Monday, February 25, 2019

W. K. Stratton's "The Wild Bunch"

W.K. Stratton is the author of several books of nonfiction and poetry. He has written for Sports Illustrated, Outside, GQ, and Texas Monthly, and was named a Fellow of the Texas Institute of Letters in 2017. He is a longtime resident of Austin, Texas.

Here Stratton dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film:
As I wrote Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film, it actually did play out like a movie in my mind, though my book is a nonfiction work about, well, the making of a movie. My book had a definite story arc built around this question: Could an artist, in this case Sam Peckinpah, be able to achieve a second act in American life after squandering his first? Peckinpah had been blacklisted in Hollywood during the mid-1960s, not for political reasons, but because of his “difficult” personality and alcoholism. It was not clear at all whether he would be given a chance to return to the director’s chair for a big screen production. When, through almost a fluke set of circumstances, he wound up with the opportunity to direct The Wild Bunch, it was a make it or break it proposition. He had to succeed in order to have a career as a director.

The Wild Bunch is an outlaw picture, a story concerning the complicated relationships among men on the edge, set along the U.S.-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution. Peckinpah felt kinship to the characters in his greatest movie. Yet he was also a soft-spoken man with a somewhat slight build who was well educated and very well read. He put himself through enormous hardships in Mexico during the filming of his movie.

Years ago, I kicked around the notion of a movie about the making of Peckinpah’s notorious Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. For that dream picture, I saw Tommy Lee Jones playing Peckinpah. But now, for a movie about the making of The Wild Bunch, I think I’d choose Sam Rockwell to play Sam. Rockwell has the body type of Peckinpah, and he looks somewhat similar in the face to the director. Peckinpah had his moments of intensity, sometimes insanity, and when I watch Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I think, yes, he has the right stuff to capture that aspect of Sam as well.

As for the star of The Wild Bunch, William Holden? Holden was once Hollywood royalty, but time had passed him by. Plus he’d abused himself through over-drinking for decades. He would have to work on his voice some to do it, but Sean Penn (yes, Sean Penn) comes to mind as Holden. There is enough similarity in the two stars’ faces to allow Penn to pull it off visually, I think. And I believe that Penn might have a sense of what it was like to once have been at the top of the heap and now, well, not so much so, which could help him inform the role.

For Ernest Borgnine, I have another eccentric choice: Leonardo DiCaprio. He would have to age himself a bit for the part, and it would be a character unlike any I’ve seen him play, but I’d like to see him take on the challenge. It would be entertaining to see DiCaprio reenacting Borgnine’s maniacal giggle.

As for the role of Robert Ryan, I’m thinking Matthew McConaughey. He has that gaunt toughness that a portrayal of Ryan would require. For the role of Jaime Sánchez, who played Angel, the young Mexican member of the outlaw gang, I’d go with Gael Garcia Bernal, who was so impressive in both Y Tu Mama Tambien and The Motorcycle Diaries. The role would require an actor who can be both tough and sensitive simultaneously. Bernal would nail it.

For the part of Sonia Amelio, who had The Wild Bunch’s most significant female role, Teresa, the young actresss Yalitza Aparicio is my overwhelming number-one choice. The Amelio role would be small but important and would require an ability to emote much through facial expressions. Aparicio is the one. She blew me away with her performance in Roma. She has the skills to pull it off.

And as for who would play Strother Martin, well, there’s really only one choice, isn’t there? Billy Bob Thornton.
Visit W. K. Stratton's website.

Writers Read: W. K. Stratton.

--Marshal Zeringue