THE WILD BUNCH

The Wild Bunch was Kathryn Bigelow’s choice to write about for the Serious Pleasures project, although in truth, it’s hardly a film in need of rediscovery as the project required.
However, her reasons for choosing it makes infinitely more sense than Steven Spielberg’s choice of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), simply based on the fact that it’s his favorite film (!)  Bigelow clearly proves how the film changed her life and as importantly, that the film is about honor, NOT violence. I completely agree.
So, with that in mind, here’s the final entry from my contributions to Bill Krohn’s Serious Pleasures (Previous installments are Point Blank, The Sand Pebbles, The Hill, One-Eyed Jacks and White Heat) Bigelow’s piece in italics followed by my research. All of which took place while I was researching Lee Marvin: Point Blank.
God, I so love the movies!

Shattering The Hall of Mirrors
Kathryn Bigelow on The Wild Bunch

The New York art world in which I was entrenched in the mid-Seventies was struggling to free itself from the art object. Groups such as “Art & Language” were attempting to challenge the notion of art in social and political context. They were challenging the notion of art in the marketplace. They reduced art to text: Art becomes more and more only about itself in endless reflexivity, a found object in a world reflecting itself in an endless hall of mirrors. It was as if art had run out of content — so it was left to reflect itself; it was not reflective of the world outside the art world.

I left New York briefly for the west coast of Africa where I discovered the primal exquisite beauty of cultures in which visual experience and experience itself, were genuine raw, tactile and immediate: art reflecting long historical traditions that still meant something, traditions still very much alive in in the culture. Art was tied to a living culture, reflecting political and emotional concerns of people.

Upon returning to New York I happened into a late-night screening at the Bleecker Street Cinema of The Wild Bunch. As I stared at the play of flickering light, I was breathless, transformed. Like Goya in his “Disasters of War” series, using paint to expose the darker aspects of human nature, Peckinpah pierces the screen, lets it run with blood to illuminate his subject, which is honor, NOT violence. I was in its thrall from the opening image of the scorpions onward. Suddenly a sensuous violence shattered the hall of mirrors. It was a summing up of all that had come before, laying claim to all that follows. Up until that point I had never thought of making films, but with The Wild Bunch, I saw it was possible to to make something have within the SAME text the visual, cathartic and the sensual — along with the cerebral and reflexive. It’s a film about film as well as its own content, For me the flickering light in that lat-night screening was a moment where my history was irrevocably altered. 

Title page from the chapter on THE WILD BUNCH in SERIOUS PLEASURES.



THE WILD BUNCH
The history of The Wild Bunch began when Roy Sickner, a stuntman working on the Marlon Brando film Morituri! (1965) showed a treatment for a western containing an exciting train sequence and a climatic shootout to the film’s dialogue coach Walon Green. Green had previously been involved with successful television documentaries and was looking for a western to write that would be truthful in its depiction of the Old West.

Sickner’s treatment “was sort of based on Butch Cassidy,” recalls Green, “but I had never heard of Butch Cassidy when I wrote the movie. I called it The Wild Bunch — I didn’t know that there was a real Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. We wrote a treatment and then had to find a backer to put up $5,000 to write the screenplay.” Green showed the script to his drinking buddy, Lee Marvin, and Marvin showed it to Sam Peckinpah, who rewrote Green’s first draft. Marvin is also rumored to have worked on the screenplay, since he intended to play the protagonist, Pike Bishop. 

Lee Marvin in THE PROFESSIONALS, as he might have looked as Pike Bishop in THE WILD BUNCH.



The screenplay was submitted to producer Phil Feldman, who pitched the idea to Warner Brothers/Seven Arts executive, Kenneth Hyman. An August 1967 memo [from Feldman to Hyman] explains, “The reason for the enclosure is that a friend of Lee Marvin’s called Roy Sickner wrote s story some time ago which Marvin wants to do….Sam tells me he spent several hours with Lee just the other day on it.” Hyman liked what he read and negotiations ensued. 

