Happy Birthday Sam Peckinpah
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.