Monday, 7 July 2008
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
‘Death is overcome when it is made welcome instead of merely being experienced, and when it makes life a perpetual gamble and endows it with exemplary value so that men will praise it as a model of “imperishable glory.” When the hero gives up a long life in favor of an early death, whatever he loses in honors paid to his living person he more than regains a hundredfold with the glory that will suffuse his memory for all time to come. Archaic Greek culture is one in which everyone lives in terms of others, under the eyes and in the esteem of others, where the basis of a personality is confirmed by the extent to which its reputation is known; in such a context, real death lies in amnesia, silence, demeaning obscurity, the absence of fame. By contrast, real existence – for the living or the dead – comes from being recognized, valued, and honored. Above all, it comes from being glorified as the central figure in a song of praise, a story that endlessly tells and retells of a destiny admired by all.’ (Jean-Pierre Vernant: A “Beautiful Death” and the Disfigured Corpse in Homeric Epic).
Legein's discussion of High Noon and tragedy prompted me to watch again one of my favourite Westerns, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid I have this to say:
If there's a more beautiful, poetic and Homeric American film than Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, a more relentless and uncompromising statement in American film of the tragic vision, in which life is brief, brutal and absurd, an American film more obsessed and haunted by mortality, in which death is portrayed as remorseless, beyond mediation or amelioration and from which there is definitely no return and that the only way to cope with death, let alone overcome it, is to embrace it, in which the nature of the kalos thanatos (beautiful death), as reserved for Billy the Kid, is demonstrated, then I haven't seen this film.
The above clip is of Slim Pickens (as Sheriff Baker) dying a Homeric death as Bob Dylan, who has a cameo role in the film as the knife-wielding Alias, sings Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Mama, take this badge off of me, I can't use it anymore. It's gettin' dark, too dark for me to see. I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door. Mama, put my guns in the ground, I can't shoot them anymore. That long black cloud is comin' down. I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door.
It doesn't get much better than this in American film.
I've made available in Radio Akritas, for anyone interested, Knockin' on Heaven's Door and Billy's Theme, in which Dylan sings of the exploits, virtues and destiny of the eponymous 'hero'. I can’t say I’m a massive Dylan fan, though, curiously, his paternal grandfather and grandmother were (Jews) from Constantinople and Trapezounta respectively.