Marvin was kept from participating by his agent Meyer Mishkin, who felt it would be a mistake for his client to star in another violent film. “I have been advised, among other things, by Meyer Mishkin, that Lee Marvin has accepted the Paint Your Wagon book…” wrote Feldman to Hyman in a December 12 memo. “That makes him totally unavailable in the year 1968.” 

The initial casting ideas followed in a memo Feldman had written to Peckinpah the previous month stating: “Pike would have to be a good eight to ten years older than Dutch, and therefore it would be Lee Marvin combined with George Peppard, or we could use Burt Lancaster combined with Steve McQueen or Paul Newman.” Other names bandied about included Jimmy Stewart and James Coburn, as well as Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck.

The week after Marvin dropped out, William Holden signed to play Pike Bishop. He was followed quickly by Ernest Borgnine (who was certainly not ten years younger) as Dutch Engstrom, and a cast of veterans including Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien and Albert Dekker, alongside Peckinpah regulars Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones. Holden and Ryan had been major stars but hadn’t had a hit in years — like the characters they were to play, they were men in the twilight of greatness looking for one more chance to prove their worth.

An odd coincidence happened during the location scouting Mexico, according to Walon Green. The first location scouted was Parras de Madera, Mexico. The company had combed Mexico and Peckinpah still wasn’t satisfied. As they drove back they saw a sign that said ‘Parras’ and someone said, “There’s a town named that in the script.” It turned out to be exactly as described, Green remembers: “They called me and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell us you wrote it to a specific town? You could’ve saved us all this running around.’ I said, ‘I didn’t.’ I’ve never been in that town in my life. I just picked he town that revolutionary Francisco Torreon was born in.”

Many stories of Wild West behavior have been told about the making of The Wild Bunch. Peckinpah often infuriated his co-workers, and during filming his main adversary was producer Phil Feldman. L.Q. Jones, who worked with Peckinpah on nine films, commented: “The greatest mistake you could make was becoming a good friend with Sam. I was probably his best friend. It was a mistake.” 

Peckinpah had numerous initial run-ins with cast members, particularly the veterans. William Holden appeared on the set several days before he was needed and watched as Peckinpah reshot one scene over and over, putting the cast through grueling paces. “Is that how you’re going to direct this movie?,” asked Holden. When Peckinpah answered in the affirmative, Holden announced that he was going home, but returned three days later. There were no further conflicts. 

(L-R) Sam Peckinpah and William Holden square off  during production of THE WILD BUNCH.



Robert Ryan wanted a brief vacation to work on Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign; Peckinpah told him he couldn’t be spared and kept him hanging around ten days in make-up and costume without shooting a scene. Ryan, a former boxing champ at Dartmouth, eventually grabbed Peckinpah’s shirt front and said, “I’ll do anything you ask me to do in front of the camera because I’m a professional. But you open your mouth to me off the set, and I’ll knock your teeth out.” The director never provoked him again. 

Ernest Borgnine’s “testing” was briefer. The actor’s car constantly got stuck on the dusty road to the set. When Peckinpah drove by in his limo, Borgnine told him, “Get this road watered down or I’ll beat the shit out of you.” Two water trucks followed in short order. When Holden asked how he did it, Borgnine told him, “I just said the magic words.” 
While Peckinpah wrestled with the film, a marathon poker game was in progress. “We were playing one on The Wild Bunch that I think we started on Major Dundee [1965],” recalls Jones. “Probably between eight and ten thousand dollars on the table.” Holden, who had a reputation as a drinker, had vowed to drink only beer while filming The Wild Bunch, but in the middle of one game, he gave a startling “Whoopee!,” threw his bottle in the air and announced: “I’ve been drinking this godamn beer for five weeks and at last, I’m drunk!”

Once the film was completed, Peckinpah took a full year to edit. Angered at Phil Feldman’s suggestions about cuts, Peckinpah at one point called the Jewish Feldman a Nazi, but he did accept one important suggestion from the producer: Peckinpah planned on ending the film with Ryan waiting outside the gate of the recently massacred Fort Mapache: Feldman suggested adding flashback footage of The Wild Bunch, and to his surprise, Peckinpah walked into Feldman’s office and said, “You’re right.”

