Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Directors, Essays, Sam Peckinpah

Sam Peckinpah: Introduction to Film Comment Midsection (1981)

[Originally published in Film Comment Volume 17 Number 1, January/February 1981]

Where is Sam Peckinpah these days? Surrounded by family in Sausalito, or perhaps Mexico? Chumming it with the Montana Bloomsbury Group? Holed up in the cabin he built four or five miles from Warren Oates’ place, putting the final polish on the final draft of the screenplay that may become The Texan with Lee Marvin? All of the above are good bets, but I hope something like the last one is true, at least part of the time. There hasn’t been a new Sam Peckinpah movie in going-on-three-years, and that’s far too long to suit me.

Sam Peckinpah watches on
Sam Peckinpah with Steve McQueen

There are, to be sure, people it would suit right down to the ground if Peckinpah never made another film. Some of them are critics and columnists who have written him off as an irrelevance, a failed prodigy whose intransigent individuality ultimately proved unproductive (“out of step, out of place, and desperately out of time”). Some are feminists, Marxists, people who get so mad about movie violence that they want to break something, others who have taken aesthetic, political, or philosophical objection to Peckinpah’s work. And some, unfortunately, are people who have the power to decide who is or is not bankable—the kind of people whose company Peckinpah has had to avoid since acquiring a pacemaker a year or so back.

For all of these, and for an undeterminable but probably hefty portion of the potential movie audience, Sam Peckinpah and his films have less meaningfully operative reality than “Sam Peckinpah,” a pop socioaesthetic entity that can be bandied about as casually and as destructively as, say, “Walt Disney” or “John Wayne.” “Sam Peckinpah” is cinematic bloodbaths, brute machismo, violence and destruction lovingly prolonged by slow motion, women as sex objects (preferably for raping and punching out), and, for brevity and all-purpose inclusiveness, fascism. These form a template that can be applied to any forthcoming Peckinpah movie (by Peckinpah-baiters and, sadly, by some Peckinpah admirers, who figure bloodbaths, machismo, violence, rape, etc. are perfectly groovy): what comes through is only what’s allowed to come through. Even worse, “Sam Peckinpah” makes the actual experience of Sam Peckinpah movies superfluous. More than a few times, I’ve challenged users of the label only to learn that they’d never seen many, or any, of the films—just heard about “Sam Peckinpah” and bought the concept for conversational convenience. It sees them through most of the best parties.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Directors, Interviews, Sam Peckinpah, Westerns

“A privilege to work in films”: Sam Peckinpah among friends

Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]

Sam Peckinpah visited Seattle for several days in July, 1978, under the joint auspices of the Seattle Film Society and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. On the evening of July 19 he appeared at the Seattle Concert Theatre to talk with an audience that had just seen, and warmly responded to, his comedy-western The Ballad of Cable Hogue. The following is a slightly edited transcript (from a tape made by Ray Pierre) of that dialogue. For fluency of reading we have kept the [Laughter] notations to a minimum, but the fact is that laughter punctuated the discussion with considerable frequency. -Ed.

[Questions, in italics, were mostly from members of the audience. Richard T. Jameson was moderator.]

Cable Hogue, even though Cable died at the end, was a very upbeat film, which is different from all the other [Peckinpah] films that I’ve seen. Was there a reason that in 1970 or ’69 you made a movie that does not—to me, at any rate—fit very easily with all the rest of your work?

I think it fits very well. I should mention one thing that seems to confuse people: I’ve made three, or maybe I could say four, films that were my own projects; the rest I have done because that was the job that was offered. I don’t really pick and choose. On Cable, Warren [Oates] had given me the property to read, I liked it, I bought it on time, I tried to get together with Van Heflin to make for around $700,000, could not do it. And Ken Hyman was the president of Warner Brothers at that time, loved The Wild Bunch, and I conned him into tying Cable Hogue into it because I wanted to make the film. And that’s it.

I have a question about The Wild Bunch. The first print that was shown in Seattle lasted about seven days. Then it was changed, another print was substituted. Some things were cut, deleted, mainly to conform with some criticisms that Time had about the movie. Who was responsible for the cuts?

