Essential reading for fans of the epochal (and reportedly soon to be remade) movie as well as movie-history and Western...

THE WILD BUNCH

Muscular study of Sam Peckinpah’s groundbreaking 1969 film, “the last Western.”

Texas journalist, historian, and poet Stratton (Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing’s Invisible Champion, 2012, etc.) charts the evolution of Peckinpah’s classic and perhaps best-known movie at the half-century mark. Peckinpah had had glimmerings of the story years before making it, with a script and cast that grew and changed considerably owing to several influences, not least of them the violent time in which it was finally made. Stratton pulls together big strands of story: the history of the Mexican revolutionary period, Peckinpah’s own fascination with Mexico, the history of U.S.–Mexico relations, the history of moviemaking itself. On the latter, the author draws a straight line from John Ford’s 1939 film, Stagecoach, to The Wild Bunch 30 years later, both for its less-than-virtuous heroes and its paving the way for “a stampede of Western movies with increasingly sophisticated characters and plotlines.” Peckinpah wrote the movie with Lee Marvin in mind as the central figure, Pike Bishop, but Marvin’s agent wasn’t enthusiastic; in any event, Paramount lured Marvin with an unheard-of $1 million fee for another Western, the painfully terrible Paint Your Wagon. Peckinpah and his producer, Stratton reveals through some careful filmic detective work, considered Robert Mitchum, Sterling Hayden, and Charlton Heston before landing on William Holden, “a first-rate actor but also a deeply troubled man, a real-life killer himself.” Holden wasn’t the easiest actor to work with, but with Robert Ryan, who had “a deeply lined face that seemed to be cut from boot leather,” he anchored what Stratton doesn’t hesitate to brand “a love affair between two men”—a “bromance," that is, one that broadened to include such players as Ernest Borgnine, L.Q. Jones, Strother Martin, Jaime Sánchez, and Ben Johnson. And a blood-soaked, protest-inducing bromance at that….

Essential reading for fans of the epochal (and reportedly soon to be remade) movie as well as movie-history and Western buffs generally.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63286-212-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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