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BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA
and THE KILLER ELITE
Vintage Fielding at his dynamite best
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1974/5 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Jerry Fielding's wonderful career has always been overshadowed by The Wild Bunch; no matter what other joys he might have bestowed upon the world had his life not been cut prematurely short, one suspects he would never quite have managed to remove himself from the public perception as "The Wild Bunch guy". Of course, it is a truly monumental film score, but it's still a pity that all of his other fine work seems to have been relegated almost to a footnote - even the other scores produced elsewhere during his volatile relationship with Sam Peckinpah. Of course, film score producer Nick Redman has long been a champion of the composer, and a few of his scores do continue to trickle through now and again. Not so long ago, Intrada released this double-header of Fielding/Peckinpah scores, neither available beforehand.
A violent, deeply-intense film starring Warren Oates, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia's fantastic plot sees Oates play a Mexican bartender who goes on a journey across that country to collect the bounty of the titular character's bonce. It's probably the director's finest post-Wild Bunch movie, and certainly inspired Fielding to create a flavoursome, colourful score. Fielding was one of a precious group of film composers - along with Alex North, Bernard Herrmann and, at the time, Jerry Goldsmith - who really didn't waste a note. Everything they put down on the paper was there for a purpose, never just to fill time, and that's what makes their music so continually-interesting.
After the striking Mexicana of the first couple of cues - always with a very subtly violent backdrop, and certainly including the dynamite main title "Bring it to Me" - the music becomes distinctly suspenseful, and here Fielding continues to shine. "Prelude to a Rape" is textbook film scoring: harsh and brutal, but in such a subtle way - a master at work. On the other side of the coin, "Killer's Rhapsody" echoes Peckinpah's balletic approach to violence, with perhaps a very slight tip of the hat to Morricone in the music - a piece of source music which also serves the drama, it's deceptively sweet and good-natured; it's a brilliant - brutally so - approach to film scoring. There's beauty here too - "Hotel Room" is tinged by tragedy, and sees Fielding at some of his most modernistic, but at its heart lies some gorgeous music, including a wonderfully lilting theme for guitar.
"Night Dig" is a brilliantly tense piece of music, with Fielding using violins and harp to create genuine suspense by actually writing music, a far cry from what modern film composers seem to do. In "Goodbye Elita" and "Getting a Head" (witty title!) Fielding adds some brass into the mix and becomes almost unbearably tense - time to hide behind the sofa! There's a spot of brutal action in "Road Kill" before the beautifully-constructed "Bennie's Remorse", so full of anguish and sorrow. Things come to an end in the dynamite, guitar-led "Bennie and Alfredo" before the surprisingly sweeping end title piece, another real jewel. Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a masterpiece - it's prototypical Jerry Fielding, but I know that many are unfamiliar with his works, so I will also add as a point of reference Alex North's Mexicana scores such as Viva Zapata! and Under the Volcano and just the merest hint of Morricone's spaghetti westerns. A joy.
Intrada offers some bonus after it, too - another complete Fielding/Peckinpah collaboration, The Killer Elite, which was in fact the last film they did together. Neither film nor score is as impressive as Alfredo Garcia, but there's still more than enough of interest here. Indeed, it opens with a thunderously dynamic main title piece of its own, with Fielding's trademark clustered brass blasting out. It's essentially a revenge film, with James Caan and Robert Duvall, but is generally considered to be amongst the director's weakest.
After the wonderful main title, the suspense music just isn't quite as compelling as in the disc's other score. It's more "standard" fare - still good, but not quite pushing over into the realms of greatness, and probably suffering by comparison with what went before on the album. Pieces such as "He's Your Buddy" and "You're Back In" are effective enough in the film, but less compelling on disc. The liner notes reveal that Peckinpah and Fielding's relationship had reached breaking point by this time, and while there is no sense of the composer just "going through the motions", there is certainly the idea that he just wasn't as inspired here as on his previous collaborations with the director.
On the plus side, "On the Stairs" is a nice little piece of jazzy music, featuring a lovely tune which turns into the love theme later in the score. There's also one terrific piece of action scoring, the six-minute "Sailing, Sailing" in which Fielding unleashes his forces and seems almost to be breaking free of the shackles which surround the bulk of the rest of the score (apart from the two titles cues). It's decent enough, but not quite up to Fielding's usual high standards.
Still, The Killer Elite is only really a bonus added to the main event, which is the sensational Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. With superb sound and predictably-interesting notes from Nick Redman (including the hilarious anecdote about Peckinpah - making his way to Fielding's house on his birthday - stopping off to urinate in the bushes outside the house - not realising that there was a roomful of people staring at him doing so, there for a surprise party).