What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the Foreign Western Blog-A-Thon being hosted by Moon in Gemini. She has been on bit of a hiatus; this marks return to hosting. That’s great news all on it’s own, but this topic gives me the perfect chance to write about a topic I’ve had on the “to do” list for quite some time!
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
Despite the fact this is one of my favorite movies, it’s very hard to write about. First of all, it’s exceptionally polarizing. There’s a camp (mostly fans of Sam Peckinpah) who believe this film is his meisterwerk; that it’s brilliance on the rarest of levels. On the opposite side, there are those (mostly not fans of Sam Peckinpah) who find this film to be utter rubbish. But unlike other movies which evoke strong strong and opposing opinions, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is far beyond whether the viewer “gets it” or not.
Instead, BMTHOAG shares a trait with another of my favorite (and polarizing) films, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both films are really something you don’t just watch; you experience them. That’s because they don’t lay out everything in black and white; much of what either film is “really all about” is left completely up to the
viewer person taking on the experience. The difference is how they get you there.
But before they part to form the two sides of the coin they share, both BMTHOAG and 2001 start with a great bit of confusion. A lot of people who don’t like 2001 can’t get past the fact a “space” movie starts with twenty-plus minutes of cavemen and absolutely no dialogue. Then there’s the most abrupt of “jump cuts” where a bone thrown into the air becomes a spacecraft. Likewise, BMTHOAG spends about as long luring the
viewer person taking on the experience into thinking it’s a western set in Mexico in about 1870. That’s until a “jump cut” to an arriving Boeing 707 airliner tells you the timing is about 100 years later.
From their “jump cuts,” both films go full “Fleetwood Mac;” they go their own way. 2001 heads off into a complex web of existentialism wrapped in layer upon layer of metaphor. But BMTHOAG bottles up shot after shot of distilled nihilism poured over an exceptionally simple plot.
Despite being set in Mexico in the 1970s, and it’s noticeable dearth of horses, BMTHOAG is nevertheless a western of the first order. As such, it features a classic western theme; this movie is 100% about a good, old-fashioned bounty hunt. Simply put, a Mexican oligarch known only as “El Jefe” (played by Emilio Fernández) offers $1 million to anybody who can bring him the head of the man who has impregnated his teenage daughter. That man is Alfredo García.
Thus begins the search. Two “professional killer” types named Sappensly (played by Robert Webber) and Quill (played by Gig Young) enter a run-down saloon in Mexico City looking for information on García’s whereabouts. Here they encounter Bennie (played by Warren Oates), who is an American expatriate scraping out a living as a Billy Joel-style “Piano Man.” After hearing of the price on García’s head, Bennie tells his girlfriend Elita (played by Isela Vega) the story. Elita knows a lot of things; her main role is as prostitute disguised as a cleaning lady in a large hotel. Being in contact with so many people (including García) means she knows where he is, and that he’s already dead. Bennie smells an easy pay-off simply by digging up García’s corpse, and taking the head to “El Jefe.”
From this point, BMTHOAG becomes what you would expect from a “bounty hunt” movie. First and foremost, those looking for the classic “Peckinpah-esque” bonanza of bullets, blood, and booze won’t be disappointed. But because I honestly believe this film has to be experienced, I’m taking the ultimate approach in avoiding spoilers. Granted, I’ve couched all of this outlining the simplicity of the plot, but there are a series of events that give this film it’s nihilistic flavor which I don’t want to taint for the first-time
viewer person taking on the experience.
Instead, I’d rather point out where it’s simplicity actually breeds a level of complexity. Hidden in this western disguised by time, there’s a tale of a convoluted love triangle between Bennie, Elita, and García. Hidden within that is an odd examination of the value systems of hired killers, those who will desecrate the sacred for little more than money, and a common prostitute. Woven throughout all of that is a deeply-hidden and weirdly-massaged autobiography of Sam Peckinpah himself. Only his most ardent fans are likely to catch the references to Peckinpah’s life hidden in BMTHOAG; for the casual observer, there’s a reason Warren Oates wears one of Peckinpah’s suits throughout the film.
