PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID and Walks across Hell

BILLY: You know, I believe ole Pat has lost his sand.

DEPUTY BELL: You ought not to talk about him that way. You and him used to be pretty close.

BILLY: He ain’t the same man… He signed himself over to Chisum and every other goddamned landowner that’s trying to put a fence around this country. Hell that’s what you been doing, ain’t it, Bell? Selling us out and getting fat.

Which version of PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID should you see?

You didn’t know there were multiple versions? Unfortunately there are.

This is why I dislike multiple versions of a film. A film is a touchstone to a culture, it’s one of those key moments where you could say ‘I saw Star Wars’, and all of you can agree what the movie was, and what scenes you loved. You can have a conversation based on a shared cultural memory, a shared moment that in the crosstalk, connects us across time and across class or ethnicity or gender. That’s the very core of culture, these communal touchstones that bind us. That bind us all.

“Billy they don’t like you to be so free.”

And multiple versions of a film take away from us having this easy cultural shorthand with each other. Because the films and the moments that should bind us may not be there, depending on the version of the film we saw.

PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID unfortunately is like that. Depending on which version you see will determine if you walk away thinking it’s a masterpiece or overrated, bordering on inane.

There’s the TURNER MOVIES 1988 cut that finally restored the movie to its full length, and then there is the inexplicable 2005 version.

Avoid watching the 2005 version first, as your introduction to the movie, as it is… in ways deep and decisive, a betrayal of what the film is (If you listen to the commentary on the 1998 version, by ‘experts’ on Peckinpah that I typically find interesting, you hear the art by committee, art by consensus, ‘back seat’ driving and editing that leads to the butchered 2005 version. People who confuse being fans of a creative person, with being able to create in that person’s name. And as the 2005 version shows, that’s just not the case). Let’s just take the opening scene as an example, where, if you lose the power of that… you might as well just turn the movie off.


Jailer: Repent you son of a bitch.

Billy: Sweet Jesus I repent.

Jailer: Not till you taste the fear of the lord! I’ll show you! I’ll take you for a walk across hell on a spider web.

—(This is one of the great iconic lines of the film, of any film, and the actor (not the writer) came up with it, similar to how Rutger Hauer added the best line in BLADE RUNNER, the monologue about ‘tears in rain’. And the above line, “A walk across hell on a spider web” is completely cut out of the 2005 edit. Whoever the moron or morons are who are responsible for the 2005 version they should never work in film… ever. In fact I would sign off on a good stoning! 🙂 It’s one of multiple lines they either change, or yank out of the film. Unbelievable that someone could think they were doing anything but butchering the film by making these changes. Amazing.)

The 2005 version cuts the heart out of that first scene. The risqué joke that Billy and Pat share, removing some of the pauses and freeze frames, and shortening the conversation, and cutting out the pivotal final exchange of:

“he’s my friend”
“he aint no more”
“I reckon”

That exchange, the moments between those lines, and Billy’s quiet acknowledgment that times may indeed… have changed, is essential to the next scene and the rest of the movie.

It’s like they want to rush the movie, and that flies against the very heart of the film. Allegories and myths should not be rushed.

It’s a film about the pauses, what is not said between characters, it’s about a jail-break staged unlike any jail-break in any film, ever. Where it’s not about the jail break, it’s about a town, and a time, and a song, and a held moment of myth. It’s about the history that these two… once friends, share. That story is told in much that the 2005 version cuts out.

It’s a film that lives in the pauses.

“She was laughing like the devil when I caught her, but she was smiling when I left her.”

PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID is, in the purest sense of the word an existential movie, a movie (not a biography, Peckinpah is not interested, and neither are we, in the reality of these men, but in the mythology, in the romance) that is not about rushing to the next scene, but a movie that in the pauses and in the held shots says something about existence; and the 2005 edit of the film, doesn’t want to give it the time… to exist.

I’m saying avoid the 2005 edit, and stick to the 1988 Turner version with all those scenes still there (Both versions are available in the same box set available here, just make sure to watch the 1988 version).

To see any other version of PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID is not to see it at all.


BILLY: To ole Pat. Sherrif Pat Garrett, sold out to the Santa Fe Ring. How does it feel?

PAT: It feels like… times have changed.

BILLY: Times maybe, not me.

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4 Comments

  1. I’d be willing to bet that Sam Peckinpah holds the record for the the director who has the most multiple versions of films. I believe that four of his movies were taken away from him by studios and recut: PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, THE WILD BUNCH, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA and MAJOR DUNDEE. In addition there were American versions, European versions…yeha, it can get confusing.

    And if you want to see a really existential Sam Peckinpah movie, watch Major Dundee, then let’s talk.

    Finally, God bless Turner Classic Movies which shows these movies and many, many others in the uncut versions so that they can be shown and evaluated for what they are in their entirety. If DirecTV called me up tomorrow and said I could only keep one station, it would be TCM.

  2. I have not yet seen MAJOR DUNDEE but it’s on the list. I think that and CROSS OF IRON are the next on the Peckinpah list to see. I think that’s all that remains.

    And definitely agree with you about Turner Classic Movies. The only reason I used to have cable. 🙂

  3. Hi folks … unfortunately we live in a era where multiple versions of movies abound. It’s about money. Scenes are sometimes deliberately held back so that they can be put into Extended Editions or Directors Cuts … not because it improves the film or adds anything to it – but because they can make extra loot off subsequent versions. When Director’s Cuts first originated this was not the case – and it isn’t the case with Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. We all know the history and why it was done and how that all came about. And although the 2nd and 3rd edition of PGBTK are improvements they still did some dastardly and questionable editing. Because of this we can surely expect a 4th version somewhere down the line. Scary.
    I could go on and on, but dig this: there are 5 versions of Last of the Mohicans (some movies have even more). The Movie Salt (with Angelina Jolie) has 3 versions BUT each version apparently changes the whole nature of the story/movie. Good grief !!
    Ans since we now all have ready access to editing programs and can all make our own versions. I’ll send you all my Version of PGBTK next week.

    Just kidding … I think.

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