They say you have the best conversations with yourself.
How about with the severed head of your hooker girlfriend’s former lover?
When the object of desire in a story is a head in a bag you know you’re onto something.
When it’s the head of a man who impregnated the daughter of a Mexican gangster you know immediately why it’s worth a million dollars.
When the man who longs for it the most is a down-at-the-heel gringo piano player in a Mexican brothel grabbing for one last score, you know all you need to know about the protagonist.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) is Sam Peckinpah’s finest film. Made during the director’s alcoholic decline, the movie has a tragicomic power that is relentless, that drives it like a drunk coming home in the middle of the night. He knows the way–or did when he was sober; he’s running on autopilot now and is likely to inflict untold harm on himself and others getting to his destination. But he’s determined to get there. The movie is a parable for Peckinpah’s life. Warren Oates, who plays Bennie, understood this, and wore Peckinpah’s sunglasses throughout the movie, even in bed, channeling his mentor.
Despite the cheesy ‘70s film-making, the signature slow-motion Peckinpah death scenes, the gratuitous boob shots, all of that and more, the strength of the story and distinctiveness of the two leading characters prevail, making us root for a sleazy crook who carries his treasure across the barren Mexican desert in a gunny sack, talking to it, coddling it with ice as it becomes blanketed with flies, even giving it a shower at one point. It’s a journey of self-discovery. Not a happy one. But you probably guessed that.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia remains a cult classic. It’s sucks you in with its dark genius. It’s the kind of film that makes you stop channel-surfing when you happen upon it late at night, and compels you to watch, matter how many times you’ve seen it, no matter how late it is. And next day you’ll be savoring the movie all over again, wishing there were more like it. But there aren’t.