‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’ screams Sam Peckinpah out of its every single frame

Sam Peckinpah with his cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr. and personal assistant Katy Haber. Credit: Garner Simmons

Sam Peckinpah struggled throughout his career. Constantly challenged by supervisors, neverendingly fighting with his producers, intrinsically battling his overpowering alcoholic demons, he delivered a series of excellent films one would hardly be mistaken to call masterpieces, but the artistic success certainly came at a grave cost. After the commercial failure of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Peckinpah filmed Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia in Mexico, surrounding himself with a dominant number of Mexican film workers. This tragic action film can be easily seen as the filmmaker’s most personal work of all, probably because the similarities of its protagonist, a desperate man exhausted from fighting the world yet determined to complete his personal quest, and Peckinpah himself are simply too strong to ignore.

Alfredo Garcia is strikingly full of bleakness, the photography by celebrated Mexican cameraman Álex Phillips, Jr., whom the director allegedly grew quite fond of, goes hand in hand with Peckinpah’s desperation-ridden vision and the final product, however harsh the world’s reaction to it might have been, is an indisputably painful, utterly atmospheric picture perfected by epic performances from Warren Oates and Isabela Vega. Developed with the help of Frank Kowalski, the story is encompassing, luring and at times brutally honest. Brought to the verge of desperation, Peckinpah wanted to make a personal, untarnished, completely authorial film, and he succeeded in the grandest way possible. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia screams Peckinpah out of its every single frame.

A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Gordon T. Dawson & Sam Peckinpah’s screenplay for Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia went into production in late September 1973 and in an October issue of Variety magazine, Peckinpah was quoted as saying, “For me, Hollywood no longer exists. It’s past history. I’ve decided to stay in Mexico because I believe I can make my pictures with greater freedom from here.” This upset the Motion Picture and Television Unions and they openly censured the director for his statement at their National Conference in Detroit. They also threatened Alfredo Garcia with union boycotts upon its release, labeling it a “runaway” production. In his defense, Peckinpah claimed that he was misquoted. Before the film was to be released, the unions relented on their boycott threat. —Sam Peckinpah going to Mexico by Paul Schrader, Cinema Magazine, Vol. 5 No. 3, 1969

A glimpse into the mind—and heart—of wild western elegist Sam Peckinpah during the making of his still underestimated 1974 quasi-self-portait. —Just the films, ma’am: behind the scenes of Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

From Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.

I think I can feel Sam Peckinpah’s heart beating and head pounding in every frame in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), a film he made during a period of alcoholic fear and trembling. I believe its hero, Bennie, completes his task with the same dogged courage as Peckinpah used to complete the movie, and that Bennie’s exhaustion, disgust and despair at  the end might mirror Peckinpah’s own. I sense that the emotional weather on the set seeped onto the screen, haunting it with a buried level of passion. If there is anything to the auteur theory, then Alfredo Garcia is the most autobiographical film Peckinpah ever made. The film was reviled when it was released. The reviews went beyond hatred into horror. It was grotesque, sadistic, irrational, obscene and incompetent, wrote Joy Gould Boyum in the Wall Street Journal. It was a catastrophe, said Michael Sragow in New York magazine. “Turgid melodrama at its worst,” said Variety. Martin Baum, the producer, recalled a sneak preview  with only 10 people left in the theater at the end: “They hated it! Hated it!”

I gave it four stars and called it “some kind of bizarre masterpiece.” Now I approach it again after 27 years, and find it extraordinary, a true and heartfelt work by a great director who endured despite, or perhaps because of, the demons that haunted him. Courage usually feels good in the movies, but it comes in many moods, and here it feels bad but necessary, giving us a hero who is heartbreakingly human—a little man determined to accomplish his mission in memory of a woman he loved, and in truth to his own defiant code. —Roger Ebert

“I only have questions,” Sam Peckinpah tells Barry Norman in this seldom seen interview from December 1976. “As a filmmaker I must look at both sides of the coin, and do my best as a storyteller. I have no absolutes. I have no value judgments,” Peckinpah goes on to say, before asking, “Why does violence have such a point of intoxication with people? Why do people structure their day on killing?” This is an incredibly honest and brilliant interview with Peckinpah, who doesn’t flinch form any of Norman’s questions—discussing his ignorance, his mistakes—explaining why he was wrong in thinking it could work as catharsis in The Wild Bunch, and why he was “a good whore.” —Paul Gallagher

A candid conversation with the screen’s “Picasso of violence”—Playboy interview, August 1972.

You’ve either got them, or you don’t.

On the set of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia in Mexico.

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