“Ride the High Country” – 1962. Dir. Sam Peckinpah

With Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Mariette Hartley, Ron Starr, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones and Warren Oates.

“I don’t want them to see this. I’ll go it alone.” – Steve Judd (Joel McCrea)

“Ride the High Country” is Peckinpah’s second film and his first great film. It stars Golden Hollywood era icons Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea as two aging cowboys giving it their last run. Scott portrays Gil Westrum a “retired” gunslinger turned highwayman. He has a protégé by the name of Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) and they go from town to town running small con games. While in a town Steve Judd spots Gil – the two used to run together but that was many, many years ago.

Judd is a former gunslinger turned down-and-out lawman that was hired by a bank to deliver gold/money to the bank from a goldmine some miles away. Westrum learns about Judd’s new job and thinks this is his big score. He talks Judd into letting him tag along just so he can get close to the money and steal it.

Judd is a smart man, he knows his old partner is after the loot, but he needs as many guns as he can while trekking the High Sierra. While on route to the mine they come across a farm. They asked the land owner if they can rest for the night. The owner Joshua (Armstrong) a preacher allows the men to sleep in the barn. His daughter Elsa (Hartley) takes a liking to Longtree and tries to spend time with him – against her father’s wishes.

There is a chilling scene between Joshua and his daughter – he begins to tell her that all men are inherently evil and she belongs only to him (alluding to incest). As the men awake early the next morning to the mine Elsa follows closely behind until the men spot her and reluctantly allow her to join their party (what they don’t know is her “fiancé” is a mine worker).

Once the men reach this mine it shatters the Hollywood esq. It has a slick polish, it feels like a vintage John Ford film, it stars two classic western icons – McCrea and Scott – but the film also introduces us to some of Peckinpah’s new breed for western players – Warren Oates and L.Q. Jones who play a part of a pack of miner siblings. This mining camp is filled with every vice known to man, there are nasty bloated hookers, and moonshine is plentiful.

On Elsa’s wedding night, she’s brought back to the miner’s tent and is essentially offered up for a gangbang by her new husband and his brothers – it’s pretty trashy stuff. Judd and Westrum have no part of it and take the gold they were sent to get and high tail it out of the camp, stealing Elsa away from her new husband. They trek carefully back into town, being very cautious, knowing the mining pack is after them. Westrum makes a move for the gold, things get ugly.

Once the men reach Elsa’s homestead all hell breaks loose because the mining boys have staked out the farm which forces Judd and Westrum to work together – one last time. This is film is Peckinpah’s tamest film, but he edginess and realism that he’s known for was conceived in with this film. The framework and the template of the American Western was forever changed by this film.

Review: 10/10

The Art of the Crossover: Actors turned Singers & Singers turned Actors.

While listening to a Kris Kristofferson album, it got me thinking lately about singers turned actors; than even further – actors turned singers. I am going to exclude rap if that’s okay with you. I’ve always thought it was an interesting paradox; I’ve noticed that a lot of actors are musically inclined and even have tried to venture out on their own and release their own music. I understand why singers turn to acting – because they are at the height of their popularity and they’ve been turned into a cash cow (Neil Diamond in “The Jazz Singer” for example). I feel that way about rap musicians; the only reason that they turned to acting was because they were extremely marketable at the time and they never really have taken a risk with the roles they chose. But when actors turn to music, to me it feels like that music is their true passion (or their biggest hobby). I know there have been many, many crossovers, but I think these are the three best in each category, meaning that the quality of both their music and their acting are excellent.

I am the Wanderer – my home is the road

David Carradine has always had a soft spot in my heart. I was very sad when he died. I’ve always enjoyed his earlier works with Scorsese: “Boxcar Bertha” and “Mean Streets” and of course the TV Show “Kung-Fu” but it wasn’t until I saw Carradine as Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby’s “Bound for Glory”, I really took him seriously as an artist. Portraying Woody Guthrie is gigantic feat and Carradine did an amazing job. I own his album “As Is” and his music is great. It’s a wonderful folk album and lyrically Carradine is as rich with his writing as Kris Kristofferson or Bob Dylan – the lyrics are simple yet hold this complex power that makes it truly authentic.

It’s obvious that Carradine is very much influenced by Eastern philosophies which I think is a direct reflection on the folk music he sings. The Eastern themes are a direct representation of Carradine’s folk music – the path that men take, why they take them. These Eastern themes are in step with any great western film ever made. Sam Peckinpah strived to “make a western as good as Kurosawa”.

