sam Peckinpah`s The Wild Bunch, I guess you 
      could say that I committed a very unorthodox act. But I believed my 
      reasoning to be very practical. Sure, the film is noted for setting the 
      standard for graphic and repetitive bloodshed, but the film was made in 
      1969. How violent could it really be???? 
      Apparently, some people still thought that it was still too much for the 
      21st century, as the MPAA almost gave the uncut version the NC-17 because 
      of its violence. This seems rather baffling, considering that the same 
      uncut version was given the R in ‘69, and equally controversial films of 
      the time, like the X-rated Midnight Cowboy, are tame enough to only barely 
      get the R rating today. (With a few cuts, Cowboy could probably even 
      squeak by with a PG-13.) And so I watched the film, wondering if indeed 
      this film could really be all that bad that it could still freak people 
      out thirty years later. I watched the first battle scene; yes, many people 
      died, and, as promised, blood was spilled more than in films from before, 
      but there was nothing that I hadn`t seen before. And there were a lot of 
      other people shot after the first sequence (this is a western, after all; 
      not exactly atypical.), but this scenes seemed only relatively more 
      graphic than pre-1967 films; some spilt blood, nothing much more. But 
      something happened which changed all that...... it happened at the very 
      end of the film, and it justified all the hype that surrounded this 
      picture from day one, as we are awash in an incessant and incredible 
      massacre, in which people just die and die and die, from all sorts of 
      weaponry, as the blood splashes and seeps into everything and everyone, 
      and only after about, say, five or six minutes, does the violence actually 
      end. It was, quite simply, absolutely insane! 
      This is not really NC-17 material, but at the same time, the violence in 
      this scene, and in all the rest of the film, is particularly disturbing 
      for many reasons, because Peckinpah does not glamourize it, or spare 
      anyone from its wrath. In the final scene alone, by-standers, including 
      prostitutes and children, are involved, and are as heartlessly and coldly 
      knocked off without so much as a piece of sappy score music to pull at the 
      heartstrings. We realize that a lot of innocent people are being killed 
      because a bunch of outlaws want to get their way. We are used to this kind 
      of violence now, but back in 1969, this really would have been horrifying 
      (numerous accounts exist of people becoming physically sick after viewing 
      the film at that time), and viewers would probably find it hard to cheer 
      for the ‘heroes' when they see their victims die, often in slow motion. 
      This would have been the second time (after Bonnie and Clyde) that viewers 
      would have seen how gruesome violence really is, and in this case, that 
      truth is hammered home time and again. 
      Peckinpah`s direction is great in actually convincing the viewer of the 
      chaos violence brings. The two big action scenes contain many edits and 
      cutaways, so just as we`ve witnessed one act of violence, we see another, 
      and another. Peckinpah rarely lingers on any one act; he gives us montages 
      of violent acts. The montages create a feeling that we`ve been assaulted.
      Another reason that this film is quite disturbing is an obvious one; the 
      nature of the people involved. The wild bunch, led by William Holden and 
      including Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates, are not pleasant 
      people. They kill without remorse, they spend their off-time visiting 
      whorehouses, and are loyal only to their own selves even as they pay lip 
      service to sticking together as a group. They are selfish, nasty people, 
      embracing the most foolish aspects of masculinity, especially in their 
      treatment of women. Nobody has a decent conversation with any female (and, 
      significantly, the only words from any women are in Spanish, and not 
      translated for us.), and women are merely objects to these men, easily 
      disposable. Just as the bunch can go to whorehouses and pay them for sex, 
      they can kill these women without a second thought. One guy shoots a woman 
      he used to love because he saw her with another man, one woman is run over 
      by a horse (I believe it was Holden's), Borgnine uses a prostitute as a 
      shield during the massacre, and Holden kills a prostitute after she shoots 
      him in the arm due to what probably was a feeble attempt at 
      self-preservation.
      Does this mean that I do not like the film? I wouldn`t say that I don`t. 
      The Wild Bunch is an historical landmark, and I certainly do not regret 
      having shelled out cash to purchase it. The film is nasty, brutish and 
      appalling, but it is defendable, because it does show us the real deal. 
      The old Westerns were mythic, with clearly defined good guys and bad, but 
      The Wild Bunch showed us what the Western life would probably have been 
      closer to. People like the wild bunch obviously have to be more disgusting 
      than usual if they were able to do the things that they do in this film, 
      and guys like these wouldn`t suddenly turn around and treat women like 
      real people (or even desire to meet women who are intelligent and 
      independent), when these men have been taught to regard lives as 
      worthless, and to act like ‘real' men. So, for the most part, the film 
      seems accurate. And Peckinpah put the film together very well, even as we 
      see the bizarre mixture of wrenching, nasty scenes of violence and their 
      effects on people, cornball scenes that would fit in a John Ford movie, 
      and the sight of Ernest Borgnine giddily using the word "whore" in a 
      sentence. Overall, I`m amazed that Peckinpah actually got away with this 
      movie, and for that, even if it is a nasty piece of work, I think I ought 
      to be pretty grateful.