Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah, 1973)

Bob Dylan's music accompanies the first killing in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Pat Garrett (James Coburn) rides across New Mexico with some of his comrades. He is complaining with his weathered baritone about how one of his comrades is grazing sheep in his land. That comrade replies that the lease agreement they had involves his land and not Pat's. Pat scoffs at the law, the same law that he acknowledged when he was elected Sheriff of the land. A few moments after Pat's indignant scoffing, Pat Garrett is shot to death. Director Sam Peckinpah freeze frames the violence, and cross cuts the assassination with a flashback to a few decades ago wherein Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) and his band are shooting chicken's heads. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is bookended with two deaths. Peckinpah is keen on reminding us that his film is an ode to a death, of Pat Garrett, of his pal-turned-nemesis Billy the Kid, and finally, of the Old West.

A younger Pat Garrett disrupts Billy the Kid's fun and invites him inside the saloon. After a few glasses of whiskey, Pat tells Billy to leave the area in five days, or he will be forced to chase him out. Pat and Billy were former friends. However, Pat has accepted the post of sheriff and with it the mission to end Billy's outlaw career. Now, they are formidable enemies, with Pat and his assured confidence and with Billy and his youthful wit and clever designs and trickery. Peckinpah lets his audience wade through the duo's mastery: gunfights after gunfights leave several casualties with the two standing alive and surviving.

Amidst the numerous bloody deaths, there is a distinct lyricism to Peckinpah's storytelling which is fascinatingly undaunted by the somewhat flawed narrative flow. It helps that Dylan lends his musicality to the film (he is also casted as the mysterious "Alias," one of Billy the Kid's erstwhile companions) which flavors the rustic scenery of New Mexico with a gorgeously apt romanticism. It also helps that Kristofferson (who is far older than the real Billy the Kid who died at 21) possesses a cool charm which is comparable to Coburn's sun-drenched and slightly exhausted macho offerings. Peckinpah's two anti-heroes are so iconic that his shifts from one storyline to another gets muddled and confusing. Peckinpah adds a host of other characters to keep Pat's hunt more interesting and the deaths and tortures numerous.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is Peckinpah's personal ode to the death of the Old West, as encapsulated by the outlaw Billy the Kid. It seems that the sheriff Pat Garrett ultimately belongs to that era of free spirits unherded by commercialism-established laws and regulations, that when Pat Garrett was ultimately forced to shoot Billy the Kid, an appropriate response was to shoot his reflection in the mirror too: it's a mighty metaphor of Pat Garrett's death as compared to the uneventful portrayal of his assassination during the beginning and the end of the film. When Billy the Kid died and the rule of law reigned triumphant in the Frontier, personalities such as the Kid, Garrett, and their ragtag band of outlaws and rabid law enforcers have been stripped of their myths and accompanying lyricism. Death is no longer a legacy, but a mere expression of crime and punishment.

This post is my contribution to This Savage Art: Sam Peckinpah Blog-A-Thon.


Dodo said...


Although I always felt that mourning the death of the Old West was the overriding metatheme of everything Peckinpah did ,more tellingly in Wild Bunch and here.

My thoughts on this.


Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Dodo,

It's nice to see that you have been updating your blog again.

I must admit that I'm a Peckinpah novice... My Wild Bunch DVD has been gathering dust since I bought it a year ago... and aside from this, my only experience of Peckinpah is The Ballad of Cable Hogue (which also had the theme of the passing of the Old West; in this case, through an old man who discovers the joys of commercialism through his watering hole).

Have you seen Numbalikdiwa? You should give it a shot... It's a pity that I've only seen two Cinemanila features --- both were pleasant experiences, anyway.

Dodo said...

Thanks for the reco. Read your review a few days back and became pretty interested. I will check out Numbalikdiwa as well as Raket Ni Nanay ,if time allows, and am getting most of my other stuff done so I can watch Heremias on Wednesday. Cinemanila's lineup's pretty OK but I've seen most of them previously. Did catch Citizen Dog and Squatterpunk and Johnny To's Exiled and a few others.

Cable Hogue is wonderful. Quiet Peckinpah. Try to catch Wild Bunch. It'd make a wonderful double feature with Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West. After which, go see Exiled,which is a homage to both movies anbd directors. :)

Oggs Cruz said...

I'll try to catch Raket ni Nanay during the CinemaOne week. What did you think of Citizen Dog... I was quite disappointed with it, especially since it's Sasanatieng's follow-up to that gorgeous Thai western. Still good though.

There's so much to watch. I want to brush up on my Filipino cinema, thus neglecting the rest. I have so many Johnnie To DVD's collecting dust, and other classics too.

I'm still debating if I'd skip class just to go see Heremias. I'm so tempted though. Had a chat with Lav Diaz with keating a few weeks ago, and I just feel so compelled to go to the screening.

Dodo said...

Shoot. Didn't make it to that meeting with Lav. Wanted to. Keating texted and invited me but I had to rush-edit some work stuff. I'm wondering if he'll show up tomorrow at Cinemanila.

I quite loved Citizen Dog,actually. It and Exiled and Kubrador and Squatterpunk were the highlights of this year's Cinemanila for me. I sort of knew what to expect coming from Tears of the Black Tiger,which is still the better film but only by a hair. I thought it pushed whimsy a bit too far in some parts while watching it, but the more I think about it now, the more I'm liking that it did. I'm still collecting my thoughts on it and will post a review soon as. My lazy ellipsis is "Thai Amelie".

I like Wisit. One of three Thai directors(Apichatong and Pen-ek being the other two,not a big fan of Nomzee) I always look forward to. Can't wait to see his next, Armful(?), a Shaw Bros. hommage alledgedly.

I've seen Numbalikdiwa by the way(venue was nearer my place) and I do agree with your review. Not bad,though. Not bad at all. Will post my thoughts soon.

When's CinemaOne Week coming out? Might catch Raket there as well. Won't have time to do it tonight.

Oggs Cruz said...

I think CinemaOne is for the last week of November. Wisit's making a horror film too --- The Unseeable or something like that. Citizen Dog is way better than Amelie, but a tad disappointing if compared to Tears of the Black Tiger... still good, though.

I don't like Nonzee either but Dang Bireley was quite charming. He's better as a producer than a writer-director.

Have you seen Invisible Waves? I have it on DVD, don't have the time and the mood to watch it yet. Same thing with Apichatpong's Tropical Malady.

Dodo said...

Haven't seen Invisible yet nor Malady but I'm hoping to before the year ends. Yeah, I've heard of that horror film Wisit's supposed to be doing. Should be interesting. As for Citizen being better than Amelie, I agree. Although watching Citizen made me want to whip out my Amelie DVD for a re-watch. Maybe this weekend.

Will just catch Raket at CinemaOne Week.

Just came in from Heremias, BTW. At 9 Hours,it coul;d use a half hour of trimming or so, but I didn't fall alseep or get hungry or get bored. Says something, I think. :)

Oggs Cruz said...

Was in the Heremias screening too. Great, great film. Only had some occasional pee breaks, but I never felt drowsy. It helps that Lav Diaz has a clearer narrative here that wasn't present in Ebolusyon.