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The boozy Alfredo split
audiences in half

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Director: Sam Peckinpah

By JIM CAROLUS
STATIC and FEEDBACK staff writer

Sam Peckinpah is a director whose films have (with
one major exception that I’ll get to soon) always
divided viewers into two very distinct categories. For
every viewer who sees him as a cinematic visionary,
there is another (sometimes
many others) who
considers him as an exploitative hack whose well-
documented alcoholism eventually derailed a
promising career. The fact that most of his late-70’s
work was cinematically sloppy nonsense doesn’t help
settle the debate as easily as one would hope. Nor
does the fact that he directed (arguably) the greatest
western ever filmed: 1969’s
The Wild Bunch.

One of Peckinpah’s least acknowledged
masterpieces (and I do believe it to be that) is 1974’s
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; a boozy, at times
nearly unwatchable hangover of a movie that feels so
dirty, desperate and delusional that it almost seems to
be daring audiences to turn it off – angrily.

Me? I loved every second.
Imagine the cinematic equivalent to the sound of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and you’ve got the
gist of this film. In fact, that song would make a fitting soundtrack to
many scenes in the film.

This is the first movie I have
ever seen that is edited in such a way as to make the viewer feel as though they are
alcoholics. If you’ve ever started drinking at 9 a.m. and finished at midnight (or later), you’ll know the feeling this
movie will give you; it captures that interminable limbo between drunkenness and morning-after sobriety better
than anything I have ever witnessed.

Warren Oates (yes, the drill sergeant from
Stripes) turns in the performance of his career (and he had a good
one) as an alcoholic American pianist plugging away at a sleazy Mexican bar when he is recruited to complete
the film’s eponymous task. With a bottle of hard liquor (constantly) in one hand and a gun in the other, he sets off
to retrieve the head that will buy himself and his sweet Mexican prostitute/girlfriend a new future.

Sound clichéd? You bet it is. But that’s only because this structure has existed since the dawn of cinematic time
and (has since) been ripped off by countless imitators. What
isn’t clichéd is the almost supernatural way Oates
inhabits his character, using frightening (and often repulsive) behavioral tics to superbly capture the
characteristics of the alcoholic his director clearly was. Without a doubt, Oates is channeling Sam Peckinpah
himself in this portrayal (the dark sunglasses he constantly sports being the most obvious tip-off), and it is a truly
ugly, disturbing portrayal.

Often described as the quintessential example of “cinematic grunge,” there are virtually no images of beauty in
this movie. Scenic Mexican locations are filmed in bleak, washed-out tones, most of the cast appears to have
forgone showers for weeks at a time, and editing is clumsy to the point of distraction. But this is a movie about
drunkenness. How much more appropriate than to direct it in the same spirit as its subject matter? It isn’t really
a “fun” film…but it is a truly singular work of art that I can’t recommend strongly enough to fans of action films
and Westerns.

I also shouldn’t neglect to mention the fantastic “Gotcha!” opening in which the film “pretends” to be a Western,
or the incredible last 45 minutes of the film, which are both bleakly pessimistic
and action-packed (complete
with Peckinpah’s trademark slow-motion violence). As a sidenote, the depiction of alcoholism seen in this
“action movie” is more powerful than
anything seen in “message” pictures like 28 Days (not the horror movie,
the Sandra Bullock snooze-fest) or
When a Man Loves a Woman.

It will take a bit of stamina to get through the meandering first half of this film. But once you’ve acquired the taste
for Peckinpah’s hauntingly bleak vision, you’ll be hard pressed to forget both Oates’ performance and the sloppy-
drunk manner in which the film is directed. For any other film by any other director, the critics would be right…it
would be a career-ending disaster. But for this director at this time in his alcohol-tortured career, it’s the most
personal work he ever could have created. As such, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Note: For maximum enjoyment, watch immediately before or after Sin City. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see
it.