Walon Green has said that he wrote the now-famous slow motion action scenes into the script, but the final 128-page script dated February 12, 1968, contains no such notation. Like Green, Peckinpah was an admirer of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai [1954], which uses slow motion in its action sequences. 

(L-R) Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, William Holden and Ernest Borgnine in the climatic scene in THE WILD BUNCH (1969).



An inebriated Lee Marvin showed up at a much-anticipated screening of a preview at Warner Bros., heckled the film throughout the projection and, at one point, was even seen crawling down the aisle of the theatre. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Peckinpah put him up to the whole thing,” mused L.Q. Jones. “It’s just the kind of thing they would do.”

The film was released June 25, 1969, to extravagant praise and scathing attack. William Holden was criticized for an interview in which he said film violence could purge the psyche, but Peckinpah took most of the brickbats. Throughout the controversy he maintained: “I wanted to show people what the hell it felt like to be shot.”

While it is true that the director’s credit appears at the beginning of the film right after William Holden says, “If they move, kill’em!” as if Peckinpah were taking his audience hostage, joining in his vision of blood-drenched romanticism is a matter of choice. As Edmond O’Brien says near the end of the film, “You wanna come along? It ain’t like it used to be, but it’ll do.” 

– Dwayne Epstein

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POINT BLANK REMAKE? NOT EVEN CLOSE!

“POINT BLANK REMAKE” blared the headline in Variety.    Of course, my initial reaction to the headline itself was one of mixed emotions. While glad to see attention was being paid to Lee Marvin’s neo-noir classic — which could enliven his work to a wider audience — I bemoaned the lack of originality constantly being shown by Hollywood bigwigs. After all, Even Point Blank itself, was not the first version of Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake) mysterious character….

Liner notes from the POINT BLANK soundtrack CD describes the films genesis, as well as a graph of its many incarnations.  The only one missing since the CD’s release is Taylor Hackford’s PARKER (2013), starring Jason Statham.

Then I actually read the article. Never heard of a 2010 version of the same title with a completely different premise. Never heard of Fred Cavaye. Never even heard of Frank Grillo. How in god’s name did they get away with naming a non-related film Point Blank...and then make an announcement to remake it? Bizarre!
By the way, readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of Lee Marvin’s complete immersion in the John Boorman original, as well as the films evolution to the screen and its current well-earned cult status. Those who haven’t read it are in for an eye-opener!

Original ad art for two of several versions of Richard Stark’s original tale that would make a great double feature.

About the only positive thing I can possibly take away from the Variety article is the prominence of Anthony Mackie in the project. Unlike Frank Grillo, I am quite familiar with Mackie’s film work, having been impressed with him in both Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2005), and even more so in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008). As Sergeant JT Sanborn, Mackie is a standout in the now classic film in which he draws an interminably long bead on an enemy Iraqi soldier…

Actor Anthony Mackie drawing a bead on the enemy in Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER.

That point may seem off topic, but in truth it is definitely worthy of a mention in a Lee Marvin-themed blog. No one can really tell for sure but it’s a pretty safe bet Lee Marvin himself would have been impressed with both Mackie’s performance and the film itself. It’s dealing with the current veteran’s trauma of PTSD and Bigelow’s unflinching detail of it would definitely be in Marvin’s wheelhouse.
With such films possible, why a Point Blank remake….that isn’t even a Point Blank remake? Boggles the mind. Better yet, how about a biopic on the man who put Point Blank on the map…and endured a lifetime of grappling with PTSD? Just a thought.
– Dwayne Epstein

