Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fort Sumner: Truth and Kidding

My next stop wasn't so much to pay homage to a famous outlaw as to a master filmmaker. Gravelly Sam Peckinpah wove together historical and invented details in his story of how Billy the Kid's old drinking buddy Pat Garrett got himself elected sheriff and ended up gunning Billy down (and not even in the county that had elected him). The movie has a lot in it--about change, about friendships, about duty, about loyalty. If some of it matches what really happened, I don't mind. I don't mind if none of it's true either. The original story inspired the movie, but the movie stands or falls on its own.

To be fair, it's not just Sam Peckinpah I was remembering when I came here. Kris Kristofferson did a great job as Billy. Rather than cast a slim Harry Dean Stanton or Dustin Hoffman or Robert DeNiro as the Kid, Peckinpah picked a big ole lug everybody could sympathize with--kind of like casting Marlon Brando as Kafka's Hunger Artist. Peckinpah gives him all the rope he wants, savoring every "I reckon."

But that's not all: James Coburn cuts a rug as Pat Garrett, and everybody from Slim Pickens to Rita Coolidge is here, most of them looking as if the shoot was a regular party. And of course it's where we get the Dylan tune "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," and of course Dylan managed to slip into the action too, under the name Alias.

Can't go wrong with Dylan. He wrote my brother's wedding vows.

The original fort is long gone, and the state interpretive center on the site emphasizes the fort's original role in the suppression of Native American tribes. You get the impression, though, that a whole lot of people come down there asking only about Billy.

I had not realized there was a Huntington Beach connection to the whole Billy saga.

1 comment:

Papa Bradstein said...

Great. Now that Dylan knows that, I'll owe him royalties.

I do like how much the movie has in it about change. Particularly the part about the buck-twenty in change that Billy gives to his favorite guard.

There's a lot of hidden meanings in there, you just gotta dig 'em out.