Friday, August 08, 2003

The only time I saw Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch on the big screen was when Giovanni insisted I go and dragged me to this tiny, obscure repertory moviehouse on the other side of Milan, where we watched it (as Il Mucchio Selvaggio) in English with Italian subtitles.

I had seen it in bits and pieces on late night TV, heavily cut of course, and I hadn't been impressed. Its heavily edited small-screen version seemed a relic of the era when Hollywood was deeply in love with the fascinating possibilities of the blood squib. But the theatrical viewing was a revelation for me. On the big screen, it was, simply, a feast. There are so many glorious things about this movie:

For me, the overriding message of the film is that the moral imperative is, well, imperative. In a chaotic, nihilistic world where even the children are brutal and sadistic—especially in such a world—the only real transcendencies are the absolute rules of honor that cannot be broken, the principles that cannot be sacrificed. Even in a savagely immoral world, men seek moral certainties as much as they seek food or oxygen. In this case Pike and his men take their strength in the highest concept left in their awful universe: Personal loyalty. "When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can't do that, you're like some animal - you're finished! We're finished! All of us!"

The uncut final seven-minute battle between Pike’s gang and thousands of Mexican Federales is one of the most violent scenes in cinema history and takes pre-CGI warfare imagery to its furthest limits, and even today feels remarkably liberating and cathartic.

There are those who say that The Wild Bunch is the best movie ever made, and there are days when I can’t disagree with them.

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