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POSSIBLE LEE MARVIN BIOPIC DIRECTORS? PART II

Once again we delve into the realm of possible Lee Marvin biopic directors. I had some interesting suggestions from Part I of this blog that not only took me by surprise, but impressed me with how knowledgeable some film fans are when it comes to contemporary directors. Some were posted in the comment section — where I prefer to see such suggestions — others were posted on social media.
One such example was Alejandro González Iñárritu, of Birdman and Revenant fame. As Facebook friend Michael Knight put it, “He can handle suffering, internal demons, get a real performance out of whoever the actor will be.” I had not thought of him as a one of the possible Lee Marvin biopic directors but he’s a fascinating prospect to consider, nontheless. The other choices on my list are below and I’m sure they’ll infuriate some as well come as no surprise to others. As the author of Lee Marvin Point Blank, your picks, ideas and suggestions may differ but they are certainly welcome. So, when it comes to possible Lee Marvin biopic directors…..

Jim McBride:

Director Jim McBride shown on set during the filming of 1987's THE BIG EASY.

Director Jim McBride shown on set during the filming of 1987’s THE BIG EASY.

Not as widely known or lauded as some other directors, I happen to think he’s one of the best and has been sadly neglected for too long. If you don’t believe me just rent or watch some of his work, such as his remake of Breathless in which Richard Gere has NEVER been better. Then there’s his films with Dennis Quaid, both The Big Easy, and the amazing style exhibited in his bizarre Jerry Lee Lewis biopic, Great Balls of Fire. McBride has a terrific rock & roll sensibility in these films but can also ratchet up the tension when he has to do it. I don’t know if he’d even be interested in such a project but I for one would love it if he was!

Robert Rodriguez:

Robert Rodriguez is no longer a Rebel Without a Crew, as he titled his autobiography, but a a multi-talented filmmaker and musician who recently launched his own cable network, El Rey!

Robert Rodriguez is no longer a Rebel Without a Crew, as he titled his autobiography, but a a multi-talented filmmaker and musician who recently launched his own cable network, El Rey!

He may seem an odd choice on the surface but after recently watching Desperado again, as well as El Mariachi and even Once Upon a Time in Mexico (can you tell I’m a fan?) I think he would be a wonderful choice. As pretty much every director on this list is proof of, Rodriguez has his own visual style and is a visionary of sorts when it comes to storytelling technique. They themselves may say otherwise, but the best directors never just tell their tale straight out. Whether through flashbacks, circular narratives, camera tricks, or what-have-you, great directors have a picture in their head they plan to see put on screen that they hope the audience will connect with and ultimately appreciate, especially on a visceral level. There may be no better example of that than Rodriguez. Granted, his quirky subject matter and personal background may not seem suitable to a Lee Marvin biopic, but then again, neither did John Ford’s. After all, what right does a a first generation Irish, New Hampshire sailor, have making the greatest westerns of all time? Put that way, I think Rodriguez would be perfect.

 

Zack Snyder:

A very young looking 50-year-old Zack Snyder happily at work.

A very young looking 50-year-old Zack Snyder happily at work.

No on is more surprised to see Snyder’s name on this list than I am. Especially true in lieu of the fact that I constantly rail against the  blockbuster comic book movie epidemic. Snyder, as producer and/or director, has been and will be over the next few years, responsible (or to blame) for the film versions of my favorite DC characters from childhood. Reason enough to hate him, of course, excpet for one redeeming project that puts him on this list. Back in the 80s, I briefly resurrected my fervor for comic books due mostly to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Gibbons & Moore’s The Watchmen. The film stealing the title Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, bore no resemblance to Miller’s opus. The Watchmen, however, was a different story. Not only was it surprisingly faithful to the source material (more so in fact than most film adaptions), it was a very well done and engrossing film with its own merits. I for one was more than pleasantly surprised. Even the opening was not only faithful (and amazingly brutual), for all of its onscreen fight scene wizardry, I could follow the events as they unfolded! The controversy surrounding Snyder’s recent efforts aside, I think he would be perfect candidate to take on the challenge of a Lee Marvin biopic. May have to start another franchise: Hollywood biopics, by the numbers.
I kid.

