Reflections on a variety of films and topics - Seven Samurai, It's a Wonderful Life, Don Quixote, We're no angels, War for the planet of the apes, Dunkirk, The African Queen, Babette's Feast, Dances with Wolves, The Prisoner (1967), Inherit the wind, humour in drama, nature of regret, the influence of multimedia, memoirs of a teacher of French.
Please scroll down or find on the right links to articles, pages of reflections on films, books, TV series (including "The Wild Bunch", "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", "Papillon" (1973), "Public Eye", "Existentialism in society today", "Seven Samurai", "It's a Wonderful Life", "Don Quixote", "We're No Angels", "The African Queen", "Babette's Feast", "War for the Planet of the Apes", "Dunkirk", “Dances With Wolves”, “Inherit The Wind” and “The Prisoner”), and occasional pieces of flash fiction. These are additions to similar pages which may be found at www.stuartfernie.org .
A link to my YouTube channel with video presentations of a number of my pages.
Having retired from teaching fairly recently, I thought I’d write my memoirs, “What have I done?”, and present them online. Please find links to the various chapters on the right, though chunks of the text (but perhaps not all) may also appear below. If you suffer from insomnia, this may help!
Click on the arrows to access links to 2016 and then December.
I can be contacted through the comments sections or at email@example.com
Starring William Holden,
Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan et al.
A video presentation of this material is available here.
“The Wild Bunch” opens
with a raid by our “heroes” on a railroad office, the purpose of which is to
relieve the railroad company of a consignment of silver, but the carefully
planned robbery goes horribly wrong.
A group of undisciplined,
greedy and reckless bounty hunters hired by the railroad company and led by a
former compadre of our robbers, opens fire on them but our group uses a passing
parade (ironically composed of members of the temperance movement) to cover
their exit. As shots are exchanged between the determined and organised robbers
and the less than competent and hot-headed bounty hunters, instigators and
innocents alike are mown down by wild gunfire with a complete disregard for the
lives of passing townsfolk and any collateral damage either side might inflict.
Using imagery vaguely reminiscent
of that used at the start of Clouzot’s existential action/drama “The Wages of
Fear” in which cockroaches are linked and taunted by a young boy, these opening
scenes are interspersed with shots of a few scorpions being attacked by a horde
of red ants while being watched by a group of amused children. Dangerous
creatures willing and able to assert themselves and cause death in order to
survive are attacked and overwhelmed by a mass of individually inferior red
ants working together to bring down the ostensibly superior and more powerful
This may be viewed as a
metaphor for the fate of our band of anti-heroes as our simple but highly
dangerous band of thieves encounters opposition in the shape of the railroad
company and its bounty hunters, the army, and the Mexican militia led by
General Mapache, representing business, governmental order and amoral political
The metaphor does not,
however, end there. The children who view this grisly assault and who are all
amused by it, place burning hay over the entire assembly, sealing the fates of
all concerned. It might be suggested that these children represent the youthful
audience delighted by the embattled antics of these proud, noble and menacing
creatures now held up as mere figures of entertainment who are consigned to the
flames of Hell and the ashes of oblivion.
Thus, the stage is set
and in the opening minutes the underpinning moral principle for the entire film
is established – there is no morality. There is no “right”, “wrong” or
“justice”. There are only “sides” doing what they feel they have to do in order
to survive and prosper. No side respects morality, humanity or even legality –
their actions are based on their determination to succeed in accordance with
their own perspective.
All are willing to cause
collateral damage to innocents, cause death and destruction and trample on
human rights in order to see their task through or to defend their viewpoint.
There are, however, major
differences between our “Bunch” and these other factions. The railroad bounty
hunters, the army and Mapache’s men are united by the desire for payment,
self-advancement and self-interest while Pike Bishop’s cohort appears bound,
however loosely, by comradeship and friendship. This does not prevent them from
disagreeing and bickering to the point of mocking and threatening one another,
but the underpinning principle of loyalty always allows them to forgive
transgressions and retain respect for one another. Pike and Deke maintain
admiration and regard for one another despite Pike apparently running out on
Deke and the fact that Deke now leads the bounty hunters chasing them down.
