In 1967, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts producers Kenneth Hyman and Phil Feldman were interested in having Sam Peckinpah rewrite and direct an adventure film called The Diamond Story. A professional outcast due to the production difficulties of his previous film Major Dundee (1965) and his firing from the set of The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Peckinpah's stock had improved following his critically acclaimed work on the television film Noon Wine (1966). An alternative screenplay available at the studio was The Wild Bunch, written by Roy Sickner and Walon Green. At the time, William Goldman's screenplay Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had recently been purchased by 20th Century Fox. It was quickly decided that The Wild Bunch, which had several similarities to Goldman's work, would be produced in order to beat Butch Cassidy to the theaters.
By the fall of 1967, Peckinpah was rewriting the screenplay and preparing for production. Filmed on location in Mexico, Peckinpah's epic work was inspired by his hunger to return to films, the violence seen in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, America's growing frustration with the Vietnam War and what he perceived to be the utter lack of reality seen in Westerns up to that time. He set out to make a film which portrayed not only the vicious violence of the period, but the crude men attempting to survive the era. Multiple scenes attempted in Major Dundee, including slow motion action sequences (inspired by Akira Kurosawa's work in Seven Samurai), characters leaving a village as if in a funeral procession and the use of inexperienced locals as extras, would be perfected in The Wild Bunch.
The film was shot with the anamorphic process. Peckinpah and his cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, also made use of telephoto lenses, that allowed for objects and people in both the background and foreground to be compressed in perspective. The effect is best seen in the shots where the Bunch makes "the walk" to Mapache's headquarters to free Angel. As they walk forward, a constant flow of people pass between them and the camera, most of them are as sharply focused as the Bunch. The editing of the film is notable in that shots from multiple angles would be spliced together in rapid succession, often at different speeds, placing greater emphasis on the chaotic nature of the action and the gunfights.
Lou Lombardo, having previously worked with Peckinpah on Noon Wine, was personally hired by the director to edit The Wild Bunch. Peckinpah had wanted an editor who would be loyal to him. Lombardo's youth was also a plus, as he wasn't bound by traditional conventions. One of Lombardo's first contributions was to show Peckinpah an episode of the TV series Felony Squad he edited in 1967. The episode, entitled "My Mommy Got Lost", included a slow motion sequence where Joe Don Baker is shot by the police. The scene mixed slow motion with normal speed. Peckinpah was reportedly thrilled and told Lombardo: "Let's try some of that when we get down to Mexico!" The director would film the major shootouts with six cameras, operating at various film rates, including 24 frames per second, 30 frames per second, 60 frames per second, 90 frames per second, and 120 frames per second. When the scenes were eventually cut together, the action would shift from slow to fast to slower still, giving time an elastic quality never before seen in motion pictures up to that time.
By the time filming wrapped, Peckinpah had shot 333,000 feet (101,000 m) of film with 1,288 camera setups. Lombardo and Peckinpah remained in Mexico for six months editing the picture. After initial cuts, the opening gunfight sequence ran 21 minutes. Cutting frames from specific scenes and intercutting others, they were able to fine-cut the opening robbery down to five minutes. The creative montage became the model for the rest of the film and would forever change the way movies were made.
Peckinpah stated that one of his goals for this movie was to give the audience "some idea of what it is to be gunned down". A memorable incident occurred, to that end, as Peckinpah's crew were consulting him on the "gunfire" effects to be used in the film. Not satisfied with the results from the squibs his crew had brought for him, Peckinpah became exasperated; he finally hollered: "That's not what I want! That's not what I want!" He then grabbed a real revolver and fired it into a nearby wall. The gun empty, Peckinpah barked at his stunned crew: "THAT'S the effect I want!!" He also had the gunfire sound effects changed for the film. Before, all gunshots in Warner Brothers movies sounded identical, regardless of the type of weapon being fired. Peckinpah insisted on each different type of firearm having its own specific sound effect when fired.
Read more about this topic: The Wild Bunch
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