Retro-View: QT III Fest – Good Ol’ Boy Night

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The festival gallops along with a perfect country duo of Sam Peckinpah’s JUNIOR BONNER (1972) and the rarely-shown TICK…TICK…TICK (1970). This promises to be a welcome change from the sex, grue and gore of the past nights (not that I’m complaining). Plus, there’s something about watching cowboys on horses onscreen when you’re living in Texas…But Quentin came out to promise that these two were not your typical redneck drive-in flicks. He wasn’t talking GATOR BAIT here. He went into a fun spiel on how bad-azzz Jim Brown was, especially in THE DIRTY DOZEN. This film was his first serious acting role and QT praised him for pulling it off. He detailed the odd history of director Ralph Nelson, who went from the gentle LILIES IN THE FIELD and SOUNDER to the brutal SOLDIER BLUE and beyond. I’d been wanting to see this movie for a long time, since I noted the Mike Curb soundtrack in various record stores over the years. The mic hit the stage and I lit into my nachos. There was a good array of Southern fried trailers and then TICK…TICK…TICK.

This MGM transitional production was definitely going for a IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT vibe. Harry Knowles has his in-depth report here. And I really enjoyed this film. It’s more gentle than one might think from the explosive title, but it’s a lovely character drama about the transition to a new age where a Black Man is elected sheriff in a bigoted Georgia town. George Kennedy (in a fine subtle performance) plays the decent, confused ex-sheriff who reluctantly helps the man who’s taking his job amid the usual racial tensions. Frederic March is the crotchety mayor and he’s a pleasure as usual in his last film. A great unsung actor (and still the best screen Mr. Hyde). There are lots of nice character touches and one of the most amazing dissolve edits I’ve ever seen. Ralph Nelson creates a palatable ambiance of Southern sweat and rage, and the confrontational ending promises change if not evolution.

junior_bonnerAfter 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.

After the screening, winding the BMW down the 35 as “Chilly Winds” blow from the speakers (from the Osmond’s Greatest Hits CD at Tower Records on Guadalupe (RIP), I again reflect how lucky I am to be riding under Texas stars at this time in my life. Tonight, I’m jes’ a good ol’ boy myself…Yee-haw! Tomorrow, I’ll be saddling up for Westerns!

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12 Responses to “Retro-View: QT III Fest – Good Ol’ Boy Night”

  1. ‘the touching, bittersweet relationship between Pam Grier and Robert Forster still makes me cry at the end’.

    me, too, christian. i have this perverse thing where every time i watch my ‘j. brown’ dvd – which is often – i hope for a little dvd ‘extra’ to magically appear in which QT has filmed an alternate ending wherein max cherry throws caution to the wind and goes to spain with jackie…alas, it’s just not meant to be.

    (and steve mcq in ‘junior bonner’ was my first movie-star crush, you summed up peckinpah’s gentler rodeo drama nicely)

  2. The ending kills me, especially the great moment when Forster turns away and the image goes out of focus. I actually always tear up when Pam Grier starts singing “Across 110th Street”…

  3. you are obviously a QT aficionado (you must have loved me on ‘the hot blog’ the other day if you happened to catch where i said he’d lost his mojo after Jackie b.! i adore early tarantino, which is why i’m all the more saddened with his more recent efforts, which seem so silly and self-indulgent to me, i wish he’d snap out of it – i know not everyone feels that way, tho, i can totally respect that, and i’m hoping for the best from ‘basterds’ although i can’t stand pitt so i’m a bit nervous), has he ever spoken about why he chose to end JB the way he did? those final scenes are so heartbreaking, maybe i’m a big sap at heart but a stylish happy ending for those two crazy kids would have been an interesting twist, as i never expected their worlds to merge. reality is such a bummer.

  4. I haven’t read RUM PUNCH, the Elmore Leonard novel JB is based on, so I don’t know if the film ending mirrors the book or not. I don’t think Quentin is afraid of sad endings. TRUE ROMANCE originally ended with Clarence dying, and RESERVOIR DOGS ends with everybody dying… But JB’s ending is hopeful, with Jackie Brown leaving to fly.

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  6. i totally spaced that JB was adapted from elmore leonard, i’ve read quite a few ‘leonards’ – ‘killshot’ just recently, 50c from the salvation army bookstore – but not ‘rum punch’, perhaps i’ll seek that out. but yeah, looking at QT’s body of work, maybe he is in fact afraid of happy endings!

  7. I should read it as I’ve only read a little Leonard. I did enjoy GET SHORTY.
    But KILL BILL and DEATHPROOF had happy endings!

  8. i know!
    i just came to add, ‘actually, QT is about 50/50 on the happy/sad-bad’ endings so my last statement is just plain dumb’. and it was. (sorry, got a lot on my mind at the mo and i blog to distract myself; my brain is whirring like a hummingbird and i come up with all manner of silly shit when my gears are turning on high speed)

  9. You could contend, however, that Kill Bill and Death Proof do not settle on entirely happy endings, as The Bride in the former and the gals in the latter have had to take that step of vengeance in taking out their tormentor. Still, they’re at least far more nominally “up-beat” endings, but they each have a melancholic texture to them (especially the epic Kill Bill… when I think of the end of that saga, the image that remains for me is Uma Thurman crying by herself as her kid watches TV).

    Anyway, this is spectacular, Christian, and I’m delighted to see you relate the Tarantino comparison to Peckinpah. The Junior Bonner-Jackie Brown (see, they’re both even JB) comparison fits, and it’s not presumptuous on Tarantino’s part to see the connection. Junior Bonner is a wonderful, very different Peckinpah with a fine Steve McQueen performance.

    I still need to see Tick… Tick… Tick, though. I’m busily going through all of John Carpenter’s filmography (again) these last couple of days, but after that I’ll try to set my sights on that one, if it’s available anywhere.

  10. Glad you’re enjoying these rambling remembrances. Yes, there is much pain and death before the “happy ending” of KILL BILL, but it’s there. And DEATHPROOF ends on such a kick…

    TICK TICK TICK is available on the more refined cult sites. Well worth checking out. Needs to be made available NOW.

  11. […] 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 […]

  12. […] Politics & SKIDOO « Retro-View: QT lll Fest – 70′s Double Feature Retro-View: QT III Fest – Good Ol’ Boy Night […]

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