Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA and EQUUS on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, March 30, 2014


There have been many interesting movie titles used over the 100-plus years cinema has been around. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is easily one of the best and most memorable of them. I think I first heard it mentioned as a throw away joke from Chevy Chase in FLETCH. It would be some years after that until I finally saw the film. And it would take a few viewings of the movie before it really hit me how great it is. I had the same experience with Scorsese's MEAN STREETS. Watched it once and it was just okay as far as I was concerned. When I came back to it, it blew me away. Apparently it's been said of all his films, ALFREDO GARCIA was the one that came out the most as he had intended. It would make an interesting double bill with a previously released Twilight Time title - THUBDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. Both films are existential road movies in a way. THUNDERBOLT being far lighter in tone, but both feeling like movies that were a product of the wonderful 1970s.  ALFREDO GARCIA is easily one of my favorite Peckinpah films. It's right up there with my other favorite, THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE. Both films have fantastic character actors as their leads. Jason Robards and Warren Oates are two of the greatest actors of the latter half of the twentieth century (for my money). Robards was given a tiny bit more opportunity to shine in more prominent roles, but neither man got enough parts at the center of a movie. Oates has one of those faces that is just remarkable. It is a timeless face. The face of a modern day man or an authentic cowboy from the 1800s. Faces like his don't exist too much in modern movies today. We've traded in character for youth and good looks and it has hurt movies as a whole in my opinion. They being said, Oates is really the only man for the job in this case. This movie, which can be tough to watch at moments, would be far less palatable without him. What Oates brings to movies with his presence is some kind of melange of charisma and other elements that make you just wanna watch him. It's been said that Oates is playing a version of Peckinpah himself here and that alone makes the movie very intriguing. Peckinpah is one of those directors that gives a sense of the life he lived via his movies. He's a man, like Sam Fuller for example whose films truly benefited from the life experience he had outside of filmmaking. And like Fuller, you can almost feel Peckinpah bursting through each frame he ever committed to celluloid. There's an underlying sense of authenticity and gravitas to the characters he portrayed as well as the grittiness of the worlds they inhabited. His films carry with them the air of machismo that Peckinpah himself was known for, but also carry the feeling that the lifestyles these characters propagate often don't lead to the promised land they may have been seeking. 

This Twilight Time Special Edition has lots of nice supplements. It truly rivals or surpasses and Criterion release from this year. First off, it has not one, but two commentary tracks. The first is with Nick Redman and Gordon T. Dawson (who was one of the writers on ALFREDO GARCIA as well as a producer). This is a very neat track in that Dawson is a man who knew Peckinpah pretty well and his working relationship with him started back on MAJOR DUNDEE and went all the way through ALFREDO GARCIA. As a result, he has remarkable first hand accounts and great stories about Peckinpah as a man and as a director. It's rare that you get this kind of thing as much these days and its quite insightful.
The second track is with Film Historians Paul Seydor (editor os such films as WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP, COBB & others), Garner Simmons, David Weddle (writer/producer of the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA TV Series, FALLING SKIES & others) and Nick Redman. Both Weddle and Seydor have written books on Peckinpah and are clearly great authorities on the man. This track is a lively academic discussion that offers many scholarly and thematic observations and is quite a lovely listen.
Also, "Passion & Poetry: Sam's Favorite Film" a 55-minute retrospective documentary cover Peckinpah the man and ALFREDO GARCIA - includes interviews with Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Isela Vega, Gordon Dawson, Katy Haber, Lupita Peckinpah and more.  

Plus, there's also "A Writer's Journey: Garner Simmons with Sam Peckinpah in Mexico" (26 mins) - wherein Peckinpah biographer Garner Simmons talks about the inspiration for his pursuit of the director and his time with him while he was working on ALFREDO GARCIA. He talks about his take on Peckinpah the man and how he was a fellow who was often testing people to see what they were made of and the hurdles he had to get over to get his book done. It's a single-shot interview, but it's pretty fascinating.

EQUUS (1977; Sidney Lumet)
EQUUS is a movie that had eluded me for a long, long time. It was spoken of often by an old co-worker of mine at the video store in L.A. I used to work at. He turned me onto many interesting movies and helped me appreciated many actors and actresses I wasn't as aware of. One of those actresses that he loved was Jenny Agutter. This was due in some part to the fact that she was one of the stars of LOGAN'S RUN, which was his favorite movie of all-time. I had seen and been captivated by Ms. Agutter in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but that was about it. I had yet to see her in WALKABOUT, CHINA 9 LIBERTY 37, the aforementioned LOGAN'S RUN or EQUUS. EQUUS was certainly a lesser-seen film it seemed and one that was most often remember for the fact that Agutter had a nude scene in it. One thing it had going for it was that Sidney Lumet directed it. He had directed NETWORK the year before and would follow it with THE WIZ in 1978. Some have called EQUUS a big step down from DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) and NETWORK (1976). It's hard to top those two films though, let's be frank. They are perhaps his best movies (along with PRINCE OF THE CITY, THE VERDICT and DEATHTRAP).
EQUUS is interesting though. I kind of see it as Lumet's SPELLBOUND. Perhaps the focus on the psychology of one character is what makes me think of it. It is maybe a little but more like a Hitchcock version of ORDINARY PEOPLE (even though this film is much more emotionally raw than anything Hitch ever made). It opens, rather compellingly, with a fourth wall breaking scene of Richard Burton talking directly to camera. He's playing a psychiatrist who is recalling one of his more unique patients. It's hard not to pay attention at least a little bit when an actor with the gravitas of Burton is addressing you. Director Lumet has a great talent for mounting stage-y material in an interesting way. This particular film is adapted from a play by Peter Shaffer and I'm often weary of these kinds of things, but Lumet has a flair for making the uncinematic into cinematic experiences. He starts with the fourth wall break and uses Burton as the film's narrator throughout via the same device. It gives the movie a certain kinship with a hard boiled film noir (Burton's character is trying to solve the mystery of a young boy's psychology). It reminded me a bit of Altman's SECRET HONOR at the start. Lumet also employs interesting flashbacks with characters playing themselves at their current age in a scene where they were clearly much younger at the time of the incident. There's many uses of sound bridges as characters discuss something in one scene whilst we see shots from another. Very simple technique, but one I've always loved. Lumet also features lots of shots that move across photographs or paintings. Lots of insert shots. Lumet uses a wide range of cinematic tools to tell an effective story. His films are great for study for their exemplary nature in this way. He's very much employing the technique I once heard Scorsese describe as basically the essence of his style. It's the idea that the director can grab you by the eyeballs and show you the things you should pay attention to - through camera moves or cuts. Lumet's style is of course far less frenetic than Scorsese's, but it's still comparatively cinematic. EQUUS feels to me like a great director's exercise in how to take some very tally material and make it quite interesting. Another way to make this sort of stuff interesting is to out a Jenny Agutter in it. Especially as with as little clothing as possible. Always a wise choice. 

This EQUUS Blu-ray, on top of looking nice, includes a commentary track from Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman (who of course is one of the gentlemen behind Twilight Time). It's another solid track with Kirgo and Redman doing their usual bang-up job. They cover playwright Peter Shaffer as well as details of the original stage production and of course much detail on the film, its making and the actors involved.
Also as a supplement here is the feature length (2 hrs) documentary IN FROM THE COLD? A PORTRAIT OF RICHARD BURTON (1988). This is a great extra feature and gives a remarkably comprehensive picture of Burton as a person and an actor.

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