Peckinpah in Black and White and Color

The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage

The film is replete with offhand wisdom and unstressed feeling; it's the rare movieland documentary blessed with generous spirits. Green, for example, articulates unusual appreciation for the director's handling of his script, even when he recollects quarreling with Peckinpah's decision to change a cable-crossing of a river into a race across a dynamite-laden bridge. "Christ, you're not going to blow up another bridge," he griped. "It's not just blowing up a bridge," responded Peckinpah. "It's the way you blow up a bridge."

From the opening minutes, when Seydor puts the audience in the elating position of filmmakers heading into uncharted realms of Mexico on a go-for-broke adventure, he allows us to experience film production as an odd communal organism with a bittersweet-brief time span. He folds in "the back story" of Peckinpah's volatile past as cunningly as Peckinpah folded in the back story of the Wild Bunch; you keep rooting for Peckinpah to do things right and redeem years of unemployability. When the grips disassemble the light and camera rigs, and the stars and extras disperse, you're stung by loss. You believe it when Peckinpah says, "The end of a picture is always the end of a life."

Seydor was lucky that the three days covered in the 16mm footage included such high drama as the "walk thing," the beginning of "The Battle of Bloody Porch," and the preparation for detonating the bridge. But the translucent, parchment-like quality of the black-and-white has an alchemy that goes beyond spectacle. The historical content of The Wild Bunch mingles with the history of the making of the film, so that when you see Mexican and American soldiers on horseback, or an outlaw killing time with a lasso, you don't know where one continuum ends and the other begins. The sense of the past is engulfing and immediate.

When Seydor intercuts glorious color scenes from the completed movie, they cinch Peckinpah's place in posterity. They affect adult movie-lovers the way Oz breaking into color affects kids: Your heart surges to see Peckinpah's hopes realized. Seydor suffuses his film with fierce affection for the frontiers of the Old West and of New Hollywood (circa 1968-69). The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage is a piercing elegy to a born director and to a vanished strain of unbridled creativity in American movies.

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