Ordinarily, I’m not a huge fan of Westerns, but The Wild Bunch (1969) isn’t any old Western. It pushed the boundaries of the genre and played with the audience’s expectations of what they’d see in a Western. As a result, the film and its director, Sam Peckinpah, have unsurprisingly become pretty influential on the next generation of moviemakers.
For example, Hurt Locker (2008) director Kathryn Bigelow has been heavily influenced by Peckinpah. Pramaggiore and Wallis (2011) discuss how Hurt Locker “incorporates the visual strategies and thematic ideas” of Peckinpah’s “gracefully choreographed and violently bloody Westerns.” They also point out that Bigelow isn’t shy in acknowledging her appreciation of Peckinpah either: “in 2010 she introduced The Wild Bunch for the ‘Films That Inspired Me’ series at Hammer Museum in Lost Angeles.” Unsurprisingly, Peckinpah has a few other fans in the directing world too:
You don’t have to watch The Wild Bunch for long to get a hint of its director’s influence on Tarantino. The black and white/cartoon freeze-frame stylings of the opening credits feel very Tarantino. Furthermore, the title sequence has become synonymous with late 60s Westerns. Steve Neal (2000, p. 40) says, “It is hard from a generic point of view to think of the credit sequence of The Wild Bunch (1969) as the opening sequence in a musical…” You could replace “musical” with pretty much any other genre there.
Another aspect of The Wild Bunch that may have influenced Tarantino, is its aforementioned “violently bloody” aspects. The final scene is particularly violent:
In addition to the violence, one of the things that struck me about The Wild Bunch was the unexpected nudity, swearing and modern technology. All things that I personally hadn’t previously associated with 1960s Westerns! According to Pramaggiore and Wallis (2011), this “shook up the industry and engaged younger audiences.” The scene where the cowboys see a motorcar for the first time is particularly jarring and feels very self-aware and almost self-deprecating towards Westerns. By acknowledging that they have no idea what it is, they come remarkably close to breaking down the fourth wall!
The use of indigenous Mexicans instead of ‘Indians’ is also interesting and allowed Peckenpah to bring in, amongst other things, music that you wouldn’t have directly associated with Westerns. For example, although it’s not always the same musical theme recurring, so not a leitmotif per se, the use of similar sounding mariachi music when the Mexicans are on screen certainly sets the scene. This contrasts well with the snare and trumpets regularly used when the cowboys are in shot.
All in all, it’s easy to see why The Wild Bunch has become such a critically acclaimed and influential movie. Seek it out if you haven’t already.
Chip Parton (2009) Quentin Tarantino on Peckinpah influence of Inglrorious Basterds. Available at: http://youtu.be/4EpXEqn6AXE (Accessed: 22 November 2014).
Hurt Locker (2008) Directed by Kathryn Bigelow [Film]. Place of distribution: distribution company.
IMDB (1990) The Wild Bunch. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065214/ (Accessed: 22 November 2014)
Movie Scenes (2006) The Wild Bunch – Final Shootout. Available at: http://youtu.be/KJMxGFco57Y (Accessed: 22 November 2014).
Neal, S. (2000) Genre and Hollywood. Abingdon: Routledge.
Pramaggiore, M. and Wallace, T. (2011) Film A Critical Introduction. 3rd edn. London: Laurence King Publishing.
The Wild Bunch (1969) Directed by Sam Peckinpah [Film]. Place of distribution: distribution company.