Thursday, February 28, 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.

Stratton applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Officials at Paramount believed that it was time to bring Villa back to the big screen as well. Sam Peckinpah, resurrected by “Noon Wine,” seemed to be the ideal person to write the screenplay. Lansford already was on board with Paramount, having written a treatment. Paramount set both him and Sam up in offices on the studio lot, though they were far from luxurious. James Coburn, who’d acted in Major Dundee, paid Peckinpah a visit at Sam’s cramped writing space. Coburn felt sorry for his old director. He remembered how Peckinpah had lorded over Major Dundee’s production, a general in command of his troops. Now he seemed reduced to groveling for the Paramount brass just to get back in the door. It was anything but a humiliating experience for Peckinpah. Instead, it was as if he’d enrolled in a graduate-degree program in the Mexican Revolution. He was reading everything he could about it, exhausting Paramount’s substantial research department as well as ordering additional books from nearby university libraries. One thing that Paramount wanted in the script was the development of a fictional character, a gringo mercenary well acquainted with the twentieth-century technologies of war. Peckinpah’s fascination with gringos caught up in the revolution grew as he built a script. He was especially affected by the photographs he saw in books and ancient yellowed newspapers.
This paragraph indeed captures much of what The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film is about. The narrative arc of my book is built around whether Sam Peckinpah, who was blacklisted by Hollywood in the mid-1960s, could somehow redeem himself in the eyes of studio executives and return to the director’s chair to create a classic motion picture. He managed to do that with The Wild Bunch. But how? He found his path through a failed project. He had been hired by Paramount to adapt a biography of Pancho Villa written by Bill Lansford for a movie to star Yul Brynner. Peckinpah took the job because he needed the money. It seemed like a humbling experience for a man who’d once directed an epic for Columbia Pictures (Major Dundee). But he made the most of it. He dived deeply into researching the Mexican Revolution. His drafts reflected Peckinpah’s love for Mexico, its people and its history, but it presented Villa as a complicated person, neither all good nor all bad. Brynner, seeking to portray a two-dimensional heroic version of Villa, hated what Peckinpah wrote and had him fired off the picture. But the flames of the Mexican Revolution continued to burn in Peckinpah’s mind, and when he was offered the chance to do rewrites on the script (originally written by Walon Green) for a project called The Wild Bunch, he used much of what he learned about the Mexican Revolution while working on Brynner’s project. The Wild Bunch is the story of a group of Anglo bandits and their Mexican comrade who get caught up in capers along the U.S.-Mexico border at the time of the Mexican Revolution. It involves themes of loyalty, betrayal, the destructive nature of modern technology, and redemption. It also opened the doors for the realistic betrayal of violent death. The Wild Bunch was controversial when it opened, but it was a box office success and, ultimately, came to be regarded as a classic. Peckinpah succeed and made other successful films.
Visit W. K. Stratton's website.

Writers Read: W. K. Stratton.

My Book, The Movie: The Wild Bunch.

--Marshal Zeringue