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Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Director Sam Peckinpah was fascinated by machismo, and everything that surrounds it — the codes of honor, the sexuality, the violence. And, like the work of a lot of great artists, his films aren't willing to make compromises. Peckinpah's cinema causes such visceral reactions that some don't want to intellectualize it or can't think about it without reducing the director to the level of a filthy voyeur. The lynchpin scene of this "Peckinpah as pig" thesis can be seen in his 1974 film Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. In it, Bennie (Warren Oates) and Elita (Isela Vega) stop to camp for a night when two armed motorcyclists decide to take them prisoners of their whims. The leader, Paco (Kris Kristopherson), takes Elita away to have his way with her in a protracted sequence featuring slapping and the threat of rape. But the sticky wicket for many is that Paco gives pause to his notions of rape only to have Elita walk over to him, say "please don't," and then kisses him. There are many ways to take the scene: maybe she's turned on, maybe she's doing it to survive — even the DVD commentators aren't sure of how to read it — but the bottom line with all of Peckinpah's art is that he reveals grays where many viewers would be more comfortable seeing black and white. And yet it's not an artist's obligation to hold the audience's hand; Peckinpah was a provocateur, and the important distinction to make is that he's an observer of human nature who enjoys not necessarily the thing itself, but dealing with moments of violence that provoke complicated emotions (for the characters and audience). But this element was damning for him because it was his second sequence that dealt with uneasy sexual assaults (following 1971's Straw Dogs), and he was branded a misogynist. If one can watch controversial content without judging the author as someone who enjoys it, then Peckinpah leaves a lot to chew on. And though Alfredo Garcia might not be Peckinpah's best film, it's surely his most personal, and most revealing.

Garcia's machinations begin when El Jefe (Emilo Fernadez, best know as Gen. Mapache in The Wild Bunch) screams "Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" when it's revealed that Garcia got his daughter pregnant. With many men in Mexico on the hunt for him, two contract hitmen (Gig Young and Robert Webber) run into Bennie at the hole-in-the-wall bar where he plays piano. Bennie plays big shot and says he knows where to find Garcia, and he's told that all that's wanted is the uppermost element of his dead body. Taking the hitmen's deal, Bennie actually does know where to find Alfredo — his girlfriend Elita recently spent three days with Garcia and shortly thereafter got into a fatal car accident. Thus begins Bennie's quest to find Garcia's body and to remove the head to get the money he thinks will keep him and Elita in the high life. The two hit the road, and at first their trip is peaceful and romantic as both talk about settling down and getting married. But it goes sour when they are accosted by the bikers, which leads to a violent showdown. It gets even worse when they finally get to the body, where at the moment of victory Bennie is knocked out and Elita is killed by bounty hunters. Born again from Alfredo's grave, Bennie becomes a suicidal avenging angel mowing down anyone who keeps him from his reward. Now carrying Garcia's severed head — who becomes his traveling companion and confidant — in the end even the reward money loses its meaning.

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In many of Peckinpah's films there's the sense of gunslinger qua filmmaker, a put-upon individual attempting to retain his identity while asked to whore himself out, trying to compromise as little as possible, but knowing that his final goal is, and will be, compromised. Here, Warren Oates's Bennie is the most nakedly modeled on the director, and he's the quintessential Peckinpah lead, besides being one of the great character actors in cinema. With his beaten down face and rough physique, he looks as though he smells of cheap booze and unfiltered cigarettes — a perfect Peckinpah surrogate. But for a director's alter-ego, there is no romanticism for the character or his actions, and Bennie is put through the ringer. In Peckinpah's deconstruction of machismo and violence, one of the most important elements is the role of (and fear of) impotence. Garcia, his victim, is also his doppelganger — they shared the same woman, and their fates are intertwined. One senses that his desire to get the head has to do with one-upping the man who slept with his fiancée (and gave them both crabs), but once he is finally able to prove his manliness through violence, it seals his fate; this desire ultimately leads to the destruction of his relationship and his life. Unfortunately, Alfredo Garcia was Peckinpah's last "complete" film (everything after was recut or compromised), and the loss is felt. The director spent the next decade struggling to work and losing his battle with alcohol and drug addiction, dying of a stroke in 1984. But when Peckinpah was on, he was one of the greatest filmmakers to ever wield a camera. This was his great last gasp of greatness.

MGM presents Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia in a stunning remastered anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) with monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The film was shot by Alex Phillips Jr. (who also shot 1984's Romancing the Stone) and has never looked better, including the well done day-for-night photography. Because the opening sequence features Spanish with English subtitles, there are four subtitle tracks (along with English, French and Spanish). Extras are limited to an audio commentary and the trailer. The commentary is by Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons (who appears in the film), and David Weddle, and it's moderated by Nick Redman, all of whom appeared on the commentaries for Junior Bonner and The Osterman Weekend. Keep-case.

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