I bought his album from his official website and if you do like Carradine or like folk music, please check it out. It is well worth your time. If you click the link, and listen to any of the tracks available – please listen to “The Wanderer” – it’s excellent and I think completely sums up David Carradine as a man. Enjoy.

The genius of David Carradine.

When The Dude meets Woody Guthrie

Before Jeff Bridges broke our hearts as Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart”, and most people were taken aback by his musical capability; Bridges released an album in 2000 entitled “Be Here Soon” and it’s nothing like Bad Blake. Jeff Bridges remains to be one of my favorite people ever – I am so smitten with him. “Be Here Soon” is a hybrid of folk and beatnik music – it’s incredibly unique and incredibly excellent. Along with finally collecting his long overdue Oscar for “Crazy Heart”, he is not only a musician but a photographer (his collecting of stills from a majority of his the film sets he’s worked on titled “Pictures” is amazingly profound) but he’s also a painter.

The music of his album is incredibly insightful and filled with innuendo and intrigue. He muses and philosophies with an admirable amount of passion and artistic skill. The first track of the album called “Movin'” is a perfect representation of who Bridges is as a man. “Be Here Soon” is Bridges first and only album, but his “follow up” is the “Crazy Heart” soundtrack. I find that the best track of the film is the track that opens the film – “Hold on You”. We all can relate to this song – there has always been at least one person in our lives that we’ve been trying to get a hold on.

The “Crazy Heart” soundtrack is available everywhere and his album “Be Here Soon” is available at Amazon.com and the iTunes music store. You won’t be disappointed.

The Egotistical Talent that can’t be ignored

We all know that Kevin Spacey holds an unbelievable amount of talent – anyone who disagrees with that is a fool. I also think since Spacey won his second Oscar for “American Beauty” his ego inflated so much that he hasn’t strived to give a challenging performance since then. The only exception that can be made is his labor of love “Beyond the Sea” which isn’t a great film, but it’s still very enjoyable. Spacey portrays the crooner Bobby Darin. Spacey not only stars, but wrote, directed, produced and sang in the film – he did it all. He did too much.

His singing is the best part of the film. Spacey’s voice is so smooth it just makes you groove with the music you are hearing, it absorbs into you. Spacey had been known for his musical capability prior to this film. He hosted a tribute concert for John Lennon in the early 2000’s and as the show was getting to a close Spacey himself performed “Mind Games” – it was excellent. Spacey truly is an incredible performer – his stage presence is untouchable.

While Spacey was out promoting “Beyond the Sea” he did a concert tour performing Bobby Darin songs and other standards from that era. Being from Chicago I was excited that Spacey was coming to The House of Blues until you had to be 21 and older to enter. I really wish I could have seen him.

Nightmares are somebody’s daydreams

Kris Kristofferson started out as another musician that had fallen prey to crossing over to cinema. He was popular, hip, and handsome and had a big following. It wasn’t until Kristofferson teamed up with Sam Peckinpah to star as Billy the Kid in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” that he became an actor. Kristofferson himself is a gentle and kind man, but his turn as Billy the Kid turned him into a steely cold killer. The film is violent and relentless. Kristofferson made a name for himself as an actor AND a musician.

From there Kristofferson went on to make Martin Scorsese’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” where he plays the ideal man; the tough, gruff man who has a heart of gold. He’s nothing less than excellent in “Alice”. He’s this big bad man who walks tall, but deep down inside he’s a teddy bear that just wants to love and take care of Alice. It’s an excellent film with excellent performances from the entire cast.

That same year Kristofferson reteamed with Peckinpah for a small role as Biker in “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”. In this role he plays the scum of the earth and rapes the main characters girlfriend. It’s amazing how Kristofferson has the unbelievable range from going to one extreme to the other. He went from David in “Alice” to Biker in “Alfredo Garcia”. Kristofferson is not only one of my favorite musicians – but also one of my favorite actors.

Kristofferson had a bit of a lull in the 1980’s but he reemerged in the 90’s showing up in “Payback” (which reteamed him with James Coburn who played Pay Garrett), “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” and the “Blade” trilogy and narrating the unconventional Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” and of course his amazing performance in “Lone Star”.

