Happy Birthday Sam Peckinpah

juniorbonner1

Ironically just finished reading reading “Bloody Sam” by Marshall Fine this week so in honor of the misfit film poet of the west, here’s a re-post of my experience watching JUNIOR BONNER for the first time at QT Fest 99 in Austin…

After the amiable TICK…TICK…TICK, Quentin took to the stage and shyly began to explain why JUNIOR BONNER from 1972 was such a special film to him. He made it clear he was in no way being an “egotistical asshole” or comparing himself to Peckinpah in any way, he just felt like he appreciated the film more after the mixed reception of JACKIE BROWN. He said that when Peckinpah finally made a film with no slo-mo bullet bursts or violent territorial imperatives, critics and audiences were puzzled, unable to process the film the way some couldn’t get into the mature, thoughtful JACKIE BROWN (the touching, bittersweet relationship between Pam Grier and Robert Forster still makes me cry at the end). You could see Quentin was being sincere as he spoke, even modest, and his heartfelt introducton to JUNIOR BONNER was the best of the festival.

After that preface and more drive-in trailers, I settled in to enjoy Peckinpah’s warm, subtle tribute to an aging rodeo star, expertly played by Steve McQueen in one of his very best quiet performances. Framed by Lucian Ballard’s exquisite Panavision cinematography, JUNIOR BONNER is about a day in the life of the titular hero as he returns home to try and ride one more bronco to victory. His business-savvy brother (Joe Don Baker) is buying the future with mobile home sales while his Quixotic father (a vibrant Robert Preston) and his stoic mother (the great Ida Lupino) try to hold onto their past.

Filled with many terrific character moments and a sad understanding of where men like McQueen are headed, JUNIOR BONNER is Peckinpah’s most gentle, generous film, an elegy for a vanishing cowboy in the modern age. I loved it. A cool title scene with good Jerry Fielding music too. Quentin said if anybody had a soundtrack, he’d make it worth their while.

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2 Responses to “Happy Birthday Sam Peckinpah”

  1. Many many thanks for your warm remembrance of the great Sam Peckinpah. For forty years he has remained my all-time favourite director. Even if you go a year without seeing one of his films you will find something fresh in it, something that escaped your attention previously.

    My preferred film of his changes with my moods but Junior Bonner has never been far from the top of the list. Even one as maligned as The Osterman Weekend is well due for re-evaluation (if it hasn’t already happened) in this odd world of reality shows and Big Brother houses. Surely this film can be seen in a completely different light these days.

    For anyone interested in learning about one of the true masters of cinema there are any number of fine books available. But a big mention must surely go to Paul Seydor’s “Peckinpah: The Western Films–A Reconsideration”. Not just the best book on Peckinpah but one of the best books of film criticism ever.

    Again, many thanks.

    Charley.

  2. Damn how did I miss Sam Peckinpah’s birthday? How did you like that Bloody Sam book I have not read it as of yet.

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