Convoy - 35th Anniversary Special Edition (Uncut)
With the release of what is being billed as the Uncut 35th Anniversary Special Edition of the film I thought I would revisit it and see if it deserves the status it has achieved. After all it is a film directed by Sam Peckinpah which stars Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair, Franklyn Ajaye, Brian Davies and Seymour Cassel, a good few names that should draw you to the film. Of course the main reason I was pulled back was Peckinpah directing the film, a film you just wouldn't think was something he would consider directing.
Convoy tells the story of a lone trucker, working outside of the unions who are fast taking control of the truckers across the country. On a trip he has a run in with with a lone Sheriff, similarly holding out against the organisation of law enforcement across the State and who has had a vendetta for the trucker for some time. The vendetta comes to a head and rapidly leaps out of control for all those involved, resulting in the trucker and a few of his friends racing for the border. Along the way, as they discuss their situation on the CB, other truckers get involved and before long they're running a convoy with the law in pursuit.
The film opens with strong cinematography from Harry Stradling Jr. and of course Sam Peckinpah, the opening scenes with the wide shots of the desert and the trucks tearing through are reminiscent of any western Peckinpah has been involved with and that feeling carries throughout the film. It isn't hard through the visuals and the characters to make the Western connection, the lone characters and their trucks feel and look like cowboys from the beginning, brought together to fight through any means necessary corrupt law-men. It isn't hard to feel the connection and we know Peckinpah knows a thing or two about that genre.
The style continues and there are some great shots of the open road and of the convoy, however as the film progresses the quality does drop somewhat and these great shots become less and less, not just in the style but through editing and the interrupted and often bumpy flow of the story, something I'll come back to later.
Convoy opens in a rather comic way, it feels as though it's going to be much funnier than it is. In the early stages I was thinking of similar films such as Smokey and the Bandit released the year before. You do feel that is the way the film is going to play out, especially with the lone Sheriff pitting against the lone trucker and his two friends. However it isn't long before a more serious tone begins to build and before long the film is headed off in another direction, completely away from the familiar comedy that you thought it might be heading towards.
I did really appreciate it when the more serious threads came through in the film and it started to build something stronger. It isn't just an anti-establishment film either, there are straight threads of standing against the man but the lone truckers resisting the unions and the Sheriff doing likewise offers something more, the idea of the individual. There are also issues around being unheard by politicians and the corruption within both the law and politics, threads of racial and other prejudicial issues, yes there's a lot more to Convoy than you might first think.
While some of these threads are easy to understand and push forward to the audience, others are harder to find and might be missed, not helped by the film itself which seems eager to skip over them and misrepresent them, or more often than not, fail to represent them at all.
This is really a shame because there's depth to this story despite first appearances or what you might remember from watching the film the first time around. There are messages of the time that are trying to come through strongly and yet they have to be sought out or are disappointly just left at the back of the Convoy.
At the halfway point, when the Convoy is in full flight and the story needs to decide what's going to happen with the characters, the lack of direction of story and film becomes apparent and the feeling of disappointment descends. The characters and the Convoy are directionless, something that could perhaps reflect the feelings of the time the film was made, but really just ends up feeling like a bag that had just been filled and primed with air has just deflated.
Suddenly the leading characters don't really know why they are here, while all the truckers have their own agendas, no matter how strange, our hero looks feeble and lost and as far from the Convoy as we were at the start of the film. It's a shame because there has been such a deliberate move away from the comedy aspect and a building serious core since the opening and now we return to the comedy.
Not only that but the relationship between the Sheriff and Rubber Duck seemed to be setting up something interesting, a combative relationship that could deliver something powerful for the film. As it turns out this relationship does just that but during this central section of the film it does feel as though all is going to be lost, just as the lead character is. In fact the lead character never really recovers his strength and while he does get back a certain drive come the end of the film, that too has its own problems.
Editing, direction and storytelling all do crumble a little for the final moments of the Convoy and the lead trucker's drive. It's not all a disaster but it is rather messy and a little too comical, and while you understand what's happening and its significance you can clearly see incomplete shots and the sequence looks pulled together from partial footage. It's a disappointing end to the main thread.
Thankfully though there is a shot at redemption, there isn't much to it but the film does pick up right at the very end giving us some sense of closure to the main relationship at the core of the film and some meaning to the lead character.
There is an allure to the idea of the Convoy and the dynamics of the growing mass, finding causes from nothing and giving strength to each individual through the group, and it's not just through the psychology or sociology of the group but through something a lot more obvious, the trucks. There's an allure to the life of the trucker but there's also something great through the visuals of the many different trucks on screen, something akin to the cars in the Fast and the Furious where they become a leading character in themselves.