In other words, there’s a lot of hidden meaning in Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia…including a sports analogy.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
For some reason, Sam Peckinpah movies can have some serious connections to the “Wild West” that is the National Football League (NFL). In today’s case, if you can hide a western by setting it in Mexico City in the 1970s, why can’t Philadelphia in the 1980s serve the same purpose? Despite the setting, there’s not much “brotherly love” in today’s analogy. In fact, just like BMTHOAG, it’s all about bad blood and blood money in the form of a bounty.
NFL fans know there’s no love lost between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, and that goes all the way from the players to the fans. For purposes of full disclosure, it doesn’t take much perusing this blog to see I am decidedly on one side of that feud.
While the rivalry between the Eagles and the Cowboys dates back to the 1960s, one of the more memorable events occurred in 1989. In the middle of that season, the Eagles had a place-kicker named Luis Zendejas. He hit a cold streak where he was missing more kicks than he was making, and as is prone to happen in the “What have you done for me lately?” world of professional football, the Eagles released him.
At the time, the Philadelphia Eagles were thought by many to be a Super Bowl contender; they were certainly headed for the play-offs. Meanwhile, the Cowboys were in the depths one of their worst seasons. They had only won a single game to this point; that would prove to be their sole victory of the 1989 campaign. But rivalries of this nature care not for win-loss records.
After his unceremonious exit from Philadelphia, Luis Zendejas signed with the Dallas Cowboys before the two teams were slated to meet on Thanksgiving Day in Texas Stadium. Zendejas wasted no time to offer some choice words about the city of Philadelphia, his former Eagles’ teammates, with some of the most-pointed commentary being aimed at head coach Buddy Ryan.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Buddy Ryan was the perfect football coach for a “tough crowd” city like Philadelphia; Eagles fans are notoriously the ones who pelted Santa Claus with snowballs. Ryan was bellicose, pugnacious, and did nearly everything with an “in your face” level of honesty. As such, Ryan was beloved in “The City of Brotherly Love”…and reviled nearly everywhere else.
As far as the Thanksgiving Day game was concerned, it went as one would expect. The Eagles were a much better team, and the final score of Philadelphia 27, Dallas 0 reflected that. However, in the post-game comments, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson accused Ryan of posting bounties on his players, specifically on Luis Zendejas.
This quickly blossomed into a media event. Faced with Johnson’s accusations, Ryan recalled a 1987 Eagles/Cowboys when during the players’ strike Dallas fielded a team comprised largely of NFL players who had crossed the picket lines. Ryan felt this team needlessly ran up the score on his Eagles team of replacement players, and that was always wanted “payback” for that.
Ryan also responded to Zendejas’ comments by adding “it’s high time somebody shut that little (expletive deleted)’s mouth.”
Since the Eagles and the Cowboys are in the same division, they play each other twice a season. The way the schedule worked in 1989, the re-match for what became known as “Bounty Bowl” came two weeks later in Philadelphia on December 10, 1989. Now the media circus hit with full force.
For a football game which really didn’t have much meaning in terms of the upcoming play-offs, this game got nearly as much attention as a Super Bowl.
The level of jawing going on between the players was worthy of Wrestlemania. CBS Sports put a full production effort into the pre-game show, bill-boarding the it as “Bounty Bowl II”. There were “Wanted” posters with pictures and bounty amounts. Even NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was in attendance.
The combination of the rivalry, the media hype, and stadium beer sales quickly turned a media circus into a full-on melée. True to form, Eagles’ fans at the height of their hooliganism started showering the Cowboys’ bench with snowballs, ice, and beer onto the field. Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson received a particularly nasty barrage when the police tried to get him off the field. CBS announcers Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw were also targeted in the broadcast booth, prompting Lundquist to quip that a recent root canal was “less unpleasant than broadcasting a game in Philadelphia.”
By the way, the Eagles won the game 20–10, but it really didn’t matter. Philadelphia was already headed to the play-offs and Dallas was limping to the finish line. But the reputation of Eagles fans’ took yet another hit and a lot of people suffered needlessly on that Sunday in Philadelphia because Buddy “El Jefe” Ryan decided to incentivize revenge.
The Moral of the Story:
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. That may or may not be true, but it never should be served like so many stadium hot dogs to 70,000 liquored-up football fans.
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