Putting out a fire with gasoline

David Bowie is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. His music is odd and compelling. Everyone in the world loves at least one David Bowie song. What I love about David Bowie is his unconventional career. He is one of the best crossover actors that I’ve seen. “The Man Who Fell to Earth” remains one of my favorite films. It’s so unique and strange that with the casting of David Bowie – it helps us accept the film for what it is.

His turn in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” as Special Agent Phillip Jefferies is so bizarre you can’t even comprehend it (although how many David Lynch films are easy to comprehend?). My two favorite Bowie performances are his performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” as Pontius Pilate which I think is even more bizarre than his role in “Twin Peaks”.

My second favorite Bowie performance is as Nikola Telsa in Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige”. It was so genius of Nolan to cast Bowie. Telsa was a very strange and mysterious man and so is David Bowie. It was a perfect fit. It added authenticity and even more mystique to the character by adding Bowie. Christopher Nolan not only knows how to write a screenplay and direct a movie – but he hasn’t made one misstep in any of his films with casting. How many filmmakers can you say that about?

And how could anyone not appreciate his role as Jareth the Goblin King in “Labyrinth”? And no one could ever play Andy Warhol as good as Bowie in “Basquiat”.

“I hate Disneyland. It primes our kids for Las Vegas.”

Tom Waits’ film choices are just as offbeat and stirring as his music. Waits is an extremely talented musician that has taken select roles in his long and winding career. His music is almost an acquired taste – as are some of the roles he’s played. Waits is a close family friend of the Coppola family and he is often cast in Francis Ford Coppola’s films. Waits is also in many of Jim Jarmusch’s films and those films are defiantly an acquired taste.

The performance that I think seals Waits’ craft as an actor is in the mediocre Coppola film “Dracula” where he portrays Count Dracula’s underling R.M. Reinfield. He is so creepy and almost stomach turning as the mentally unstable man that is confined in a straight jacket in a disgusting and disturbing mental hospital. He and Gary Oldman are the only two that save that film from being a train wreck.

His role as the Engineer in “The Book of Eli” was something of a treat that I really enjoyed. I loved how he snuck into the film, making a character that was insignificant to the story interesting just by having Tom Waits play the character. I felt that “Eli” was a train wreck of a film, but again – Gary Oldman saved the film (with a little help from Waits). I haven’t seen “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” yet but Tom Waits looks divine in it.

So that is my list thus far folks. Give me your feedback, what do you think of my choices? And what are yours? I know I left some prominent crossover artists out, but I’ll be working on part two really soon. Gimme your feedback! I want to have a debate!

“The Wild Bunch” – 1969. Dir. Sam Peckinpah.

With William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O’Brien, Jamie Sanchez, L.Q. Jones with Warren Oates, Emilio Fernandez and Ben Johnson

“We’re not gonna get rid of anybody! We’re gonna stick together – just like it used to be! When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if can’t do that, you’re like some animal! You’re finished! We’re finished! All of us!”

Pike Bishop (William Holden)

Bold statement: “The Wild Bunch” is the best western ever made and one of the best films ever made. The film chronicles a group of men led by Pike Bishop (William Holden). These men are the last of the cowboy generation. The film’s period is during the very beginning of World War II (before the United States involvement).

The film’s opening credits are excellent (Quentin Tarantino showed much homage with his opening credits of “Reservoir Dogs”). We see these men: Pike, Dutch (Borgnine), Lyle (Oates), Angel (Sanchez) and Tector (Johnson) all dressed as US Calvary. They are riding on horseback slowly though the main drag of a small western town. They approach a bank and dismount from their horses.

While these men are about to embark into the bank Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) is with a group of hillbilly bounty hunters on the rooftop of an adjacent building. Deke has much history with the group. He was a member, until he was captured and sent to Yuma prison. The railroad company struck a deal with him: they will set him free if he kills the Wild Bunch.

The bunch enters the bank, Holden walks up to the bank owner and pistol whips him. The camera cuts to a close-up of his face and Holden curtly says: “If they move – kill’em!” Freeze frame on Holden’s face and text appears: Directed by Sam Peckinpah. That is so fucking hot.

If they move - kill'em!

The Bunch proceeds to rob the bank, and as they collect the loot from the safe one of them spots one of the bounty hunters on the roof of the building where Deke Thornton lurks. What ensues is an ultra bloody and graphic shoot out. The Bunch tries to escape, using civilians as human shields. The bounty hunters could care less, and they proceed to shoot everything that moves. Men, women, children, horses – anything.

