Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
I'm just going to try out this post using a jump, I think it's a good idea, but now is the time to tell me if you hate it, before I update the older entries!
I somehow let so much of the day get away from me - I didn't even eat dinner until 9pm. I found some time to watch Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, directed by Sam Peckinpah in 1974. This was my first time watching this movie, and I was really excited to see it, since I love The Wild Bunch so much. I know that critics, and the public, really hated this movie when it came out. It is disturbing and violent, especially for 1974. Roger Ebert's defense of the film has become almost legendary - he was pretty much the only critic to support it when it came out. Over time, people have come around and given this film the credit that I think it deserves.
Plot spoilers to follow. I can't talk about how I feel about this movie without giving quite a bit away, and I feel like you need to know quite a bit of the plot to understand what I'm going on about.
The movie starts out with a young girl, Teresa, being tortured in front of many people. Her father, known only as El Jefe, demands to know who got her pregnant, and after much pain, her pride breaks, and she tells him - Alfredo Garcia. El Jefe proclaims that there will be a $1 million reward for whoever will "bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia." Some hitmen in business suits start the search, and find themselves at a touristy piano bar, where they encounter Bennie. He's a retired Army officer, and enticed by their offer. His girlfriend Elita admits that she cheated on him with Alfredo, but tells him that Alfredo is already dead. They head out to find his grave, Elita under the impression that Bennie just wants to make sure Alfredo is dead. Elita learns of his real intentions and is disgusted, and when they dig up the grave, Bennie is suddenly knocked out. He wakes up, buried on top of Elita, who has died. Literally insane with grief, Bennie takes off on a murderous spree to track down the head and bring it back. He brings it back to the hitmen, but he knows they were hired by someone else, for more money - he murders them all and brings the head to El Jefe himself. There, he arrives as Teresa's son is being coddled by El Jefe after being baptized. The irony of the situation is not lost on him. He tells El Jefe how many people died to bring the head to him, including his lover, and El Jefe doesn't care. Bennie unleashes his fury, shooting El Jefe at Teresa's urging. He escapes, only to be gunned down by El Jefe's guards, the money and head in his car.
I know that was long, but I don't know how many people watch the films I write about here, and some of you might not want to watch a violent, weird movie like this one. I love, love this movie. It's not like, "fun to watch" or anything, but it's really great. It's dirty, it's gritty, it's gross. The violence is not over-the-top compared to today's standards, but it's the impact of it that is. It might not look shocking anymore, but the idea of it still is, at least for me. I gasped during the first few scenes of the film, when Teresa is being tortured - it is so brutal and shocking. The sheer body count by the end of the film is shocking. I'm probably more sensitive to violence, though, so that sort of thing bothers me a lot.
Ebert writes of the film, "''Alfredo Garcia'' is a mirror image of formula movies where the hero goes on the road on a personal mission. The very reason for wanting Alfredo Garcia's head--revenge--is moot because Garcia is already dead" (Great Movies II, 90). I like what he says about it not being a typical "on the road" sort of movie. It's not a normal sort of film, like all films that Peckinpah directs. There is something odd and frank about the characters, and they are a little bit mad. It's a warped movie, with a dark and bleak view of the world. Death is everywhere and ugly, and everything is senseless.
Ebert mentions repeatedly in his essay how this film is almost autobiographical, saying, "I sense that the emotional weather on the set seeped onto the screen, haunting it with a buried level of passion. If there is anything to the auteur theory, then ''Alfredo Garcia'' is the most autobiographical film Peckinpah ever made" (Great Movies II, 88). Bennie actually looks and acts like Peckinpah (including the alcoholism), and there is a very raw emotional feel to the movie, like what Ebert is talking about. You can tell that someone put a lot of sweat and tears into this film. It was actually the only movie that Peckinpah ever released that he felt was truly his - all of his films, except this one, were re-cut by the studios. The personal aspects of the film, combined with the unconventional plot, make it more unsettling and haunting.
All of the elements of style that I loved in The Wild Bunch are here as well. The many camera angles, the weird but perfect speed ramping during action scenes. The Wild Bunch had the same message as the one that is in Alfredo
There is also much focus on how senseless everything is, and more disturbing, how little choice anyone has to participate in the senseless events. El Jefe wants Alfredo's head, but he still will love his grandchild. Will the head change anything? Bennie wants the money for a life for himself and Elita, but she is killed, and later, so is Bennie. He killed so many people to bring the head to El Jefe, for nothing, and in the end, realized even El Jefe was a crummy person and killed him as well. The plot leaves no one any choices - once you start these kind of things, you cannot stop them. Bennie has to keep going because, well, what else is he going to do, really? Go back to tourist-ridden piano bar? It doesn't matter anymore, so he might as well keep pressing on, no matter how wounded, dirty, or drunk he is.
Ebert has a nice scene that shows this tragedy. He describes a scene where Bennie and Elita are pulled over on the side of the road, writing, "Then the two bikers appear, and the one played by Kristofferson intends to rape Elita. She knows Bennie has a concealed gun but the bikers are dangerous and she tells the man who has just proposed to her not to risk his life, because, as a prostitute, ''I been here before and you don't know the way.'' It is the sad poetry of that line that expresses Peckinpah's vision, in which people find the courage to do what they must do in a world with no choices" (Great Movies II, 99). It's not just Bennie who presses on. All of the characters have no choices, and they press on, sometimes pointlessly.
One last bit of rambling. Peckinpah is often labeled as a misogynist. I can see why, in some cases. But for this film only, I don't feel that way. Here, bad things happen to everyone - violence happens to women and men. I actually really liked the end of the movie because it seems sort of optimistic for the women. Teresa demands that Bennie kill her father, which is a satisfying moment. She is able to control something, to have her own sort of revenge that was denied to her. When her mother peers into the room, she looks almost happy that her husband is dead. Who knows what happens after Bennie tries to leave and is killed. Maybe Teresa and her mother go on suffering. I liked to think that things were better for them. I could be remembering the end wrong, but I don't think anyone lived to see that Teresa wanted her father dead. It was just intriguing to me, I guess. In the midst of so much death and nihilism there was some small wink of something vaguely happy. Just some weird musings of mine, though.
Anyway, that is more than enough writing, my hand is aching! The movie isn't really easy or pleasant to watch, but it is a great film, and I really enjoyed it. I loved the interesting messages woven into the film, and combined with the great cinematography, acting, and plot, it all really came together for me. I understand why so many people go crazy for Peckinpah - he was clearly very talented, although tormented. I am so happy that Ebert defended this film for so long, it's nice to see it get the recognition it deserves. I'm so glad he felt strongly enough about it to put in his book. If you decide to check out the movie, let me know!
Have any of you see Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Buy it on Amazon