If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and TImes of Sam Peckinpah

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9780802137760: If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and TImes of Sam Peckinpah
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The only major biography of Sam Peckinpah in print, David Weddle's If They Move...Kill 'Em! tells the wild story of Peckinpah's life with novelistic verve and does justice to one of the most important bodies of work in American cinema. Born into a clan of lumberjacks, ranchers, and frontier lawyers, David Samuel Peckinpah served in the Marines and then made his way to Hollywood, where he worked on a string of low-budget features before being hired as a writer for Gunsmoke in 1955. Quickly becoming the hottest writer in television, Peckinpah went on to direct a phenomenal series of features, including Ride the High Country, Straw Dogs, The Getaway, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and The Wild Bunch. The life he led -- glamorous, wild, and beset by personal demons -- is as vivid as his films. A hopeless romantic and a grim nihilist, inspiration to such luminaries as DePalma, Scorsese, and Tarantino, Sam Peckinpah was an audacious American original. If They Move...Kill 'Em! is his wild and woolly story.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Film critic Weddle's first book is a comprehensive, if somewhat overwritten, biography of a legendary Hollywood maverick. Sam Peckinpah's (19251984) career is yet another monument to the destructiveness of the Hollywood machine and the self- destructive tendencies of alcoholics. As Weddle tells it, Peckinpah's early life inculcated in him a macho obsession with guns, booze, and a certain self-conscious toughness, all of which was filtered through an artist's considerable sensitivity. His best films are poised on the cusp between those two poles, a reflection of his need to please both his tight-lipped lawyer father and his overprotective, hysterical mother. Out of that crucible emerged a brilliant but tormented filmmaker who repeatedly drank and fought himself out of work. On the other hand, as Weddle's account makes clear, Peckinpah's stern sense of artistic integrity, combined with his penchant for on-the-set improvisations, made him somewhat ill- suited for the rigidity of Hollywood filmmaking, even after the studio system had all but collapsed. Weddle has interviewed over 100 family members, friends, and colleagues of Peckinpah's and read extensively in his diaries and papers, and the research shows. On the other hand, his writing is often turgid, filled with overextended metaphors. His critical judgments are sometimes debatable (how many film historians would agree with him that the '60s are the most interesting decade in American film?), but the production histories of films like The Wild Bunch and Major Dundee are exemplary. Finally, as Peckinpah's career begins to founder on the rocks of booze and cocaine, Weddle seems to run out of steam. Never less than interesting, this volume makes a nice complement to Marshall Fine's Bloody Sam (1991), drawing on some new sources and adding to the picture of a troubled and troublesome artist. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

A probing biography of the enfant terrible of 1960s' and 1970s' film-making. Weddle is sympathetic, portraying Peckinpah's tortured childhood and his deep fear of violence, but he doesn't shy from the director's worst characteristics: his drill sergeant's tactics on sets, his failure to give credit to those who worked with him, his endless affairs. After a ground-breaking career in television--including Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, The Westerner, and the best adaptation ever of Noon Wine, blessed by Katharine Anne Porter herself--Peckinpah's fortunes went down and up with feature films. Ride the High Country was a brilliant beginning, but Peckinpah earned the reputation of a drunken fool with his muddled, hopelessly overbudget Major Dundee. He couldn't get work for three years afterwards, but ironically returned to almost the same Mexican settings for The Wild Bunch, shot obsessively with an obsessive crew and then assembled in the editing room, where the director at last perfected his famous choreographed violence. Straw Dogs, Cable Hogue, Junior Bonner, and Peckinpah's first major commercial hit, The Getaway, followed before Peckinpah's alcoholism overtook his creative abilities. Weddle shows Peckinpah's fractured, lonely personal life in detail, but excels with his description of how the films were made; he seems to have interviewed everyone everywhere in depth. Robert Culp, Susan George, Charlton Heston, Dustin Hoffman, Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn, Jason Robards, L. Q. Jones, Sam Johnson, and Brian Keith all have a great deal to say about Peckinpah, most of it good; his wives, girlfriends, and children weigh in, too. Exhaustive and endlessly intriguing. John Mort

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