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Archive Obituary> Sam Peckinpah (December 28th 1984)

Sam Peckinpah, Director Of 'Wild Bunch,' Dies At 59

FROM: The Washington Post (December 29th 1984) ~
By Richard Harrington, Staff Writer
Sam Peckinpah, the director known for his graphic depictions of
violence in such films as "The Wild Bunch," "Straw Dogs" and "Bring Me
the Head of Alfredo Garcia," died yesterday of cardiac arrest. He was
Mr. Peckinpah died at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Los
Angeles, where he had been flown Thursday from Mexico after doctors
discovered a blood clot in a lung, said Nancy Galloway, a longtime
aide to the controversial and outspoken film director.
Mr. Peckinpah, who had a history of heart trouble, died at 9:49 a.m.,
according to a hospital spokesman. His former wife, Begonia Palacios,
was with him at his death.
"He had a heart attack three or four years ago and he was wearing a
pacemaker," said his brother, retired Fresno County Superior Court
Judge Denver Peckinpah. "He kept feeling under the weather in Mexico,
so they flew him up Thursday night. He had a cardiac arrest and didn't
come out of it."
At the time of his death, Mr. Peckinpah was in pre-production on an
independent film, "On the Rocks," to be shot in San Francisco.
Born Feb. 21, 1925 in Fresno, Calif., Mr. Peckinpah grew up on a large
family ranch, and the exhilarating memories of hunting, riding and
fishing in the Sierra foothills informed his work.
After graduating from San Rafael Military Academy, Mr. Peckinpah
served with the U.S. Marines in China. While attending college in
Fresno after World War II, his courtship of his first wife, student
actress Cecilia Selland, led him to a directing class. "It just turned
me on right away," he told Playboy magazine in 1972.
Mr. Peckinpah, whose rugged, grizzled appearance and flat dry voice
recalled the classic "desert rat" seen in so many of his films,
graduated from the University of Southern California with a master's
degree in theater arts.
He directed summer stock productions and eventually gravitated to
television in the mid-1950s, where he wrote for and occasionally
directed episodes of "Gunsmoke," "Broken Arrow," "The Rifleman" and
"The Westerner," a series that he originated and directed. These shows
established Mr. Peckinpah's career as a "western specialist."
He made his feature film debut in 1961 with "The Deadly Companions,"
and is most fondly remembered for several elegiac Westerns, "Ride the
High Country" (1962) and "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" (1970), though it
was the "Wild Bunch" (1969) and "Straw Dogs" (1971) that cemented his
reputation as the "master of violence."

His other films included "Major Dundee" (1965), "The Getaway" and
"Junior Bonner" (both 1972), "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973),
"Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974), "The Killer Elite"
(1976), "Cross of Iron" (1977), "Convoy" (1978) and "The Osterman
Weekend" (1983). Most of his recent films were box-office failures.
Mr. Peckinpah directed two music videos for Julian Lennon, son of the
late Beatle John Lennon, including the recent "Valotte" production.
In his career, Mr. Peckinpah developed a reputation as a maverick
stylist and personality, a throwback to the crusty filmmaker whose
idiosyncratic vision often seemed out of step with commercial trends
and considerations. At one point in the mid-1960s, his reputation as a
"troublesome" director led to his being blackballed in Hollywood and
on television. His quarrels with Hollywood producers and studio
executives were as legendary as his tough visual style and his
hard-drinking, two-fisted personal life. Not surprisingly, the theme
of doomed outlaw figures waging a fierce but losing battle against
impossible odds coursed through his films.
Two years after directing an acclaimed television drama of Katherine
Anne Porter's "Noon Wine," Mr. Peckinpah made a triumphant movie
comeback with "The Wild Bunch," described by Life magazine as "the
first masterpiece in the new tradition of 'the dirty western.' "
The moral ambiguities that clouded so many of Mr. Peckinpah's films
were at least partly rooted in the judicial/familial tradition that
saw his grandfather, father and brother all become judges.
"I grew up with all those judges and it was law and order, honor,
truth, and justice from morning till night," Mr. Peckinpah told an
interviewer in 1969. "I just sat there listening and then I started to
question. What do they mean? Is there such a thing as a good that
leads to evil? I think there is . . . I'm not a pessimist, but I've
learned to question. That's what most of my films are about."
Mr. Peckinpah is survived by his brother and a sister, Fern Lea Peter.
His marriage to Cecilia Selland ended in divorce in 1962. They had
four children. Begonia Palacios was his third wife, and they married
and divorced three times, his brother said. They had a daughter,
Lupita, 11.
--Appreciation: Son Of The Changing West
FROM: The Washington Post (December 29th 1984) ~
By David Remnick, Staff Writer
"All I want is to enter my house justified."
Sam Peckinpah's father used to tell him that, and years later it would
become the motto for "Ride the High Country," a movie that critic
Pauline Kael called "the last good western."

