CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2)
August 2, 2019
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating some of our favorite action movies from the Seventies (1974–1983).
BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA | d. SAM PECKINPAH | 1974
It’s all about the head: bagged in burlap in the passenger seat of a Chevy Impala, drawing flies like shit, soaked in tequila but still stinking from the grave it was lifted from, the eponymous body part of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a MacGuffin that becomes, by the third act of this brilliant and wayward film, an oracle of doom and an empty signifier of the emptiness of signifiers. For who wants the literal head of a dead man?
At the start of the movie, shot on the cheap with a mostly Mexican crew, a vengeful ranchero patriarch is driven to utter the film’s titular injunction with a spirit of traditional Old West values. This romance is almost immediately crushed into bleak modern efficiency by attracting cold-eyed and besuited American bounty hunters. Our loser-hero Bennie — played with shambling, alcoholic intimacy by a never-better Warren Oates, who proves here that shades cannot block our empathy for a well-wrought desperado — hopes to escape his barroom rut by grave-robbing the head and delivering up the rotten token of a hit he did not commit.
To extract the signifier from the grave, Bennie not only hacks it off with a tourist sword but must also sever the religiosity lingering like copal smoke over the honored Catholic dead. “Nothing sacred ’bout a hole in the ground or the man that’s in it,” he says. True enough, perhaps, but the hazy, haunted Mexican atmospheres so grittily conjured here drown such realism. Bennie pays for the head with the death of his lady, the palpably lovely Isela Vega, whose whore’s heart of gold is the film’s other major neo-Western resonance.
So that third act: the virus of vengeance passes to Oates, who finds himself murdering murderers and drunkenly haranguing Garcia’s head, which, upon delivery to the Mexican don, is consigned to the pigsty. The MacGuffin, the signifier, is useless crap after all. Bennie already had his point, his pot of blond gold, and he squandered it. It’s an old story, but here becomes the allegory of a whole era scraping the bottom of the existential barrel. While the hallucinated violence of Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch (1969) exposed the blood-lust of ’60s collectives (from ’Nam platoons to Movement radicals), the hallucinated violence of Alfredo Garcia sucks us into the nihilistic undertow of the solitary ’70s self, losing itself entire in the very seeking that would save it.
CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION | Madeline Ashby on BLADE RUNNER | Erik Davis on BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA | Mimi Lipson on CONVOY | Luc Sante on BLACK SUNDAY | Josh Glenn on THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR | Lisa Jane Persky on SORCERER | Devin McKinney on THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | Adam McGovern on QUINTET | Mandy Keifetz on DEATH RACE 2000 | Peter Doyle on SOUTHERN COMFORT | Jonathan Lethem on STRAIGHT TIME | Heather Kapplow on THE KILLER ELITE | Tom Nealon on EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE | Mark Kingwell on THE EIGER SANCTION | Sherri Wasserman on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK | Gordon Dahlquist on MARATHON MAN | David Levine on PARALLAX VIEW | Matthew Sharpe on ROLLERBALL | Ramona Lyons on ALIEN | Dan Piepenbring on WHITE LINE FEVER | Marc Weidenbaum on THIEF | Carolyn Kellogg on MAD MAX | Carlo Rotella on KUNG FU | Peggy Nelson on SMOKEY & THE BANDIT | Brian Berger on FRIDAY FOSTER.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): RAIN | ARDUIN | SEINFELD | MAP INSERTS | TIME | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | THE LEON SUITES | SOLARNAUTS | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.