WHO is he?
Controversial, influential American action film director and screenwriter who made movies between the 60s and the 80s, considered to be a part of the New Hollywood movement. Known for his unflinching portrayal of violence, Peckinpah is something of an inflection point in Hollywood history, with his bloody body of work separating the classicist, moralist studio era and the college-educated, blithely amoral Movie Brat generation.
WHAT are his films about?
There are no heroes in Peckinpah’s movies. Everyone is sick or, at best, flawed. However, Peckinpah, far from being misanthropic, moulds this overwhelming negativity into potent examinations of masculinity, xenophobia and greed. His Westerns are, in fact, post-Westerns that de-romanticise the Frontier, representing them not as the land of American pioneers who built a glorious nation but as a haven for no-good crooks, scheming opportunists and bloodthirsty mercenaries, and tear open the genre to study its ideological underpinning.
Peckinpah’s movies are among the most flamboyant, stylistically gratuitous of New Hollywood films and are famous chiefly for their aesthetisation of screen violence, especially his use of slow motion action sequences which depict bodies being riddled with bullets in great detail. Peckinpah’s is a cinema of falling bodies. Equally remarkable is his extensive use of cross-cutting which, unlike in Hitchcock’s films, isn’t employed to increase narrative tension, but to jolt the audience with its disruption of space and chronology.
WHY is he of interest?
There are two basic ways in which Peckinpah’s cinema have, for better or worse, starkly impacted film culture. On the one hand, their ornate stylistics have inspired scores of popular filmmakers across the world like Martin Scorsese, John Woo and, more recently, Bejoy Nambiar, who are excited by the expressive possibilities of the medium, while on the other, they have rekindled the debate surrounding the limits of on-screen representation and the moral responsibility of filmmakers.
WHERE to discover him?
Highly controversial upon its release and still provocative, Straw Dogs (1971) involves a young American couple (Dustin Hoffman and Susan George) who move to the British countryside to have their life turned upside down. Quite possibly the most clear-eyed and conscious indictment of violence and misguided machismo among Peckinpah’s movies, the film is a critique of the toxicity of sexual repression and a jolting illustration of the web of oppression and tyranny that we all are caught in.