While there are great visuals and some stunt sequences in the film courtesy of the trucks it's also one of the places that feels a little disjointed and aides the choppy flow of the film. Nowhere can this be seen the best as when the trucks are tearing through the small town and randomly crashing through buildings. There seems no point other than to destroy things with big trucks and in a way it feels a little rebelious of Peckinpah against what was happening around him on the production, regardless of the motivation however it does nothing for the film itself and detracts from the story.
Kris Kristofferson is good in his role as are some of his supporting actors but the strength comes from Ernst Brognine who is excellent when his anger has risen. It is however an incredible shame that Ali MacGraw is so woefully underused and is merely there to provide some sexual interest without saying or doing much of any importance. It's hard for them, not only for the situation they were in during filming but also because the characters they are trying to represent are pretty thin.
From the opening shots the cinematography looks good and this stays strong throughout the film, no wonder with the talent behind the camera, even if the director wasn't on the form of his career. In these shots you can also see some small problems with the digital conversion, there is some slight corruption on the desert background shots but that's the last you'll see of it for the most part. There's a nice grain to the picture too, just enough to feel authentic and not creep into the realm of a bad conversion, because despite that opening moment it looks great.
Peckinpah's style is still apparent throughout the film despite his issues on set and he delivers some great visual moments for the trucks as well as the characters. It does feel like one of his great Westerns with the lone cowboy and riding his horse into town, falling fowl of the law and attracting a band of similar minded cowboys getting together against the law and that comes through in many of the typically Western styled shots.
It is a shame, as whenever I'm talking about a restored older film I always feel like I'm saying that the audio hasn't had some additional work done to expand it wider than the two channel track that is offered. Still, it does the job of getting the audio across but if you're digitally restoring a film to Blu-ray you might as well do something with the original audio track other than just clean up the audio.
Passion and Poetry - Sam's Trucker Movie; Five Featurettes; Radio and TV spots; Trailer
Passion and Poetry - Sam's Trucker Movie
This is the showcase extra on the disc providing a mammoth insight into the behind the scenes production of the film, one that was littered with problems mainly from Sam Peckinpah himself. The featurette interviews the stars of the film with Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw and Ernest Borgnine as well as key people behinid the film from the Producer Robert M. Sherman to one of the many credited Second Unit or Assistant Director's James Coburn, yes the James Coburn. The featurette provides a great insight into Peckinpah's state of mind and the troubles that rose between him directing his vision through his issues and the producers requiring a completed film and some solid returns. It's shocking to hear how much the producer had to be involved in the filming, that the battles behind the camera went on right to the editing, and some of the comments regarding Peckinpah's behaviour from everyone, including his assistant. In fact it's amazing that the film was completed in any form. This featurette is as much about Peckinpah's downward spiral in life as it is about behind the scenes of Convoy.
These featurettes aren't anything special, even as featurettes go, and it kicks off with stills of promotional posters used for releases around the world, some with descriptions of various aspects of the posters such as the different billing, etc.
Three Lost Scenes
What's surprising, and great for the interested viewer, is that three scenes have been recovered without actually having any footage. In those days the footage tended to be dumped rather than held onto for the release and so it's a welcome sight to see something recreated for completeness. Here the scenes have been pulled together using stills taken during filming and edited together cleverly with sections of the script itself. Surprisingly you do get the intent and meaning of these scenes, scenes that may have been intended for Peckinpah's version of the film.
In-Jokes, Friends, Cameos
There are a few little reveals of the film itself, pointing out hidden moments and references for those that aren't so well versed in the Convoy history.
More Production Stills
Just that, more stills from the production put to music and with some slow panning or zooming to give them a little more life.
Trucker Notes from Norway
A short piece of a Norwegian telling us some of the technicalities of Rubber Duck's truck.
Four radio adverts for the film over some marketing shots and stills from the film.
A short television advertising spot, a teaser trailer if you like.
As the title suggests, this is the trailer.
Convoy is a good and enjoyable film and despite what you might be thinking there's a serious core to the film through many of the threads and while it might fade away through mis-direction during the middle of the film and flaps around a little helplessly near the end, it is always apparent.
It feels very much like Vanishing Point with some of the style and many of the themes involved there set in the core of Convoy. That, and the mystique of Sam Peckinpah directing, and of course the trucks, draws the viewer to the film despite the feeling of a lack of continuity and direction throughout the film, and not just from the actual direction.
Still, despite the flaws attributable to the directorial role Convoy does feel like one of his great Westerns with the lone cowboy riding his horse into town, falling fowl of the law and attracting a band of similar minded cowboys.
You can't help but wonder what this film could have been with a stronger story that had somewhere to go in the second act with more dialogue for the characters, more investigation of the issues the film skirts with and some more concentration on the task in hand from the director.
All in all it's amazing that the film was completed and something salvagable was found, more than that that it became the most profitable Peckinpah film of his career and a cult classic.
This version of Convoy is well worth watching. It's the closest to the Sam Peckinpah version we can get, even if it was a diminished Peckinpah, and behind it is an excellent featurette which delivers a great insight into the man and the production.