Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I think I read at least 50 books a year. So, inspired by master scribe Scott Von Doviak, I'm prepared to undertake the 50 book challenge.

With no further ado, here's book no. 1:

"If They Move... Kill 'Em!": The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah - David Weddle.

If They Move... Kill 'Em%21: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah

Weddle's biography of Peckinpah is not vastly different from Marshall Fine's Bloody Sam, but it is remarkably better-written and -conceived in parts. Weddle's worst when he falls back on crap historical generalities (e.g. when he talks about the genre of Westerns and the music of the 50s and 60s as indicators of American political and cultural change -- er, no, Weddle, there's an issue of agency to consider first). Weddle's best when he breaths life into the craziness of Peckinpah's life (putting Fine's dull, repetitious prose to shame). Even taking Weddle's book on its own terms, though, I feel ambiguous about recommending it.

Peckinpah's life, like his movies, was full of struggle between instinct and self-image (or between what he was and what he wanted to be, if you will). Reading about the man adds a personal dimension to my understanding of his movies, but I don't think that the personal dimension adds much understanding. Fine's biography (in my memory) seemed like endless repetitions of "Sam got drunk and pissed off this or that person" (actual book may vary from memory). Weddle's biography indulges in a more psych 101 reading, and thus follows the narrative "Sam was trying to kill himself because of his psychological trauma and self-hatred." Like any biography, both are probably equally true and false. The more I know about him personally, I want to judge the guy harshly for how he treated his loved ones, but, really, what does it matter what I think of the man? The guy was one of the most brilliant filmmakers of the 60s and 70s, and his capacity to create great art was unparalleled (N.B. Weddle would agree with this sentiment). I think four of Peckinpah's films - TWB, Ride The High Country, Junior Bonner, and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia - would be in my Top 50 at any given time, and one - The Wild Bunch - shares the top slot of "my favorite film ever" with The Seven Samurai, no questions asked.

Someone like Peckinpah, I don't want to dwell on his pain and the shitty state of his life. I just want to see him enter his house justified.


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