Steven Spielberg:

Guess who. Oh, and his Lee Marvin connection? Besides unsuccessfully begging him to costar in JAWS, his biggest flop film, 1941, included a small role for Marvin cohort Sam Fuller and a sleazy hollywood agent named..wait for it....Meyer Mishkin.

Guess who.
Oh, and his Lee Marvin connection? Besides unsuccessfully begging him to costar in JAWS, his biggest flop film, 1941, included a small role for Marvin cohort Sam Fuller and a sleazy hollywood agent named..wait for it….Meyer Mishkin.

Yeah, I know. He is the most successful filmmaker in history, and as I always said, became such on the backs of successful films made for 14 year old boys. If that sounded cheap and sleazy, then so be it. For most of my movie going life I not only was not a fan of his films I truly reviled him. Then an interesting metamorphis took place as he seemed to pass thru his late life puberty. He and his films discovered some late life adult themes. Beginning with The Color Purple, and coming into full flower with Schindler’s List, Spielberg miraculously got on an obvious soapbox of decrying man’s inhumanity to man, albeit, with blatant manipulations on full display. Seriously, was the curtian call of cast members and survivors really needed at the end of Schindler’s List? Was he that insecure in his ability to let the story speak for itself? Geez! Okay, I digressed a bit far from the subject. The point is, having spouted all that vitriol the obvious question becomes why is Spielberg on this list? Three little words changed the ball game for me:  Saving Private Ryan. In the immortal words of Stan Lee, “‘Nuff said!”

Quentin Tarantino:

Quentin Tarantino, quite possibly the most equally beloved and despised director working in films today.

Quentin Tarantino, quite possibly the most equally beloved and despised director working in films today.

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve been leaning toward a certain kind of director when it comes to the idea of a Lee Marvin biopic. The director I speak of would be telling the tale from not only a certain persepective but an emphasis on a certain aspect of Marvin’s life.  Let me put it another way. I have been lucky enough to have my book praised by several highly respected people in the industry and two of the best writers working, in both film and television, have told me the same thing. They were both impressed with the book and told me individually that if a film were to be made of it, the most marketable aspect would be the palimony suit. They believe it’s what Marvin is most remebered for. I respect their opinion, obviously, but as far as I’m concerned he SHOULD be remembered for creating the modern American cinema of violence. Enter Quentin Tarantino. Love him or hate him — and there are many in both camps — he owes a sizeable debt to Marvin’s cinematic labors and what better way to pay it back then with a well-made Marvin biopic? After all, “I bet your a big Lee Marvin fan, aren’t you? Me too. I love that guy.”

Kathryn Bigelow:

Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar, a well-deserved win for THE HURT LOCKER (2010).

Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar, a well-deserved win for THE HURT LOCKER (2010).

And, to make it a baker’s Dirty Dozen, I include Ms. Bigelow. No, it’s not because she’s a woman and I’m pandering to tokenism. Far from it. Nor is it because she brilliantly directed such recent hits as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Well, maybe that’s part of it. Okay, truth be told it’s a big part of it. She totally understands the mindset of the soldier in combat and much more importantly, as a filmmaker, she is able to convey that mindset to the audience. She does it without a soapbox or the  obvious condenscension one might expect. To put in the proper persective, when I was researching the effects of PTSD for my Lee Marvin bio, I came across an interview Bigelow did while promoting The Hurt Locker. In it, she made this statement: “War’s dirty little secret is that some men love it. I’m trying to unpack why, to look at what it means to be a hero in the context of 21st-century combat.” I was so impressed with that comment I temporarily named a pivotal chapter “A Dirty Little Secret” while the book was still being researched. In other words, she gets it, quite possibly even better than most, but she definitely gets it.  I think even Marvin himself would be impressed. After all, despite his bad ass screen image he had no problem being directed by a woman, in his case it was pioneering Actress/Director Ida Lupino.

Okay, all that said, I believe anyone kind enough to have taken the time to have read this blog entry, probably has their own opinon of a Lee Marvin biopic and who should direct it. If that’s the case, let me hear it. Enquiring minds want to know….

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