Writer's block...if it moves, shoot it
The Wild Bunch isn't my favorite Sam Peckinpah film, but it's one of my favorite films. It's helped me get through a bad case of writer's block more than a few times. How, you might ask. Well, it's like this. In writing the script, Peckinpah was faced with a big dilemma. What would cause four big red-blooded men to go marching into a sure death in broad daylight? Add to the mix, these hard living hombres aren't your average good samaritans. Therein lies the problem.
What ends up being the story is the backdrop of an ensuing World War and the end of an era. A bunch of eras. Maybe The Wild Bunch wasn't the first or the last film to use the anti-hero on the edge of a soon to be gone frontier, but certainly it's one of if not the most unforgettable. From the kids playing with a scorpion during the opening sequence to the ending, we the viewer are a part of things. And that comes from good writing and good direction. Something that has always struck me in this particular Peckinpah movie are the little things. Things you notice in a film that a less auteurish director would have cut. What Peckinpah got was realism. Leaving those tiny mistake-looking things in the final cut is its genius. Its mastery. And why it holds up after all these years.
Sam Peckinpah went around one of the buildings and sat down in the hot dirt after the last shot and cried. I think it was because he knew he'd created something, something that comes part from within and somewhere out in the universe through you. It's a humbling ordeal when the planets align and use you to get their point across.
I've studied Sam and read the book on his life If They Move...Kill 'em. He lived a life and filmmaking was his life. If he wasn't planning something or shooting something, he was writing something. One story stuck with me after all these years. When the California wildfires hit his family's home, they had seconds to get out alive. Sam realized he'd left behind a half-finished screenplay he'd been working on and ran back into the burning house to retrieve it. He only had time to get one thing and had to make up his mind on a dime to grab the script. The next day, their momma dog and her puppies were found in the whelping box burned to a crisp. That's another thing I learned from Sam Peckinpah. What it takes to be a great writer and/or a great director. Would you pick the dogs or the script? And I really believe, the more I learn and the older I get, that is what it takes.
So the real life Sam Peckinpah and the Wild Bunch had more than a little bit in common with one another. That dog moment from his real life is in every one of Sam Peckinpah's films. The guts and all the pain.