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If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and TImes of Sam Peckinpah

1 rating: 3.0
A book by David Weddle

This biography portrays writer-director Peckinpah (1925-1984) as a gifted man at war with Hollywood, his four wives and himself. The signature of a Peckinpah film like The Wild Bunch or Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is an audaciously protracted, viscerally … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: David Weddle
Publisher: Grove Press
1 review about If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and...

The Man Behind The Squibs

  • Sep 2, 2008
Sam Peckinpah didn't direct Hollywood classics. He directed raw, flawed, mesmerizing movies that tapped into the savage, bleeding heart of man. It was an art fueled by a life on the edge, seeking both epiphany and self-destruction. The latter came much easier.

David Weddle's 1994 biography charts Peckinpah's journey from television journeyman to celebrated auteur to washed-up coked-out has-been with obvious humanity and a clear-eyed appreciation for what Peckinpah brought to the cinematic table. Beginning with his 1969 milestone "The Wild Bunch", Peckinpah revolutionized the language of film with slow-motion, cross-cutting, and rapidfire editing, usually in sequences with much violence. "Blood ballets", they were called, and "Bloody Sam" was the guy who made them.

"With his cameras Peckinpah sought to penetrate the primitive heart of the violence, to capture both its seductiveness and its horror," Weddle writes.

But this hard-earned success of Peckinpah's was short-lived. He made a number of brilliant films in the years right after "The Wild Bunch"; arguing which, if any, are actually better than "Bunch" is the Peckinpah fan-club handshake. But Weddle notes that Peckinpah's many personal demons, fueled by alcohol and, later, cocaine, not to mention a circuitous trail of women, pushed him to a point where the films became ill-focused, "plagued by gaps in continuity, sudden lurches in tone, and scenes that were sloppily bad." The man who worked out "Wild Bunch's" amazing finale on the set devolved into a fuzzy-headed drunk.

Weddle may be better known to you, as he was to me coming in, as one of three Peckinpah authorities, known as the "Peckinpah Posse", who offer commentaries on select DVDs of Peckinpah movies. I always found Weddle to be the closest in line with my own thoughts of Peckinpah, appreciative but not worshipful of the man's output.

The book is not as steady in its POV. He notes the many flaws in "Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid", a movie I can't stand, but then spends an entire chapter on it, quoting admirers of the film like Martin Scorsese to the point he sounds like an admirer himself. "Junior Bonner", a much better film to me, one of the best Peckinpah did, gets only desultory mention.

Behind the scenes, Weddle presents piercing insights, particularly regarding Peckinpah's escalating irrationality. On "Straw Dogs", he befriended an actor playing the most villainous character and dragged him out at 3:30 in the morning of a shooting day to sit by the sea with a bottle of tequila and sing "Butterfly Mornings," a folksy love duet from his previous film "The Ballad Of Cable Hogue." There's something twistedly brilliant in that, even if Peckinpah contracted pneumonia from the episode and nearly lost the film.

By 1976, making his war film "Cross Of Iron", Peckinpah was walking through an airport swigging slivovitz with an enabling lackey, one of several "pilot fish" as Weddle calls them who latched on to Peckinpah for the ride. "Cross Of Iron" was his last decent film by most accounts, but a far cry from "Straw Dogs" and other early 1970s films.

As other reviewers note, Weddle doesn't get into Peckinpah's cinematic influences, an oversight. He does make an interesting case for Peckinpah's pathfinding television work, and champions the classic pre-"Bunch" film "Ride The High Country", all in a way that points up how Peckinpah developed the framework for his revolution to come.

Weddle doesn't make Peckinpah come alive for me as a personality, perhaps because he burned so bright that those interviewed seem somewhat singed by their closeness. But he makes me want to watch more Peckinpah. That's probably what Weddle was aiming for.

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