DID YOU READ

Bastard Cinema: Sam Peckinpah’s “Convoy”

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By Thom Bennett

IFC News

Labelled “lesser Peckinpah” by film snobs, Bloody Sam’s 1978 film “Convoy” became a staple of early 80s afternoon TV, a dismissed one-off from one of the greats. But “Convoy” is, at its core, a Western with eighteen-wheelers instead of horses, and is not as far removed from the more revered of Peckinpah’s films as you might think.

Inspiration often comes from the strangest places. In the curious case of “Convoy,” the film was inspired by and based almost word for word on the unlikely 1976 hit song of the same name C.W. McCall, a ploy to cash in on America’s bizarre if not brief obsession with citizens band radio (that’s C.B to you uninitiated types). The song, about a band of outlaw truckers led by the oddly monikered Rubber Duck and their tenuous relationship with the law, pretty much sums up the resulting film, if one chooses to completely disregard the sheer Peckinpah-ness of the final product.

By the time production on “Convoy” began, cinematic legend and poet of violence Sam Peckinpah was not in the greatest of shape either career-wise or personally. After a recent string of less than blockbuster films, including “Straw Dogs,” “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” and “Junior Bonner,” none of which would receive their due until years later, Peckinpah was a persona non grata in Hollywood. Add to this his long history of battling studios over his films and his now-legendary drug and alcohol intake, and what you had was a recipe for disaster. While history would prove his studio clashes to be justified when eventual “director’s cut” re-releases of several of his films prompted a critical reassessment, at this point in his career he was regarded as little more than a pain in the ass — a coked-out and paranoid maker of out-of-vogue Westerns. His name still commanded a certain amount of reverence among cinemaphiles, but his track record and state at the time certainly made him a curious choice to helm what was designed to be little more than a quick cash-in of a film.

By all accounts, the filming was a nightmare. Shooting had to be shut down temporarily when leading man and afore-mentioned Rubber Duck Kris Kristofferson had to go on tour. There were constant script revisions — Peckinpah’s grasping at straws for some deeper meaning in the simple story, and struggling with the logistics of working with such large machines. Eventually Peckinpah became disinterested and handed the film over to his editors to complete.

While “Convoy” was neither a critical or box office success (having been beaten to the big screen by the similar “Smokey and the Bandit”), no less a luminary than the late Pauline Kael described “Convoy” as “Sam Peckinpah’s happy-go-lucky ode to truckers on the road — a sunny, enjoyable picture with only ketchup being splattered.” The ketchup spilling she refers to takes place in an early fight scene in which Peckinpah seems to be poking fun at himself through over-the-top use of his trademark slow motion in a simple rest stop punch-up.

Despite the film’s many shortcomings, not the least of which a mind-numbingly bad performance by Ali MacGraw, “Convoy” shoudn’t be dismissed as a total misfire in the Peckinpah canon — there’s more than enough of what made him a great filmmaker here to behold. He turns a simple tale of truckers traveling from point A to point B while avoiding the long arm of the law (in the form of one scenery-chewing Ernest Borgnine) into nothing less than a tale of redemption, a commentary on racism and, ultimately, a Christ allegory. Peckinpah loved dwelling on a way of life that was disappearing and a code of loyalty among men that was no longer adhered to. Much like himself, his heroes were flawed characters who were ill at ease with the way the world was changing around them. As the film drives on along interstates and through dusty deserts, you can almost see Peckinpah struggling with the nature of these modern-day outlaws, his own life and what the hell it is that his film is ultimately about. “Convoy” looks and feels like a Peckinpah film and shares a heart — though somewhat weakened — with the titles that made him a legend.

He would make only one more film after “Convoy,” the equally derided “The Osterman Weekend,” but that, my friends, is a discussion for another day. “Convoy,” in the meanwhile, remains a flawed and interesting film from a flawed and interesting man.

“Bastard Cinema,” musings on the lesser works of the greater filmmakers, appears every other week at IFC News.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.