Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Twilight Time, Blu-Ray), one of Sam Peckinpah’s personal favorites of his films (and the rare Peckinpah film not to get reworked by the studio), opens on an idyllic river scene with a pregnant girl soaking her feet in the lazy current with a beatific smile on her face. In his great westerns, the river scenes are the brief escapes from violent lives in his character, reprieves in the middle of the drama before they march back out to meet their fates. This comes before the story even begins and once the spell is broken by the violence of a brutal father, a Mexican crime lord played by Peckinpah regular Emilio Fernández, and a $1 million bounty placed on the head of Alfredo Garcia, the father of the unborn child, there is little peace or paradise to be found.
Warren Oates stars as Benny, a grubby lounge pianist playing for tourists in a Mexican dive when a couple of American hitmen (Robert Webber and Gig Young) saunter in looking for information on “an old friend.” Benny thinks he’s hit the jackpot—a whopping $10,00 for giving them proof that Alfredo Garcia is dead (yes, they want his head)—but it costs him everything that matters and the tawdry treasure hunt turns into a revenge drama.
It plays like a pulp noir thriller by way of a road movie of the damned, marinated in mescal and left to rot in the desert sun. Benny’s not that smart or savvy but Peckinpah clearly loves this small-timer with his wrinkled white linen suit and clip-on tie and bad cantina sing-along songs. He may be a loser but he truly loves his philandering girl Elita (Isela Vega) and he develops more backbone with every stage of the odyssey. When he’s double crossed, he literally drags himself out of a shallow grave and returns with vengeance on his mind, fueled by rage, tequila, and a perverse loyalty to the rotting head he’s come to talk to like a father confessor. The film opened to scathing, outraged reviews (one notable exception was Roger Ebert, who called it “some kind of bizarre masterpiece”) but has since been embraced as a perverse masterpiece, the ultimate cult film in the career of a defiantly confrontational director.
Twilight Time gives the Blu-ray debut of this film more original supplements than any previous release from the label. The 55-minute documentary Passion & Poetry: Sam’s Favorite Film is a new production from German filmmaker and Peckinpah fan Mike Siegel featuring a wealth of interviews with Peckinpah actors and collaborators. A new commentary track by Peckinpah historian and Twilight Time co-founder Nick Redman with Alfred Garcia co-writer and executive producer Gordon T. Dawson is paired with a track by Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle and Redman previously recorded for the film’s DVD debut. There’s a new 25-minute video interview with Peckinpah biographer Garner Simmons, who was on the set of Alfredo Garcia, and a gallery of stills and promotional art, plus Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
Wonderwall: Collector’s Edition (Fabulous Films / Shout Factory, Blu-ray), a psychedelic fantasy from 1968, stars Jack MacGowran (looking vaguely like Albert Einstein) as an eccentric, reclusive old professor who becomes infatuated with his beautiful neighbor Penny Lane (Jane Birkin) when a small peephole erupts in the brick wall between their apartments. He turns into quite the voyeur, spying on the funky photo shoots and swinging parties and drifting into dreams and fantasies and comic interludes that recall Richard Lester’s Beatles films with swinging London color and imagery. It’s a lark but a fun lark with a distinctly British sensibility. Today it’s most famous for its original score, composed and performed by George Harrison and friends with a mix of European and Indian instruments and influences. Director Joe Massot went on to direct another cult music film: the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same.
The color is fabulous on this beautifully restored disc, which includes the original theatrical version and a director’s cut that is nearly 20 minutes shorter and features different musical choices and arrangements. Also includes Reflections on Love (1966), a short film directed by Massot and starring The Beatles, galleries of stills and production notes, and brief montages set to music from the film. The excellent 32-page booklet features notes on the origins and production of the film by director Joe Massot, interviews with collaborators, and notes on the cast and crew, plus a wealth of stills.