The Bunch escapes riding back to their camp. Once they get back to their camp, they open their loot and discover that they’ve been had and the contents of the bags are tin washers. There is a great dialogue exchange here:

“Look at them…silver rings.” – Lyle (Oates)

“Silver rings? Thems washers!” – Dutch (Borgnine)

Pike and Dutch discuss their next move; they know Deke Thornton is after them so they travel to Mexico where Angel’s hometown is. Once they reach Angel’s village, Angel discovers that his father has been killed and girlfriend taken by General Mapache (Emilio Fernandez). Angel begs Pike to let him avenge the death of his father. After a discussion they travel to General Mapache’s compound.

Once the Bunch arrives they find Mapache drunk and with many women. There are three German’s with Mapache (for those of you who know your history this is a great reference to the Zimmerman Telegram). Mapache then employees the Bunch to rob a US train that is carrying military rifles. They do. It is the best train robbery scene ever filmed.

Pike allows Angel to take a case of rifles to give to his village, so they can fight back against Mapache. Mapache finds out that Angel is a thief. Pike gives him up to Mapache for his theft. What happens next is a half hour ending shoot-out that is the finest gunfight ever filmed. Pike, Dutch, Lyle and Tector walk down a street in Mapache’s compound to go save Angel. It gives me goose bumps each time I see it. The way the scene is filmed, the music – it’s frightening watching these four men walking to their death.

Tector (Ben Johnson), Lyle (Warren Oates), Pike (William Holden) and Dutch (Ernest Borgnine)

The ending of the film is brilliant. It’s utter chaos but Peckinpah films it with much grace and eloquence. It’s as if we’re watching a Howard Hawkes or John Ford film – it’s so beautifully bizarre. The ending is gory and bloody. It is so violent it almost makes you want to turn away from the screen – but you can’t. You’ll miss something. Watching these four men fight off an army (literally) of Mexicans is heart breaking. You know what’s going to happen. And you know the Bunch wouldn’t have had it any other way.

You know they deserve it. You know they are bad men.

You can’t help but respect their code. The one thing the Bunch believes in above all is honor and loyalty. These men will live and die by each others sides. You have to respect that.

As volatile as the film is, so was the production. The production of the film was shut down many times due to Peckinpah, Holden, Oates and Johnson disappearing for weeks in Mexico going on drinking binges. The men would disappear into a small town in Mexico and drink up all the liquor and then move to the next town.

Peckinpah and Holden.

The film went vastly over budget and the studio threatened to fire Peckinpah and the majority of the cast. That didn’t stop them – they could give a fuck – they were having the time of their life. Legend has it that all the guns on the sets were using real ammunition and only used blanks for a select few scenes. Imagine a drunken William Holden with a six shooter loaded with real bullets. I can’t believe no one was injured.

This film remains to be Peckinpah’s masterpiece. It is iconic for its blood and violence. The cast is rich with great actors of a dying breed. It’s a great film that you need to see as soon as you can. Its philosophy is something that can’t be ignored. It’s one of those rare cinematic treats. Peckinpah was so disgusted with the studios final cut of this film, he lobbied to remove his name from the film. Wow…

Review: 10/10

The Directors: Sam Peckinpah

I love Peckinpah films. They are beautiful, violent, deep and just ballsy. His films at the core are about people who have been left behind by the world. Whether it’s the cowboy (“The Wild Bunch”, “Ride the High Country” and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”) a man adapting to a new life in a new country (“Straw Dogs”, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”) a trucker (“Convoy”) or an ex con (“The Getaway”) – all these characters are abandoned.  His loyalty of an ensemble group of actors is something I’ve always admired of him (Warren Oates, Kris Kristofferson, Steve McQueen and Ben Johnson – just to name a few).  His films are nothing less than edgy.

1. “The Wild Bunch” – 1969

2. “Ride the High Country” – 1962

3. “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” – 1974

4. “Straw Dogs” – 1971

5. “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” – 1973

6. “The Getaway” – 1972

7. “The Osterman Weekend” – 1983

8. “Junior Bonner” – 1972

9. “Convoy” – 1978

10. “Cross of Iron” – 1977

Deep Cuts: “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” – 1974. Dir. Sam Peckinpah.

With Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Emilio Fernandez, and Kris Kristofferson

“Listen! The church cuts off the feet, fingers, any other goddamn thing from the Saints don’t they?! Well what the hell? Alfredo’s our Saint! He’s the Saint of our money and I’m gonna borrow a piece of him.”

