Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance

Pekinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance
Book Review by Jonathan Parrish


A recurring theme, hammered into your head. You wallow in it, you might say.

I couldn’t be happier. Possibly as happy as a porcine in feces. Possibly my own.

D. Harlan Wilson’s Pekinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance is not a happy read; so (to paraphrase Gary Larson) if your fridge is covered in Family Circus cartoons, you will not like it. If, on the other hand, you thought Naked Lunch was one of the best reads you’ve had, then this book has a lot of potential for you.

The book is an homage to director Sam Pekinpah, the master of slow-motion ultraviolence – a director whose imagery persists in your memory. Single scenes stake claims in parts of your mind even when the movies as a whole fade (while Convoy has not remained intact in my memory, the cafe fight scene has).

Appropriately then, Wilson weaves words into a brutal tapestry, creating a presence that will remain with you long after you stop reading. Pekinpah is confrontational and crude, with clipped sentences and stark images. The images are gritty and the progression is erratic, a series of prose paintings.

“Sky the color of uncooked fowl. Dead signage with no titles. Abandoned. Expansive gravel pit. Tread marks from pickup trucks. Tumbleweed. Skeletal trees, skeletal bushes. Telephone poles. Dead smokestacks on the outskirts. Cinderblock outhouse and concession stand in the middle of the pit, haunted by the ghosts of hotdogs, caramel corn,  candy bars, Slurpees, eight lb. bowel movements… The movie screen looms over the pit. A dispossessed employee.”

The chapters describe what could be perceived as a series of scenes from a hypothetical movie. As Sam Pekinpah is no longer with us, the movie would, if it was ever made, need to be directed by David Lynch and it would be more disjointed than Eraserhead. John Woo, despite taking the mantle of slow-motion ultraviolence, would make the movie too pretty.

“Last line of the chapter—a quotation—a string of dialogue—a dark, gravely voice-over with a faint air of empathy and caring:… “We must first understand violence before we can control it.””

As disjointed as the individual pieces are, the chapters in Wilson’s book all come together into a melange, an existential love-letter to Sam Pekinpah. A more than fitting tribute. Strange. Erratic. Captivating.

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