Blu-ray Review: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Possibly the ultimate cult favorite by the ultimate cult director Sam Peckinpah, there is very little (if anything) left to say about Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. What’s important to know, for fans and students of Peckinpah, is that it’s now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time (while supplies last; the printing is limited to 3,000 copies, par for the course when it comes to Twilight Time). The 1974 revenge picture offers a story of startlingly effective simplicity. In Mexico, the wealthy, influential “El Jefe” (Emilio Fern├índez) demands to know the identity of the man who impregnated his teen daughter. Outraged after his daughter confesses it was Alfredo Garcia, a man whom El Jefe claims to have treated like a son, a bounty of one million dollars is placed on Garcia’s head.

Dozens of men seek Garcia, including a pair of El Jefe’s own goons, Sappensly (Robert Webber) and Quill (Gil Young). These two, while flashing a photo of Garcia to various staff members at a dive bar, run into a disheveled piano player named Bennie (Warren Oates). Like everyone else in the bar, Bennie knows more than he lets on. His interest level rises considerably when he discovers that Garcia was carrying on with his girlfriend, a prostitute named Elita (Isela Vega). Elita informs him that Garcia is, in fact, already dead. Without revealing this key bit of info regarding Garcia (and without any knowledge of why they want his head), Bennie agrees to deliver the prized noggin to Sappensly and Quill for the modest sum of $10,000. It should be easy money after all, seeing as Bennie simply needs to rob Garcia’s grave.

According to Peckinpah himself, Bring Me the Head was the sole film of his career that was released in the form he intended. It was also his self-proclaimed personal favorite. It’s a bit more inelegant than many films in his oeuvre, at times downright clunky. Superficially it’s a cheaply-produced piece of B-movie exploitation, with numerous slow-motion shoot-outs that sometimes play more like Peckinpah-influenced hackwork than the real deal. But true depth of soul can be found in Bennie and Elita, mined for all it’s worth by Oates and Vega. Bennie doesn’t seem to care all that much about collecting the bounty. Despite Garcia having expired, Bennie can’t help feeling somewhat inferior to him. He professes undying love and devotion for Elita and simply can’t fathom why she made herself unavailable to him while sequestered with Garcia during the man’s final days.

Bring me the Head 2 (189x280).jpgIt seems Elita may not share the same unequivocal feelings for Bennie that he expresses for her. Sure, the couple has a genuinely emotional chat about their future together midway through. Neither is particularly articulate though, and Elita can’t shake the feeling that what Bennie wants to do to Garcia’s corpse is wrong. When accosted by a couple of bikers (Kris Kristofferson and Donnie Fritts) who intend to rape her, Elita seems unnervingly placid in her acceptance of what appears to be her fate. It’s one of the most talked-about scenes in the film and one that strongly recalls the endlessly debated rape scene in Straw Dogs. Kristofferson plays it as sweetly as possible, considering he’s depicting a would-be rapist. When Bennie, a symbolically impotent three-time loser, finally gets up the nerve to play alpha dog, he happens upon what looks like the beginning of a seduction scene rather than an act of sexually-motivated violence (with Elita playing seducer).

Perhaps Bennie’s initial instincts were correct and Elita is essentially nothing but a “two-timing bitch.” Maybe she’s been a working girl too long to recognize the difference between Bennie and a guy like Kristofferson’s random biker. It might just be that she’s not into self-pitying, insecure clingers like Bennie. Whatever the case, Bennie seems to respect Garcia despite knowing he tried (and might’ve succeeded) in stealing his girl’s heart. Once he has Garcia’s decapitated head in his possession, he treats it like some nightmarish variation on Tom Hanks’ Wilson from Cast Away. Crazy as he begins to seem, Bennie’s on-going, one-sided dialogue with Garcia’s head assumes the form of self-analytical therapy (if only Bennie was perceptive enough to learn anything from it; the alcohol with which he perpetually clouds his mind can’t possibly be helping).

How about the Blu-ray itself? Never a pretty film on previous home video incarnations, it still carries some flaws on Blu-ray. The transfer offered here is plagued by frequent white and black flecks. That’s the main concern, something that Twilight Time is completely up-front about on their site. It’s clearly an upgrade over the previous DVD release, however, with a generally sharp, consistent image. The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack is a strong presentation of the film’s inherently shoddy sound design. Dialogue often sounds hollow, ADR mostly sticks out like a sore thumb, and much of the foley work is poorly integrated. All of this is a result of the original low-budget production and not in any way a negative reflection upon the Blu-ray.

Bring Me the Head cover (213x280).jpgFairly extensive supplements accompany Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, including two commentary tracks. Both feature documentarian and record producer Nick Redman, who is accompanied by the film’s co-writer/producer Gordon Dawson on one and a trio of film historians on the other. Passion and Poetry: Sam’s Favorite Film is a recent 55-minute documentary that provides a terrific look at the making of the film. Garner Simmons, a Peckinpah biographer and participant on the group commentary, is featured in the 25-minute “A Writer’s Journey.” There’s also a short slide show of promotional stills (“Promoting Alfredo Garcia”) and an isolated score track featuring Jerry Fielding’s music.

Again, as is standard with Twilight Time Blu-ray releases, this edition is limited to 3,000 and a two-copy-per-customer limit has been imposed. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information while supplies last.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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