All the King’s Men (1949) (Twilight Time, Blu-Ray), Robert Rossen’s dark, cynical look at political demagoguery and corruption based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and inspired by real life Louisiana Governor Huey Long, won three Oscars, including Best Picture. Broderick Crawford (who also earned an Oscar) brings blustery charm and oversized performance to charismatic populist politician Willie Stark who turns his back on ideals when he discovers the real currency of political power. Rossen’s savage screenplay, with its folksy rhetoric, and his documentary-like direction gives an immediacy to the drama, and excellent performance by Mercedes McCambridge (who took home an Oscar in her film debut) as the cool mistress-turned-calculating assistant and John Ireland as the newsman-turned-political flack help elevate the film into an American classic. Features Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
The Swimmer (Grindhouse, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), based on the John Cheever short story of soured suburban values, stars Burt Lancaster as a man who decides to swim his way through the backyards of his upscale neighborhood, pool by pool. The 1968 film, directed by Frank Perry, is quite a time capsule, dated and arch but also weirdly haunting, and it co-stars Janet Landgard, Janice Rule, Marge Champion, Kim Hunter, Diana Muldaur and Joan Rivers. This is the first non-genre film released by Grindhouse. It’s been mastered from a new 4K digital restoration and features the nearly 2 ½-hour documentary The Story of The Swimmer that explores the film’s troubled history, an interview with actress Marge Champion conducted by Alison Anders, an audio recording of John Cheeve reading “The Swimmer,” and other supplements, along with an excellent 12-page booklet with essays by filmmakers Stuart Gordon and Chris Innis (who produced the featurettes for the disc).
Fargo (Fox, Blu-ray) has been re-released on home video more than any other film by the Coen Bros. by my count. And why not? It won two Academy Awards (for Leading Actress Frances McDormand and the original screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen) and could be the definitive example of their cockeyed sensibility. The latest edition, arriving weeks before the new Fargo TV series debuts on FX, marks the film’s second Blu-ray release. The supplements are all the same as the previous release—marvelously articulate commentary by cinematographer Roger A. Deakins, the 28-minute featurette Minnesota Nice from 2003 featuring interviews with the cast and crew, a trivia track, a still gallery, and a copy of the American Cinematographer article on the film—but this edition has been newly remastered from a 4K digital restoration. That is the selling point of this disc, you betcha.
Also new and notable:
L’Immortelle (Kino / Redemption, Blu-ray, DVD) is the directorial debut of novelist-turned-filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet and the third release in their series of films by the director debuting on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s mastered from original 35mm elements and features an archival interview with the director.
Meet Him and Die (Raro Video, Blu-ray, DVD) follows up the great poliziotteschi (Italian crime dramas) releases of Fernando di Leo with this 1976 example from director Franco Prosperi and stars Ray Lovelock, Martin Balsam and Elke Sommer.
Boardwalk (MVD, Blu-ray, DVD), from director Stephen Verona (The Lords of Flatbush), stars Lee Strasberg and Ruth Gordon as an aging couple who refuse to move as their Coney Island neighbourhood becomes more dangerous. It makes its home video debut on Blu-ray and DVD.
Also new from Twilight Time: Conrack (Twilight Time, Blu-Ray), directed by Martin Ritt and starring Jon Voight and Paul Winfield, is another acclaimed film that debuts on Blu-ray before DVD; Equus (Twilight Time, Blu-Ray), the screen adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning play directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Richard Burton, Peter Firth and Joan Plowright; and Fever Pitch (1997) (Twilight Time, Blu-Ray) is the first adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel of sports obsession, this one with Colin Firth as a devoted fan of a losing soccer team. All three feature commentary, isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIX (Shout Factory, DVD) presents four more episodes never before released on disc: the rock movie Untamed Youth with Mamie Van Doren, the 1961 Hercules and the Captive Women, The Thing That Couldn’t Die from 1958, and the 1980 Italian import The Pumaman with Donald Pleasence. With featurettes, bonus interviews, and four mini-posters among the supplements.
Persona (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) is featured on Cinephiled here.
The Best of Bogart (Warner, Blu-ray), which collects special edition Blu-rays of The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen, will be featured this weekend.
Ms. 45 (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Freshman (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
The King of Comedy: 30th Anniversary (Fox, Blu-ray)
Norma Rae (Fox, Blu-ray)
Patrick (Severin, Blu-ray Combo)
Hollow Triumph (Film Chest, DVD)
The Bigamist (Film Chest, DVD)
King Kong vs. Godzilla (Universal, Blu-ray)
King Kong Escapes (Universal, Blu-ray)
The War Wagon (Universal, Blu-ray)
Rooster Cogburn (Universal, Blu-ray)
Joe Kidd (Universal, Blu-ray)
No Holds Barred (Image, Blu-ray)