on 19 January 2017
Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia 1974 Directed by Sam Peckinpah, Starring Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber and Gig Young. Arrow 2 disc Blu-ray released: January 23rd 2017.
Attending a film festival in the mid-seventies, Sam Peckinpah was once questioned about his films, it was in respect of how the studios regularly bastardised his vision, his intension and more specifically, if he would ever be able to make a ''pure Peckinpah'' picture. He replied, '’I did 'Alfredo Garcia' and I did it exactly the way I wanted to. Good or bad, like it or not, that was my film.''
The overall narrative for Alfredo Garcia is neither complicated nor convoluted. Warren Oates plays Bennie, a simple pianist residing in a squalid barroom in Mexico. He is approached by two no-nonsense Americans (Robert Webber and Gig Young) who are attempting to track down Alfredo Garcia. The womanising Garcia is the man responsible for the pregnancy of Theresa (Janine Maldonado) the teenage daughter of a powerful Mexican boss El Jefe (Emilio Fernández). In a display of power, El Jefe offers $1,000,000 for the delivery of Garcia’s head. Bennie is unaware of the true bounty, but fully aware that his girlfriend, local prostitute Elita (Isela Vega) was once involved with Garcia. More importantly, Bennie also knows that Garcia is in fact, already dead. Bennie recognises this as a way out, a one off payday opportunity and convinces Elita to take him to Garcia’s burial place. His plan is to dig up the body, cut off the head and collect on his fee, an agreed $10,000. Elita shows some hesitancy, and before long the heavy drinking, paranoiac aspects of Bennie begin to suspect that Elita still carries feelings for the dead Garcia. After an arduous and testing car journey they both finally reach their destination, a place where their plans will take a devastating and unsuspecting twist.
Arrow has delivered a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative. The overall image is beautifully presented and a great deal cleaner than previously seen. Dirt, debris and all other manner of light wear have now been removed. As Arrow points out, there are some minor instances of density fluctuation and photochemical damage, but these really are minor. I noticed slight fluctuations during the torture of Theresa, but this is arguably due to the condition of the original film elements and to be expected. More importantly it does not distract from the overall presentation of the film. One could even suggest that such minor defects are perfectly suited and in line with the gritty, sweat soaked ambience that Peckinpah arguably sought to present. The 4K scan has been fully justified and as a result the level of detail has been greatly improved without ever compromising or hampering the genuine celluloid look – an element so essential to a movie such as Alfredo Garcia. Colours retain a realistic and natural quality, almost dry and dusty as opposed to a sun drenched and over cooked. Thankfully, Arrow has also resisted the temptation to beef up the audio, so don’t go looking for a falsely created 5.1 mix. Alfredo Garcia was recorded in mono, so purists will be delighted with the original 1.0 mono mix transferred from the original 35mm single stripe magnetic track. The audio elements are also clean, dynamic and hold a consistent level of clarity throughout.
Heading the extras on disc one are two excellent audio commentaries. The first is a new and exclusively recorded commentary by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies. Prince’s narration looks closely at Peckinpah’s philosophy and theory. It’s a commentary that also examines the characters to some depth. It also encourages you to think and ask questions. There are also more generalised observations from Prince involving the story, in particular the scene with the two bikers (played by Kris Kristofferson and Donnie Fritts). It’s a scene which has always bothered me, and serves no real importance to the story. So it was pleasing to hear that Prince agrees, and that it provides very little - other than slowing down the pace and the narrative. I don’t mind either film philosophy or debate, but I occasionally believe it sometimes has a tendency to overstretch or loose itself in some strange form of self-consumption. Nevertheless, Prince’s commentary does keep your attention throughout and provides plenty of food for thought.
The second audio commentary is moderated by film historian Nick Redman and features Sam Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. This commentary first appeared on the Twilight Time Encore Edition Blu-ray and works extremely well. The advantage of course, is that it provides various different perspectives and viewpoints. For instance, on this occasion, the same Kristofferson and Fritts biker scene results in a clear difference of opinion. We, the viewer are offered a perfectly logical and justified reasoning for this scene, in that Bennie is provided with the opportunity ‘walk the walk’ rather than just ‘talk the talk’. The implication of the scene, along with a contrasting perspective of its inclusion, suddenly offers something new to digest and signifies perhaps a different level to Bennie’s character. Seydor, Simmons and Weddle are not afraid of arguing their opinions, but also retain a clear respect for each other’s knowledge and understanding. It’s a perfect ensemble of experts, each of whom is clearly on top of their subject.
Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron is Paul Joyce’s feature-length (93minutes) 1993 documentary featuring interviews with James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Monte Hellman, Ali MacGraw, Jason Robards and many others. Its inclusion on Arrow’s special edition marks the first time it is available on home video in the UK. The documentary was released prior on Criterion’s Straw Dogs (1971) DVD release but omitted some film clips due to copyright and reduced the running time by some 10minutes. Man of Iron is a very personal and enjoyable reflection of the man and told by the people that knew him best. It is a brutally honest account which shows Peckinpah, not only for his craftsmanship, but also for his flaws, for which there were many. As gifted as Peckinpah was, there are also accounts of his cruelty, manipulation and his complexity. His demise into alcohol and later his cocaine use is arguably pitiful and reflected to some degree in his later films. Regardless of this, he remained loved by his friends, many of which returned to work with him over and over again. Whilst Man of Iron celebrates the man and his work, it never attempts to paper over the cracks or his personal frailties. It provides a well-balanced account and as a result, makes for fascinating viewing.
Next up is The John Player Lecture: Sam Peckinpah, an audio only recording of the director’s on-stage appearance at the National Film Theatre in London (47minutes). Whilst there is no indication, this recording possibly dates from around 1971. Peckinpah does make a reference to his next film to be released, The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) and because he is in the UK at this time may be an indication that he was in pre-production stages for his next film Straw Dogs (1971) which was shot in Cornwall. Peckinpah does sound a little uncomfortable in front of an audience and not entirely at ease. There is almost a sense of comfort knowing that his friend Warren Oates is sitting among the audience and on several occasions Peckinpah tries to draw him actively into the conversation. When questioned about certain aspects of his work, Peckinpah does at times seem a little reluctant to answer and the sighs picked up by his microphone appear to back this up. However, Peckinpah does reveal a great deal of insightful information, as well as taking the opportunity in criticising the film establishment, such as the censors and producers and in the way they have handled his work. Historically, it is an important piece to include; my only minor gripe is when it comes to the audience questions, which are at times close to inaudible. As the audio interview is carried out over a still image of Peckinpah, it might have been an idea to overlay some text in reference to the actual audience questions. In doing so it would have made it a great deal easier to decipher exactly what Peckinpah was referring to in his answers.
Kris Kristofferson songs, is a separate chapter which contains full versions of the 4 songs featured in the Man of Iron documentary – which is a nice touch. Rounding off the first disc is the original theatrical trailer for Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The trailer has also been beautifully cleaned up and has those vivid red titles practically bursting out from the screen.
Arrow has also provided an additional Blu-ray bonus disc as part of this special edition, and what a treat it is too. Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, The Directors Cut features an incredible collection of never-before-seen interviews with Peckinpah colleagues and contemporaries including Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn, Monte Hellman, L.Q. Jones, Alan Sharp, Katherine Haber and many more. It is basically all of the original interview material filmed for the Man of Iron documentary. This priceless material was thankfully preserved by Paul Joyce who also provides a new introduction and closing. There is also the bonus of a newly recorded interview with Peckinpah’s regularly featured actor David Warner. All of the interview footage (all 10 hours and 43 minutes of it) fell into the hands of Michael Brooke who has done a wonderful job of polishing and presenting the material over individual chapters. Brooke has intelligently edited the footage to remove clapperboards (except for the L.Q. Jones interview which became a running gag) and a few minor technical issues. To enhance each of the interviews further, Brooke has also overlaid posters and stills to fit in with relevant conversation pieces. There is also the advantage of hearing Paul Joyce’s questions (asked off camera) which help provide a cohesive, smooth continuity in context to the responses. As a result, we are provided with some nicely assembled, self-contained episodes, all of which are completely absorbing. In addition there is also the option of a new introduction to each of the interviews which are provided by Katherine Haber, arguably the woman who became closest to Peckinpah throughout the Seventies. Her extended interview from 1993 (lasting 51 minutes), is at times heart-breaking but nevertheless remains riveting. None of the interview material has to be watched in any particular order. However, the interview with Convoy (1978) producer Michael Deeley (the shortest at 10 minutes), serves as a great introduction and sets the overall tone rather nicely.
In Addition, Arrow has provided a very informative 43 page booklet, which includes a couple of in depth articles on Alfredo Garcia and an Interview with Warren Oates, both reprinted from the respected publication Film Comment magazine. Overall, it’s a pretty outstanding collection.
Region: B, Rating: 18, Duration: 112 mins, Language: English, Subtitles: English SDH, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Audio: 1.0 Mono, Colour
Darren Allison, Cinema Retro Magazine