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Saturday, March 01, 2008 

Cowboys To Girls

AKA “The Sins of The Father”

After all these years, I’m starting to realize that maybe as a kid I sold my dad a bit short.

But then again, don’t we all?

Of course we all know there is no way our parents could have ever been as cool as us or knew as much as we did; time has obviously passed them by and they as may as well had been trying to make our dinner by rubbing two sticks together as far as we were concerned. And their personal taste in everything from clothes to food to movies and television? Good God. No contest.

I can’t tell you how many frustrating weekday afternoons I spent silently simmering in my own bedroom, watching “Tranzor Z” or “Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors” on my dinky black and white because my dad, drinking an after-work cold one and relaxing in the living room watching the big TV, would commandeer that space to watch Rawhide, Bonanza and The Rifleman every afternoon. As someone who just wanted to see five robot lions form one giant robot around 5:30pm while ignoring his homework, I just couldn’t figure out the appeal of shows that were intentionally in black and white (if he wanted black-and-white so badly, why not just switch places with me?) that took place in an era my father didn’t live and quite frankly, wouldn’t be welcome. What was the fascination? How on Earth could he relate?

The older I get the more I’m finding out that it’s true we somewhat become our parents, as scary as that thought is, especially to those of us who don’t necessarily even like our folks. Be that as it may, I’ve gained an appreciation for the uniquely American Western genre over the years and finally, maybe me and pops have something in common after all. A love affair that began for me in 1992 with Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN has continued right on up to today and James Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA remake (coincidentally, I once compared Mangold’s second directorial effort, COP LAND, to a Western. Thus YUMA seemed a natural transition and perfect fit for him) with no end in sight. In fact, I just recently purchased the MAN WITH NO NAME trilogy...for a second time.

”This country’s getting’ old and it’s time to get old with it. Now The Kid don’t want it that way. Might be a better man for it. I ain’t judging.” - James Coburn as Pat Garrett

I’m no stranger to Sam Peckinpah or his unique brand of violence but recently cable afforded me the opportunity to DV-R two of his more controversial classics, STRAW DOGS (1971) (which I’ve seen hundreds of times but hadn’t for years) and PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (1973), which I had never seen. It won’t mean much for me to say I was impressed considering how much praise this movie and the man responsible have had showered on them over the ensuing twenty-five years since its release but I will say that I was much more impressed than I ever expected to be. I didn’t start watching until nearly 5AM and fully expected to fall asleep (I was DEAD tired) before it ended but it more than kept my attention for the duration.

Starring Kris Kristofferson as unpredictable but likeable outlaw Billy The Kid (It’s too bad that today’s generation only knows Kristofferson as the crusty, old mentor to a black vampire hunter but for some reason, I kept seeing Kurt Russell when I would look at young Kris’ mannerisms. Even more sad that the same people are more likely to remember the Jock from THE BREAKFAST CLUB as William H. Bonney than Kristofferson but then again, we’re talking about a group whose generation-defining movie is AMERICAN PIE not PORKY’S and their coming-of-age more closely resembles CAN’T HARDLY WAIT than SIXTEEN CANDLES) and James Coburn who looks like, well...a younger but never really “young” James Coburn (but does on occasion remind one of Lee Van Cleef in THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE UGLY when he allows his mustache to grow out about midway through and takes to dressing in all black) all the familiar Peckinpah themes are in place (the scene with the children merrily and innocently playing on the noose that is set up in the gallows to hang Billy The Kid recalls the opening of THE WILD BUNCH (1969) where the street kids set some scorpions on top of a hill of red ants) and of course, the bright red Shaw Brothers-like blood flows (and looks) like paint. Once it actually began, I doubt that PG&BTK went more than 7-10 minutes without someone getting shot and dying. The deaths range from meaningless (but not truly without meaning, just...needlessly futile. A hopeless sort of pointlessness, if you understand what I’m saying) to poignant to ultra-violent.

I cried: I accidentally rubbed UTZ Red Hot potato chips powder into my right eye as I watched. I laughed: mostly at the way the women were portrayed. It seems as if they only exist in the world presented here for the sole purpose of being random and disposable; ready, willing and anonymous sex objects to sleep with and discard. It was either that, get slapped around, raped or in some cases, all three. And that was by “heroes” and “villains” alike, though at times, lines blur and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell who is who depending on your point of view.

The only woman who didn’t fit into this mold (or anything else at this point despite starting her career as an absolutely gorgeous woman who would easily qualify as “my type”) was Katy Jurado. Part of a three-person posse that consisted of her husband, Sheriff Baker (played by Slim Pickens), Pat Garrett and herself, Mrs. Baker was her husband’s no-nonsense, shotgun-toting deputy and a woman of few words. Watching her rough-and-tumble exterior peel away before your very eyes as she watches her husband slowly succumb to a mortal wound suffered during a gunfight attempting to interrogate a few of Billy The Kid’s old running buddies is one of the more touching death scenes of not only this movie, but in my recent memory. There’s nothing trivial or glamorous about dying here. And it’s the people you least expect who show deep regret in their eyes and in their gait when they’re forced to take a life.

It was a worthwhile watch and now, no doubt, a purchase. I just hope my son wasn’t as upset with me while I watched it and he wanted to see HAPPY FEET for the millionth time. History has a weird way of repeating itself. Life's funny that way, I'm finding out.