Friday, July 15, 2011

The Wild Bunch (1969)

This is one of those films that cinesnobs have to like, not because it is good, appealing, or entertaining, but because it is expected. The things that are brought up in its defense—what justifies it being on several AFI top lists and being selected for preservation by the National Film Registry—are its technical merits. It is cited as the first film to use the mixture of film speeds in editing its shoot-out sequences. It is held up as a “more realistic” portrayal of violence in the old west. All that is good and well, but you don’t see the same arguments being used to hail the Wright Brothers plane as one of the best airplanes ever designed, with people clamoring to fly the Wright Flyer I instead of say a 737. Give it its due as a pioneer, but don’t lose your ability to critically evaluate by calling it one of the ten best westerns of all time!

In most cases movies are about story, and the story here leaves a lot to be desired. In the late sixties, the new Hollywood wanted to show their frustration with the moral failings of the establishment, but they also were very careful to present the anti-hero as their archetype of choice. It was as if to say, “There is no such thing as a standard of good to measure people against, but we still want to call you out for not being good.” This makes a lot of the films of this period frustrating for thinking people. Even so there are well told stories that manage to work. This is not one of them. The idea that Peckinpah is trying to nail home is obvious; subtlety does not come into play here at all. The idea that you should not abandon the people you side with is clearly the standard held up as noble. The problem is that this bunch is terrible at it!

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