May 17th: When men were men and women were whores, without exception.


107. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah, 1973)

Probably one of the last classic Peckinpah films that I hadn’t seen. This is the classic tale of the two friends that ended up on opposite sides of the law. But, as usual in Peckinpah’s movies, the opposition isn’t quite as simple as that. The film follows the journey of the two titular men as Garrett is hired to hunt and kill William H. Bonny, Billy the Kid, by the encroaching land-owners of the newly tamed frontier. During the course of this hunt Garrett loses touch with his station as the Sheriff and begins a descent into a moral vacuum. He becomes the hard-drinking, womanising archetype of the West – getting worse the closer he gets to Bonny. There’s even the suggestion that Garrett helps Bonny to escape from the first time they capture him, fuelling his own tragic descent. A descent in marked contrast to Bonny’s easygoing charm as he mulls over fleeing to Mexico or sticking around.

The whole film is set to the strains of Bob Dylan’s original soundtrack. I have been informed by a musician friend that Dylan is the greatest song-writer to have ever lived. I don’t know how you quantify this, if indeed you can at all, but I do know that his music sits easily with this melancholy film and adds further texture to Peckinpah’s beautifully desolate landscapes. Dylan cannot act though – no way. This doesn’t detract from a typically macho piece of cinema where men are big and flawed and women are furniture or bystanders. It is what it is with no apologies and possibly tongue-in-cheek and thoroughly enjoyable for it.

Note: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under ‘Pop Star Vehicles’.

3 thoughts on “May 17th: When men were men and women were whores, without exception.”

  1. My musician friend, Conmeister on the comments here, has pointed out that by criticising his subjective opinion on Bob Dylan’s song-writing ability I’m undercutting my own subjective opinion on the films that I watch. He may have a point, quantifying a subjective opinion in a review is a delicate matter – should you address it. I’ve re-read the review and it does read a little pithily about the Bob Dylan point so we had a discussion about my aims and I thought it’d be helpful to share my thoughts here. I’ve gone wrong and what I could have done to improve the writing. Gotta say that constructive criticism like this is really helpful so please feel free to chime in with any of your own…

    This was my thinking…

    I wanted to mention Bob Dylan in the review – it’s an important role in the film and his music is pretty integral to the film so I looked for a way of bringing that in. Conmeister (a proficient musician himself) had told me in the past that Dylan was the ‘greatest ever songwriter’ so I used that. I thought it worked in the context of the review because I wanted to mention that his music was well suited to the film – I meant to mention the use of one particular song but couldn’t find the name of the track. That was where I wanted to quantify my opinion that his music suited the film but because I couldn’t find the name I thought I’d sound a bit daft going on about ‘that bit where the Sherriff dies and the guitar is sad’. So I opted for brevity instead and a generalisation about the landscape. I also liked the ‘Greatest songwriter’ bit because it’s pretty apparent that Dylan isn’t a particularly good actor – he’s a bit bobbins in the film to be honest so it made a good juxtaposition to start by crediting him as being highly thought of in the musical community (via Conmeister), good musically in the context of the film and then round it out by making sure you wouldn’t expect any great shakes in the acting. The bit about ‘ don’t know how you quantify this, if indeed you can at all’ is there because I don’t know anything about songwriting really and the blog is about film so I’m admitting ignorance, or at least attempting to.

    Reading it back it might sound as if I’m being pithy or insulting. That wasn’t the intention. I’m putting a lot of thought into each review, they’re taking me half an hour plus at the moment, and sometimes it might be that I can’t see the wood for the trees.

    It’s an interesting point about ‘Greatest’ and ‘Best ever’ and things like that. I’m trying really hard to avoid saying things like that but reading back shows me that I’m not always successful. I don’t really believe in the ‘Greatest’ of anything so there is probably a bit of prejudice against those kind of statements creeping in when I say things like ‘don’t know how you quantify this, if indeed you can at all’. I’d like to think I can quantify any statement I make about a film – but it would probably take you five minutes to find one I’d struggle with in my reviews. It’s difficult to stick to a code in that respect, especially if I get a bit excited. That’s sort of what I was driving at. But I wanted to condense it instead of writing this lot.
    I want to do a sort of theory of reviewing in the future. Nothing too extravagant or confrontational, just my own theory and thoughts and writing these thoughts out really helps.

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