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The International Writers Magazine: Film Archives

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Directed by Sam Peckinpah,
written by Rudy Wurlitzer,
starring James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan
Joesef Fiser

Pat Garrett is a 50 year old film about an event hundreds year ago which never actually happened, taking place in setting which, at best, only resembles the reality. It is a western, a genre that has been virtually moribund for two decades in spite of a few quite recent attempts to resurrect it (3:10 to Yuma, The Proposition, Deadwood). Yet it is a brilliant movie that still excites an audience, maybe more than ever before.

Pat Garrett (James Coburn) used to be Billy’s (Kris Kristofferson) friend, but they both took different turns in their lives. Billy remained a dangerous disobedient gunman, Pat became a sheriff; a man longing for peaceful life or a man afraid to risk his life in the way he and Billy used to.  The result is the same – he is now supposed to get rid of Billy.  But he doesn’t want to betray him. It is an honourable or at least open fight. They are both from the same old school.  Unlike those people who made Pat sheriff, whilst following their own secret deadly agenda, as you’ll come to know right at the beginning of the movie, for the story is told in retrospective.  Friendship and honour are indispensable ingredients in this genre.  Death is always ready to collect and men are ready to kill or to die.  Blood has here slightly different colour than we are used to, but somehow it suits well the movie, as well as the cast.

Bob Dylan
Both Coburn and Kristofferson are literally living out their characters.  Others inhabitants of the Wild West are mostly supposed to look tough and they do, so good work there too. To cast Bob Dylan as a rookie-gunman was maybe rather strange idea, but thanks to the music he made himself look like a narrator of the story.  It gave a balladic flavour to the film. Editing is very impressive, especially in opening and closing scenes.  The brilliant cinematography – is evocative of the era.

To talk about historical accuracy in western is probably meaningless.  Sure, there were people named Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane and others.  There were Indians and buffalos.  But it all became legend and created its own myth that became part of our (or at least of my) childhood.

Westerns were, and still are, fairytales for adults, fairytales with its heroes fighting for the truth, ready to kill for their ideals, however immoral sometimes, ready to die for them, fighting in a world where good and evil were quite distinguishable and the future was just about to change everything.  You could see the new world arising from the sand; everything was going to be better  and bigger. Sam Peckinpah turned those heroes against themselves and let them die.

The New world didn’t need them. Because that world was about building and prosperity, comfort and conformity, not about renegades’ big gestures and living really free life. Through an impressive time mask Peckinpah showed us the actual face of the present. It’s time to forget the old heroes, there’s a new world to... exist in.

© Josef Fiser November 2007
fot at

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