Peckinpah’s films and his center characters all deal with a world that has left them behind. In this film we find Bennie (Warren Oates) in a small cantina in Mexico where he plays the piano. Just by a matter of chance two impeccably well dressed Americans (Robert Weber and Gig Young) who are working for a drug lord (Emilio Fernandez) are on a mission to bring back the head of Alfredo Garcia; walk into Bennie’s cantina and ask around.

Robert Weber and Gig Young

These two Americans are older and gentle looking but they are just fucking brutally ruthless – as well as lovers (as in homosexuals). The scene is set up to where Bennie is playing a tune on the piano with his sunglasses on, and Webber and Young enter, everyone grows quiet. They delicately mingle and ask about their “old chum” Alfredo Garcia. No one has heard of him. They set their sights on Bennie who has been watching them cautiously. They approach Bennie, and he tries to soften them up, by calling over two girls for Webber and Young. They women begin to rub the men’s shoulders and whisper sweet nothings in Spanish to them. The men seem to enjoy it – and then Webber elbows one of the women in the face and knocks her out cold. Bennie asks why they want Garcia and Young calmly replies, “we want him dead.”

This is one tough fucking movie.

Of course Bennie knows nothing about Alfredo Garcia. They leave their hotel information with him before they leave. As soon as the two men jet, Bennie rushes out to find his girlfriend. She’s what you would essentially call an escort for rich Americans but she did spend some time with Alfredo Garcia a couple of nights ago to say goodbye to him.

She tells Bennie that Alfredo got into a horrible car accident and his body is still lying in whatever ditch he drove into. Oates quickly leaves his lady friend and heads out to the hotel where Young and Weber are staying; he walks into the room that is filled with other creepy white guys a couple more Americans and a few Germans. Bennie alludes to the two Americans that he may know where to find Garcia. They offer him 10,000 dollars to bring his head back. He asks for 5,000 upfront and they give it to him with one condition: bring Alfredo Garcia’s head back in four days, or we are coming after you.

Bennie and his girlfriend head out in search for the wreck armed with a pistol and a brand new machete. What ensues is the making of an epic film that stands among the best of Peckinpah’s catalog of epically great films.

One scene has always stuck out in my mind every time I think back to the film. While Bennie and his girl are resting in a field eating dinner – Bennie finally proposes to his girlfriend and she is so overwhelmed with joy. It’s the first time we see both of them happy. Then rides up two American bikers (now remember, this film takes place somewhere in the Mexican dessert). The two bikers are played by Kris Kristofferson and Donnie Fritts (Kristofferson’s frequent musical collaborator). Kristofferson is the alpha of the duo and proceeds to rape Bennie’s girlfriend.

Riders on the Storm.

This incredibly small role that Kristofferson had played has always stuck with me. The character (credited as “Biker”) is the scum of the earth. He drags Oates’ girlfriend into the tall grass and pulls a switchblade and cuts her shirt down the middle, ripping it open, exposing her bare breasts. She slaps him, and then he proceeds to slap her – knocking her down.

Now just think about this: Kristofferson was not only an established country/folk superstar and actor who starred in Peckinpah’s “Pat Garret and Billy the Kid” where he plays the legendary Billy the Kid a year prior to this film, and in the same year as this film starred in Martin Scorsese’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” where he played the embodiment of what a man should be AND he was also extremely popular in the religious community due to his strong faith (always sighting Christ as his hero) and had recorded a ton of Gospel music. Imagine how this small role might have changed his image?

Kris Kristofferson has got some fucking balls.

The rest of the film builds up to an epic showdown of Bennie racing to get Garcia’s head before Robert Webber and Gig Young catch up with him. This builds up to a monumental showdown that isn’t quite worthy of the ending of “The Wild Bunch” – but it’s not too far off.

Bottom line this film boils down to the western film noir hybrid much like “Lone Star”, “Blood Simple” or “No Country for Old Men”. It fuses the two genres perfectly. Probably my favorite aspect of the film is that a decent part of the dialogue is spoken in Spanish yet there aren’t any subtitles to help guide us – but we still know what’s going on. “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” remains to be one of Peckinpah’s best and it’s the only film Peckinpah himself had final cut on. Far fuckin’ out man. Far out…

Review: 9.8/10