Each knows and understands that the other did what he had to do in order to
survive, though each feels guilt at letting the other down, reflecting an
ongoing, if conflicted, allegiance between the two.
While we may not approve
of the Bunch’s murderous and robbing ways, they have our support as they face
even less principled and more inhuman groups opposed to them. These groups are
well financed, armed and supported as they represent power and order which they
seek to impose and expand. Our anti-heroes persist in trying to survive in
their own way but they apply certain limits (“We don’t hang people”, they
insist) and at least demonstrate humanity toward one another. There is no
denying their courage and determination as they refuse, almost Quixotically, to
yield to the others’ overwhelming force and instead set out to take on the
challenge of facing seemingly unbeatable odds.
Much has been made of
director Sam Peckinpah’s enthusiasm for the theme of the passing of the Old
West and its ways in several films, and that theme is undeniably revisited here.
The introduction of the motor car, the machine gun, improved communications systems
and the very fact that commerce, government and political opportunists have
organised themselves to put pressure on our small band of rebellious
desperadoes all attest to that.
However, the broader
themes of ageing, the awareness of time running out and the resultant desire to
give value to one’s life are also visited.
There are frequent
references to physical problems in simply moving about, the need to make one
last big score and recollections of the past, all associated with ageing,
reflection and an awareness their time is coming to an end. Of course, they
quickly realise that they have nothing in their lives but action, survival and
one another. It is perhaps fitting, then, that in the end they opt to face
insurmountable odds to try to gain the freedom of Angel, one of their own, who
has been held by Mapache and is being tortured by him. In so doing, they choose
to defend the one principle by which they have tried to live – loyalty to one’s
compadres, and perhaps they hope to compensate for any previous failures, even
if they were understandable, to live up to their code.
The willingness to risk
everything for a friend is indicative of the strength of the bond between these
men. There are times when they share their inner feelings and fears. They bicker
but reconcile due to profound respect and mutual affection. They recount tales
of shared experience and they end up laughing with one another, both because
they enjoy one another’s company and as a means of defusing a situation,
suggesting an underlying bond that will prevail over any disagreement. These
are all signs of a solid, almost marriage-like relationship. They have formed a
fraternity which overrides all other relationships, even those with women who
are appreciated but with whom they find it difficult to communicate and have a
satisfying and emotionally rounded relationship.
Children are seen
frequently in the film and apart from being regarded as a source of
responsibility and pride, they may be viewed as a reminder of the cycle of life
and the fact that their outlook and actions will be influenced both directly
and indirectly by the actions and attitudes of those around them as they grow
up. Significantly, it is a child, dressed in uniform and wielding a rifle, who
fires on Pike in the final battle and brings about his end.
Sam Peckinpah’s highly
engaging script and direction were punctuated by graphic violence, gore (strong
for its time) and celebrated slow-motion sequences. His declared purpose in
using slow-motion was to emphasise the horror and bloody consequences of such
violence, but I can’t help but wonder if, especially in the final extended
battle and given our mitigated affiliation with Pike and co, there was not a feeling
of satisfaction in the audience as Mapache and his men get their just desserts,
dying as they lived, by violence.
Unsurprisingly, Pike and his
friends also die violent deaths at the hands of those they are willing to kill,
leaving Deke and Sykes as the sole survivors of the group. Sykes recognises the
futility of focusing on the past and, invoking their common bond of fraternity
and spirit, invites Deke to join him in the action and mayhem of the Mexican
Revolution. Laughing together, they head off to continue to ply their trade
with Pike, Dutch and the others living on as happy and revered memories. Life
goes on and, as they say, it is for the living.
I approached this film
with some trepidation given its reputation for glorifying violence, but I found
it far more engaging, touching and thought-provoking than I anticipated. Yes,
the violence is there but it serves a poetic purpose (though the success of the
way it is presented is, I suppose, open to debate). The whole is delivered,
rather like the characters themselves, with great spirit and gusto, yet tinged
with wistfulness and regret.
There are strong
performances from all concerned but especially from the lead actors who manage
to convey determination, reflection, regret and affection, fleshing out the
thoughtful script and carrying their roles to a higher emotional plain.
Ernest Borgnine gives
excellent support as the strong and devoted Dutch while William Holden is
superb as the weary but still driven Pike.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.