The surrealist jolt that so much of Peckinpah communicates flows from a particular way of seeing and experiencing the world. Luis Buñuel once observed that ‘neo-realist reality is incomplete, official and altogether reasonable; but the poetry, the mystery, everything that completes and enlarges tangible reality is completely missing.’ Different from Buñuel in many ways, Peckinpah nevertheless reveals a similarly al-embracing vision, a total response to the world. I am not suggesting direct influence here (although Peckinpah thought Los olvidados , the one Buñuel film he had seen, a superb work); it is from Don Siegel, with whom he worked on a number of films starting with Riot in Cell Block Eleven (1954), that Peckinpah originally learned most. However, Peckinpah’s preoccupation with the existence of savage and destructive instincts, with the consequences of their repression or free play, and with nightmarish struggle necessary before balance and identity can emerge, clearly anchors him in terrain artists within the Surrealist movement have been traditionally concerned with…Peckinpah insisted that men can be animals…that America’s posture in the world, her power and menace, owes not a little to the existence of that evil…[and it is The Wild Bunch that completely realized the vision].”
Jim Kitses, Horizons West: Directing the Western from John Ford to Clint Eastwood (London: BFI Publishing, 2004), 216-17.
Exemplary is its opening where children gaily watch scorpions struggle in a sea of killer ants and toy with them, as the Wild Bunch disguised as US soldiers ride into Starbuck, which sets up the core structure of the film where innocence and cruelty, laughter and barbarity, idealism and blood-lust, exist side by side.
Jim Kitses, Horizons West: Directing the Western from John Ford to Clint Eastwood (London: BFI Publishing, 2004), 218.
Benjaminian retrospective gaze
As Benjamin looked back at the baroque trauerspiel in the early modern era to bring back to our consciousness erased/forgotten dimensions of modern society, Peckinpah brushes history against the grain by traveling to Mexico, a stage prior to highly institutionalized society. “If the United States has been quick to deny death and violence by institutionalizing hem, to rob love of meaning by romanticizing it, Mexico (like Buñuel’s Spain) shows little inclination to do either. Hence, in Mexican history and culture, Peckinpah finds action and ritual that he sees as universally significant in its candour…His vision forces a confrontation between what he feels to be essential drives in human nature and the social costs of a failure to understand and control them…The historical moment of the film is crucial…The Wild Bunch is set at a point in time when society is increasingly institutionalizing and rationalizing the function of the unsocialized group. In terms of the radical structure of the film, the criminal is being supplanted by a criminal society.”
Jim Kitses, Horizons West: Directing the Western from John Ford to Clint Eastwood (London: BFI Publishing, 2004), 219.