Saturday, August 1, 2009

PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID: 1988 DIRECTOR'S CUT (Sam Peckinpah, 1973, USA) Pat Garrett chases the ghost of his past through the thin dry air of desert heat, loaded with Law but empty of Justice, until he finally knocks upon Heaven’s door. Sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid are reflections in the same dark glass, both share a grim visage whose ghost whispers a bloody truth that the times may be a’changin…but people aren’t. Director Sam Peckinpah begins the film with a monochromatic visual of Garrett riding into an ambush, and cross cuts (in color, to set the narrative timetable) to Billy and his gang carelessly slaughtering chickens for sport and laughter. This explosive violence imbues the film with its militant nihilism, a philosophy of the human abyss as these two men confront each other as different sides of the same coin, their existence at stake in this fixed game of death. Actor Kris Kristofferson is able to bring a genial humanity to William Bonney, his boyish charm a startling contrast to his murderous nature. James Coburn’s weathered countenance is like a grinning skull and though Garrett is legally on the right side of the Law, Coburn plays him with a monstrous but not unkindly demeanor, a man tainted with self-loathing for selling himself for money and duty. The film is structured as a chase, as Peckinpah cuts between the hunter and his prey, building tension towards the final showdown. His gratuitous use of slow motion mayhem is an orgy of bloodshed, beautifully rendered in vivid color and detail that paints the romanticism of the Western genre from red to the deepest black of despair. Bob Dylan’s score is subtly masterful adding a poetically mournful narration but his acting is as monotone as his voice. As Garrett finally discovers The Kid’s hideout, the Sheriff guns him down and thus destroys the vital part of himself: Peckinpah examines this theme as Garrett shoots his own image in a faded mirror: it is a spiritual suicide. Thus life is cyclical and the very same men who paid him to track down and destroy his cohort eventually murder Garrett: he finally surrenders his badge and his guns are buried in the hot desert sand. (B+)

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