It's one hell of a Warren Oates double feature! Not Necessarily Noir III is already in full swing, but this was the first night my busy schedule allowed me to make it here.
COCKFIGHTER (1974): Faded/slightly damaged print aside, this was pretty freakin' awesome. And as for the projection problems, well let me just say that they were a minor frustration that I guess is just necessary to see perhaps the only 35 mm print of this film available.
Monte Hellman (kind of a perfect last name) directs and Warren Oates stars as Frank Mansfield, a talented trainer of fighting cocks who never says a word. In a flashback, we learn that he wasn't always a mute. In fact, his big mouth got him into a lot of trouble (with his main rival, played by Harry Dean Stanton.) From that point on he decided he wouldn't say a word until he wins the Cockfighter of the Year. Pretty universally, people agree he's much easier to get along with now. More importantly, it gives Warren Oates a chance to shine in a role that's all about understated, enigmatic facial expressions rather than words. And he gets to beat the crap out of Ed Begley Jr. But what I really love is the ending. So much so that I can't avoid talking all spoiler-y and stuff. So highlight to read on:
In the ending tournament, his fiance finally showed up to watch him fight. He's sure that if she sees him in his element she'll understand his obsession with being the best cockfighter out there and they can finally get married. Instead, she's horrified at the violence. After the final match (where both chickens die, but he's declared the winner when Harry Dean Stanton quits) he chases her down to the parking lot with his dead champion rooster in his hand. She berates him for his cruelty. And not even necessarily the cruelty of the sport--she wasn't looking at the chickens, she was looking at his face and concluded the chickens had more heart and more soul than he did. In response, he rips the head off his chicken, wraps it in a handkerchief, and places it in her hand. As she runs off horrified he gets the word that he's just won Cockfighter of the Year. And his first words, while watching her run away, are "She loves me."
I love the ambiguity of that ending. The easy interpretation is he's wrong. She hates him and wants nothing to do with him, but he's delusional about it. But there's also the interpretation that he's right. That even though on the outside it looks like hate, there's something a cockfighter understands that sees it as love. Something only a cockfighter can recognize. She can't recognize it, the audience can't recognize it (at least this audience member can't,) but he can, and he's right. The easy interpretation is the former, but after thinking about it for a good few hours last night, I've decided to go with the latter.
BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974): Next up was this Sam Peckinpah classic that I had somehow missed over the years. So it was great to see it in brilliant 35 mm (this time a nice, relatively clean print with no issues.) A wealthy Mexican aristocrat finds his daughter is pregnant. After a bit of torture, he finds that Alfredo Garcia is the father, so he demands his head (for a $1 million reward.) While searching for him, some of his goons run into an American bartender (Warren Oates) who doesn't exactly know where he is, but knows the name. They offer him $10,000 for his head. So he sets out with his prostitute girlfriend to find him. And, of course, they have to deal with everyone else who is looking for his head, as well as just random violence (in the form of a pair of bikers, one of whom is a young Kris Kristofferson.) Lots of violence, plus Isela Vega's fantastic breasts. And bleak nihilism by the end. Yup, that's classic Peckinpah at his best. And it's awesome. I don't know how I missed it for so long.
Hey, I also just noticed that besides being Warren Oates movies, both of these were also released in the greatest year of human history--1974. That's the same year the greatest work of art in history was released into the world. Which reminds me, my 38th birthday is coming up in just one week, so get shopping everyone!
Total Running Time: 195 minutes
My Total Minutes: 301,182