Sam Peckinpah's last movie was not his best – something the historians repeatedly say throughout the busy commentary track. Hosted by documentarian Nick Redman (co-writer of “Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage”), it's a fairly lively discussion that includes Paul Seydor, author of “Peckinpah: The Western Films,” and director/co-writer of “Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage”; author Garner Simmons (“Peckinpah: A Portrait In Montage”); and author David Weddle (“If They Move, Kill ‘Em”).
From one angle, the film's obvious flaws – a muddled story based on a weak Robert Ludlum novel – make Peckinpah's attempt to ‘crawl back to Hollywood's top' an incredibly compelling saga; the included documentary is such a loving portrait of a man who deserved a second chance after spending five years directing music videos and the odd second unit work, that you keep wishing Peckinpah had lived long enough to recapture the glory (and peppery infamy) of “The Wild Bunch,” and “Straw Dogs.”
But the wasteful endeavors of this gifted filmmaker make Anchor Bay's commemorative set a bittersweet tribute to a man that frequently took on projects which atomized his stature and career: the bouncing, fly-infested decapitated head of “Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia,” the wayward nihilism of “The Killer Elite,” and the CB-crazed protest film “Convoy” that rendered him persona non gratta in a town already full of unforgiving vipers. Virtually everyone connected with “The Osterman Weekend” appears in the documentary (Dennis Hopper being the most obvious absentee of an otherwise complete cast); and the film's production saga follows a brief Peckinpah bio, tracing his career through television and the westerns that established his career before the end of the Sixties.
When B-level producers Peter Davis and William N. Panzer (better-known today for the “Highlander” franchise) hired Peckinpah to direct their first big budget production, the creative cast and crew seemed intrigued, if not hypnotized with the chance to work under such an iconic director. Was he really an explosive, misogynistic bastard? A sadist? A has-been burned out from years of self-pickling through booze, pills and hard drugs? In listening to every affected member's comments, viewers themselves will realize the complexities of a great filmmaker with deep personal flaws – areas that are further dissected by the film commentators; clearly riveted by the film's tightly constructed shootout by the pool, they too begin to find justification for the film's flaws, and kinder words for a production under modest turmoil.
Peckinpah's combative relationship with producers extended to newcomers Panzer and Davis, and while the integrity of both parties aren't doubted, everyone seems to agree Peckinpah not only came alive on a film set, but thrived off some good old head-butting. The latter may explain the bizarre opening that's preserved in “Sam's First Cut” – basically a VHS dub of the preview print - which includes alternate and extended scenes later changed by the producers when the director refused to budge. Preceded by explanatory text, each new scene is given a good intro, and is accessible by indexed chapter stops (something regrettably not done for the feature-length documentary.)
This is a solid tribute to Peckinpah's last movie, and one wishes the same care could be given to the other films still absent or merely available as bare-bones DVD editions. (At the very least, the four commentators should be retained; they're a great mix of historians, documentarians, critics, and a few lucky enough to have met and seen the director working.)
It doesn't really matter whether one digs into the extras through the commentary first, or documentary, but the best closing in recent years belongs to the montage of answers from all interview subjects when asked what they think Sam would say if he were told “Osterman” and his career were being celebrated.
A very classy set.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan