A unique and thoroughly unexpected document about the making of one of modern cinema's key works, this short docu will be a source of fascination to film buffs in general and Sam Peckinpah fanatics in particular.
A unique and thoroughly unexpected document about the making of one of modern cinema’s key works, this short docu will be a source of fascination to film buffs in general and Sam Peckinpah fanatics in particular. Built around some never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage of the director and his cast at work on critical sequences of “The Wild Bunch,” pic is a natural for fests and specialized rep houses paired with the 1969 classic itself or other appropriate fare, and will achieve lasting life as part of Warner Bros.’ upcoming laserdisc release of the restored director’s cut.
Part of the docu’s allure lies in the anonymity of its source. About 70 minutes of black-and-white, silent, 16mm footage shot on the “Wild Bunch” location near Torreon, Mexico, was discovered last year in Warner Bros. vaults. British record producer and music archivist Nick Redman, who had just restored Jerry Fielding’s score for the picture for compact disc, approached film editor and Peckinpah scholar Paul Seydor with the material, but, despite their best efforts, they could not determine who shot the footage; presumption is that is was a member of cinematographer Lucien Ballard’s camera crew.
Whoever it was, he or she picked good moments to record, since the film provides illuminating coverage of the creation of some memorable scenes, notably “the walk thing,” as the director called it, with William Holden, Warren Oates, Ernest Borgnine and Ben Johnson striding to their destinies at the Battle of Bloody Porch, the preparation for which is also covered extensively.
The working out of a couple of other sequences is briefly presented, climaxing with the careful planning of the bridge explosion, the last scene shot before the company went home after 81 days of production.
Aside from the sense of privilege provided by the glimpses of Peckinpah and his talented colleagues in action, docu’s greatest contribution lies in its clear revelation of how the director worked instinctively to expand and elaborate moments that were mere jottings on the written page and would have amounted to nothing in most other filmmakers’ hands. “The walk thing,” for example, was disposed of in three lines in the script, but the coverage here is sufficiently extensive to illustrate how Peckinpah slowly built it into an indelible, defining sequence during the shoot, without having pre-planned it.
Seydor, the author of a highly respected critical study of the director, has combined voiceover remarks from surviving Peckinpah cohorts as well as readings of pertinent quotations from some deceased participants, including some Peckinpah commentary delivered by Ed Harris, although identifying the speakers verbally after-the-fact, rather than by simultaneous printed titles, proves annoying.
Only other disappointment stems from fact that the anonymous cameraman was not able to record the actual shooting of scenes, either because he was not permitted to or was otherwise occupied at the time. What Seydor offers instead are excerpts from the relevant scenes, shown in brilliant widescreen clips that are infinitely sharper and more luminous than the muddy 70mm reissue prints that were struck last year.