Wednesday, December 17, 2008

ROGUE ROAD MOVIE REVIEW: "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974) Sam Peckinpah

Plot: an American bartender in Mexico City enlists his prostitute girlfriend in a trip across Mexico to obtain the head of a wanted gigolo worth a million bucks. The catch? He is already dead and buried.

How closely tied are the characters to the road? Fairly tight but there are plenty of scenes in sleazy roadside bars, brothels and motels.

Is the film vehicular or character based? It is more about the characters but it is not the typical focus on the development of the protagonist. Peckinpah paints a grim portrait of humanity as a whole through an entire cast of greedy, self-serving sociopaths. 

The beat up Ford that Warren Oates drives also becomes an important location in the film; it turns into a sweaty, claustrophobic, fly-ridden cage where he must confront Garcia's rotting dome, which sits in a putrid dunlap bag next to him.  

How painfully hip and articulate are the characters? Warren Oate's Bennie is a self-stylized dude who wears over-sized sunglasses everywhere, including bed. But he is not about fashion. He must maintain the image of being a cool and collected creature of the night to survive in a world of ruthless gangsters and hardened criminals. Likewise, his suit, a white tweed get-up, seems to symbolize taste in the beginning of the film but by the end, when it is tattered, muddy and blood-stained and we realize it is his only outfit, it becomes a symbol of his desperation and utter lack of choice.

Number of desolate mythological figures: One, a corpse from a remote Mexican grave yard with a ransom on its head. In Bennie's words, "He is the saint of our money." Dollars, guns and dismembered body parts are the only tools in this surreal journey. There is no potential for human development and in Peckinpah's bleak world there is no correct path, no useful knowledge for survival... all paths end at the barrel of a gun.

How much embarrassing existential content: None. This film is purely "No Exit" hell. Life is shown to be an exercise in futility.

Can the word quirky in any way be associated with this film? No. It is a truly bizarre ride across Mexico. Peckinpah is playing with the road movie genre, carefully scraping away all sentimental content, but it never becomes self-aware or "intentionally clever". 

Does anyone play the harmonica? No, but we do get a few great scenes with a guitar strumming, tequila imbibing prostitute.

Is it any good? Garcia is a freakish masterpiece by an American poet. Hyperbole? Maybe. But in this road movie we see the singular view of an original filmmaker at its most refined. The film was panned when it was released and surely it is still an acquired taste today due to its morbid pessimism and extreme violence. But still there is something that is easy appreciate in Oate's character. The way he keeps pushing and finally, in the closing scene, explodes in the face of power, the man with the money, is a sublime portrait for the dispossessed




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