Well, Time magazine was not responsible. It was … I was cutting Cable at the time. I got a call from [producer Phil] Feldman; he said they wanted to try it out in one theater—a shorter version. I said “Fine—in one theater.” Next thing I knew, it had been cut to pieces all over the country. So you can thank Mr. Feldman for doing it. And a man named Weintraub, who also was very active at Warner Brothers at the time.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

[Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]

Let’s get the suspense out of the way first. I’ve been taken over: I came to the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a purist’s proper disdain for anyone who presumes to redo a classic movie, but as I sat brooding in the darkness, Phil Kaufman’s 1978 version put out its tendrils and pretty soon everything seemed just fine and why should I go around getting upset over little things? Not that the new Invasion is going to displace the old for me. No way. I think the Don Siegel version is the better movie—more seamlessly, “artlessly” accomplished than the present model, and the more inspired work. But after a tacky special-effects opening (where Siegel needed nothing but a subjective descent through roiling clouds), Kaufman’s version persuasively asserts its right to life as an imaginative reflection of our time, just as Siegel’s insidious “sleeper” stands as a quintessential Fifties experience. The makers of the ’56 film were reeling under the twin impacts of Dwight Eisenhower and Joe McCarthy. Their movie played on both the cozy lure of middle-class conformity and the nagging suspicion that that bastard in the next yard or at the next desk or in the next writing cubicle at the studio—indeed, all those bastards—had in mind to do you dirt in a manner you hadn’t quite figured out yet. Jack Finney’s story about pod-grown organisms usurping the identities of everyone in a small California town and reducing them to all-alike, emotionless neuters yielded a powerful metaphor for a more mundane loss of humanity. Cold War buffs were perfectly free to read in a paranoid allegory of Communist takeover: they were said to be everywhere, and wouldn’t they look like any normal, healthy, right-thinking Amurkan, same as you or me, and I’m not so sure about you…?

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Ken Eisler, by Peter Hogue, by Richard T. Jameson, by Rick Hermann, by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors

For Barbara: The agony and the ecstasy of 1974

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

Something was missing in Film Year 1974 and I’ve never been able to isolate quite what it is. There were good films in town; I wrote down more than 40 titles before starting to rank anything, and they cover a broad range of style, subject matter, country of origin, production values, acting achievements, filmmakers new, old, and new-old. Very early in the year several Seattle Film Society premieres set standards of both excellence and originality that seemed hard to beat, and only two subsequent films managed to beat them, for my money. Those early excellences hung over the year, and so did carryovers from 1973, as always in this Northwest outpost. Such factors help create a sense of Read More “For Barbara: The agony and the ecstasy of 1974”

Posted in: Books, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors

In Black & White: ‘The Marx Bros. Scrapbook’ and ‘Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo’

[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]

IN BLACK & WHITE

THE MARX BROS. SCRAPBOOK. By Groucho Marx and Richard J. Anobile. W.W. Norton. 256 pages. $13.95.
GROUCHO, HARPO, CHICO AND SOMETIMES ZEPPO. By Joe Adamson. 464 pages. $10. Simon and Schuster.

Can anyone seriously attempt to deny that the Marx Brothers are in control of the United States today? Transparent shysters and incompetents fill high government offices. A naked student lopes through a med school amphitheatre. The Seattle Opera stages Siegfried. And until recently, at least, gas station operators turned on their beacons, blocked their entranceways, put out signs that they had no gasoline, and sold that gasoline to red, white, and puce automobiles with odd-numbered or fractional license plates between the hours of 6:53 and 7:0l a.m., with time out to parlay with Arabian sweet-gum merchants. That honking behind you isn’t the next car in line; it’s Harpo trying to tell you he can’t get your trunk open with his can opener.

The Marx Bros. Scrapbook achieved a pronounced notoriety late last year when Groucho Marx made it known he was seeking an injunction to prevent its publication. According to Mr. Flywheel, he never dreamed that Richard Anobile, compiler of such previous (and posthumous) collections of pithy sayings as W.C. Fields’ Drat!, would transcribe their private conversations unedited, so that all the world could be treated to Groucho giving voice to all the things he was sublimating in Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business. etc., not to mention calling Nixon “a dirty crook” and Eisenhower “a schmuck.” He didn’t get the injunction and copies of the Scrapbook now proudly wear a gold seal promising “unexpurgated Groucho.”

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors

Limelight: Seattle film year 1973, cut and dried

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

Where were you in ’73? … Nope, doesn’t make it. But neither, in some ways, did ’73. I’m not sure what was lacking. Shuffling together the most pleasurable and significant-seeming memories of films that arrived in the Jet City and its environs this past year, I’ve managed to come up with better than fifty titles to be considered for honors. Yet something eludes me, did most of the year. Certainly there was no sleeper masterpiece of 1973, nothing to stand as the Gumshoe or Bad Company of its season; and ingratiating surprises like Gumshoe and Bad Company are the breath of life to the Constant Filmgoer. The Last Tango in Paris was so incessantly and all-pervadingly hyped that it never had a chance to do what it should have to our sensibilities, individually and collectively; as Kathleen Murphy has remarked, “Imagine just walking in off the street some night and going into, say, the Broadway and having that jump off the screen at you without forewarning”; and if I am less sure at the moment that Last Tango would have jumped off the screen, I’ll still have to cop a plea and try to see the film again as a movie rather than a rite of spring.

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