Knockin’

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

Slim Pickens’ demise in “Pat Garret & Billy the Kid” is probably my favorite movie death scene. Pickens, a cowboy-movie staple, was typically a farcical figure — the guy you’d laugh at between the shoot-outs and the daring feats of horsemanship. But in a movie that’s explicitly about the extinguishment of the West, and of its iconography, Pickens is no mere actor; he has symbolic significance. And the way in which Sam Peckinpah treats him here gives him mythic weight and resonance. The big moment occurs at about 1:16 in the clip. It’s a hyperreal, loaded-to-overflowing image — the kind of thing only a freak talent like Peckinpah is capable of pulling off. Pickens, fatally injured and on the verge of expiring, is foregrounded against what is little more than a puddle. But the shot’s perspective and the magic-hour lighting make it seem a great and noble river, one whose flow and essence Pickens is on the verge of merging into. What a look Pickens summons at that moment! It’s as though he, like the character he’s playing, knows this is the last hurrah, the final sunset, and he’s trying to assay the whole of his life — to process all of his feelings, memories, and reflections — even as he realizes there’s no time to do it justice. At this instant, with its almost Tintoretto-like intensity, the comic cowpoke attains heroic stature; he’s like a Viking on the cusp of Valhalla. His devoted wife, played by Katy Jurado, can do nothing but watch. She can’t reach him now.

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Music, Performers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Knockin’

  1. Faze says:

    How do you feel about the song, Fabrizio? I like it outside this context, myself. Within the film, however, it strikes me as intrusive. When the film came out, the presence of Bob Dylan in the cast and on the soundtrack made it hard to evaluate it objectively. Now that some time has passed, I really wish Dylan weren’t in there. He’s like Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo: another actor would have done as well, and spared us the consciousness that we were watching a pop star “acting”.

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    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      I don’t mind the song, though I agree that Dylan’s presence in the movie is somewhat problematic. I think you’re right that filmmakers are really asking for trouble when they cast pop icons. Sometimes it works, though.

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  2. Callowman says:

    Boy, does the song ever work there IMO, though I’ve always loved that song and that period of Dylan. The scene goes straight to my gut. The movie begs to be shown on the big screen.

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  3. Makes you wonder what other Hollywood character actors might have had in them, if they’d been given the chance.

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    • It is the axiom of the Manolo that the best actors are always (ALWAYS!) the character actors. It is because too often the leading actors coast along on their good looks and winning smiles (i.e. George Clooney, et alia) to fully develop as the actor. While the character actors, who are usually cursed with the overly large nose, or the weak chins, or the congenital pudginess are forced to hone the craft to the high degree in order to find work. Occasionally, the most exceptional of these characters make the jump to the next level (i.e. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, etc.).

      Also, one of the pet peeves of the Manolo is how so many of the animated characters in the big-screen cartoons are now voiced by the big stars collecting the paychecks, instead of the much more talented character actors. For the example, consider this clip from the animated story Sinbad, with the Brad Pitt, the Catherine Zeta Jones, and the Michelle Pfieffer.

      Does not the voice acting of the big stars seem undistinguished and lacking of the luster? Bring in the character actors to play the leads, says the Manolo!

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  4. Stirge says:

    For another movie with scenes about the end of the Old West, I would recommend Once Upon a Time in the West. In addition to Charles Bronson, it featured the great Henry Fonda in his only role as a villain.

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  5. Also, it should be noted that the Peckinpah understood the Slim Pickens as almost no other director could, as they were both from the same place and the same time, the Central Valley of California. Peckinpah was from Fresno and Pickens from Hanford, and both grew up on the ranches around horses and cattle and the cowboys.

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  6. Pingback: The Best of UR 2014 | Uncouth Reflections

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