Peckinpah died yesterday in a Los Angeles hospital of a heart attack

at the age of 59 and it's hard to think that he ever entered his
house, or anyone else's, feeling unjustified. His movies will be
remembered most for their violence and strange, elegiac longing for
the old western frontier.
Peckinpah was always the subject of criticism. And yet he did little
to soften his style or his image. His face was leathery, his voice
parched and low, his eyes as quick and narrow as an iguana's. For the
benefit of interviewers, he would wear a red bandana and a beat-up old
hat and hit back at his critics.
In "The Wild Bunch" (1969), cowboys and women and children were blown
apart in a slow-motion ballet of bullets and blood and desert dust.
When critics called the violence gratuitous, Peckinpah said he had
"tried to show violence as it is," that he wanted "to show that people
we identify with, even approve of, did some terrible things."
When "Straw Dogs" was released in 1971 and shocked audiences with its
scenes of rape and killing, 13 of Britain's leading film critics wrote
a letter to The Times of London demanding to know why the British
Board of Film Censors had passed the film. Kael called "Straw Dogs" a
"fascist work of art."
"If I'm a fascist because I believe that men are not created equal,
then all right, I'm a fascist," Peckinpah replied.
During the filming of "The Wild Bunch," a friend of Peckinpah's
introduced him to the writing of Robert Ardrey, an ethnologist who
wrote of the animal nature in man. Peckinpah called Ardrey "the only
prophet alive today."
"Everybody seems to deny that we're human. We're violent by nature,"
Peckinpah once said. "We're going to survive by being violent. If we
don't recognize that we're violent people, we're dead. We're going to
be on some beach, and we're going to drop bombs on each other. I would
like to understand the nature of violence. Is there a way to channel
it, to use it positively? Churches, laws -- everybody seems to think
that man is a noble savage. But he's only a meat-eating, talking
animal. Recognize it."
Peckinpah saw himself as a son of the changing West.
His ancestors emigrated from Holland and moved west across this
country in a covered wagon during the 19th century. They settled in
Madera County, Calif. With his father Judge, his mother Davis, his
brother Denver and his sister Fern Lea, Sam Peckinpah grew up on the
family ranch beneath Peckinpah Mountain in the foothills of the
Sierras. As a child, he loved to fish and hunt and ride horses through
the hills.
"That world is gone," Peckinpah said years later. "I feel rootless."
Peckinpah's father was a moral absolutist who tried to instill in his
son a sense of discipline by sending him to the San Rafael Military

Academy and by forcing him to sit through the trial of a teen-aged boy
charged with statutory rape.
Peckinpah served with the Marines in China during World War II. Of
that experience, he once said, "The Communists cut the Peking-Tientsin
railroad and they pulled us out. But I didn't want to leave. I wanted
to stay in Peking . . . I was in love with a Chinese girl . . . Maybe,
in a funny way, I've been trying to go back to China ever since."
He returned to the United States and enrolled at Fresno State College,
where he directed a production of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass
Menagerie." He worked as an actor and director for a summer-stock
theater in New Mexico and for a television station in Los Angeles.
Liberace, the master of glimmering couture, fired Peckinpah from a TV
special when he refused to wear a business suit instead of blue jeans
to work.
Peckinpah worked at the writer's trade during the 1950s. He wrote
scripts for "Gunsmoke" and helped finish the screenplay for "The
Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
As a director, Peckinpah made some awful movies. "The Getaway," "Bring
Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia," "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" and
"Convoy" are unlikely to enhance his reputation in any circle. The
scene in "Straw Dogs" in which Susan George begins to enjoy being
raped is possibly one of the most repellent moments in recent film
"The Wild Bunch," like Samuel Fuller's "Shock Corridor," continues to
have appeal as a titillating, if limited, work. Peckinpah, who saw his
own version of the West lost to development and time, was obsessed
with the theme of change. "The Wild Bunch" depicted the last raucous,
bloodthirsty burst of violence from a gang of outlaws, but Peckinpah
also treated his theme in gentler ways.
In "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" (1970), Jason Robards plays a destitute
man abandoned by his friends. But he discovers water "where there
wasn't none," a discovery that makes him prosperous. He falls in love
with a prostitute played by Stella Stevens and, for a while, they live
together happily. Eventually, she leaves. The automobile makes the
watering hole obsolete. The old man is hit by a car and dies. "The
Ballad of Cable Hogue" won the plaudits of numerous critics and made
the Ten Best list of The New York Times in 1970, but it was a
box-office failure.
Peckinpah moved around a lot, living in London, on the beach in Malibu
and on a ranch in Nevada. His home for the last 11 years of his life
was in Mexico.
He always kept a photograph with him of the first buck he ever shot.
He was an avid hunter and cooked the beasts on an outdoor spit. He
despised hunters who carelessly left carcasses to rot.
As a hunter, Peckinpah always ate what he shot. He was not afraid of
violence. He embraced it, rejected it, tried to understand it. For all
his mistakes, the same was true of his attempt through the movies to

learn about violence.

Sam Peckinpah entered his house justified.