More than any other filmmaker, Sam Peckinpah opened the door for graphic violence in movies. In this book, Stephen Prince explains the rise of explicit violence in the American cinema, its social effects, and the relation of contemporary ultraviolence to the radical, humanistic filmmaking that Peckinpah practiced.
Prince demonstrates Peckinpah’s complex approach to screen violence and shows him as a serious artist whose work was tied to the social and political upheavals of the 1960s. He explains how the director’s commitment to showing the horror and pain of violence compelled him to use a complex style that aimed to control the viewer’s response.
Prince offers an unprecedented portrait of Peckinpah the filmmaker. Drawing on primary research materials—Peckinpah’s unpublished correspondence, scripts, production memos, and editing notes—he provides a wealth of new information about the making of the films and Peckinpah’s critical shaping of their content and violent imagery. This material shows Peckinpah as a filmmaker of intelligence, a keen observer of American society, and a tragic artist disturbed by the images he created.
Prince’s account establishes, for the first time, Peckinpah’s place as a major filmmaker. This book is essential reading for those interested in Peckinpah, the problem of movie violence, and contemporary American cinema.
Prince (communications, Virginia Tech) looks at the theme of violence in Peckinpah's films and his influence on the ultraviolent filmmakers of today. Peckinpah made films in the 1960s, not coincidentally a time when the Vietnam War, urban riots, political assassinations, antiwar violence, and rising street crime were appearing on home television screens. In The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah thought extreme movie violence would have a cathartic effect, leaching away the audience's aggressive drives. But in most of Peckinpah's mature films, violence has negative consequences, and the pain of the survivors is obvious. This is completely different from today's ultraviolent movies, with their cartoonish depictions of death and mayhem. Much of the book discusses the cinematic techniques Peckinpah used to make the audience aware of the moral implications of the character's actions. Highly recommended for academic collections.--Marianne Cawley, Charleston Cty. P.L., SC
Prince's impressive study ...makes a convincing case for Peckinpah not as a wild man revelling in gore but as a serious film artist exploring screen violence as a way to assist spectators in gaining control over actual violence. In his conclusion, the author seeks to distance Peckinpah from what he considers the mindless and exploitative contemporary cycle of ultraviolent films.
—From The Times Literary Supplement.