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No. 6, May 2000
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The Osterman Weekend
a film directed by Sam Peckinpah, 1983
John Tanner: Rutger Hauer
Lawrence Fassett: John Hurt
Bernard Osterman: Craig T. Nelson
Richard Tremayne: Dennis Hopper
Maxwell Danforth: Burt Lancaster
Joseph Cardone: Chris Sarandon
Stennings: Sandy McPeak
Ali Tanner: Meg Foster
Virginia Tremayne: Helen Shaver
Betty Cardone: Cassie Yates
Sam Peckinpah was one of the most radical directors of American cinema. Born in Fresno, California, in 1925, Peckinpah went to a Marine school and joined the US-army as a marine infantryman in World War II. To his "disillusionment", his regiment never became active in the war. In 1947, he married his first wife. Then, Peckinpah began to study theatre at the University of Southern California and had some small jobs such as with the Liberace show (!). He worked as a director for the theatre and for TV. For television, Peckinpah wrote Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, The Westerner. In the midst of the 1950s, he became assistant to director Don Siegel. In 1960, his own TV-series, The Westerner, only lasted 13 weeks, after which he made some unsuccessful attempts to become a part of mainstream cinema. He remained a maverick, the "bad boy" among America's directors. Peckinpah was a victim of alcohol and drug abuse - he often behaved strangely and made himself a lot of enemies on the set. During his last years, he mostly lived in a motor home.
 
Peckinpah's first feature film was The Deadly Companions in 1961. Ride The High Country followed in 1962 featuring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in their last Western film. Some other movies by Peckinpah: In 1969, he shot The Wild Bunch, a "slow-motion Western action comedy". This film gave him a boost. In 1971 followed Straw Dogs (with Dustin Hoffman) - for which he was accused of using excessive violence, one of his trademarks. In 1972, he made the road-movie The Getaway (1972) featuring his friend Steve McQueen as well as Ali McGraw. Another film was Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (1973) with the stars of folk music Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson in the leading roles. In 1976, he shot Steiner - Cross of Iron about obedience in war. His last film was The Osterman Weekend (1983). Peckinpah died in 1984.
 
Peckinpah considered making film his personal war against Hollywood, its studios, producers, crew. In Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid he "ruined" six cutters - cutting took him usually months. Peckinpah's distinctive style includes the use of slow-motion, timelapse, film stills and short cuts. His violent scenes were often shot in slow motion and from different perspectives. Despite these facts, he tried to be realistic in these scenes. The characters in his movies do not use violence without "reason". They often are at crossroads, lose perspective and fall into an orgy of violence.
 
The Osterman Weekend is a film about multiple conspiracy, human relations, violence and morals. It begins with a scene in which Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt) takes a shower after having made love to his wife. A hidden camera in his appartment shows two men coming in, holding his wife and injecting something into her nose. She dies.
 
Only then do the audiende realize that Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster) and Stennings (Sandy McPeak) were watching the scene on videotape. It took place years ago. The KGB killed Fassett's wife - with the tacit complicity of the CIA. According to Danforth, Fassett never learned about this fact, although he searched like crazy for the murderers. But his research "apparently" made him discover a spy-ring called Omega.
 
Danforth and Stennings are impressed. Fassett proposes to "turn around" one of the three American citizens who work as KGB-agents. They are all friends of John Tanner, a television host who runs a show that digs deep into dirty politics, corruption and other scandals. Together with their wives, the four had studied together in Berkley and they meet once a year for the so-called Osterman-weekend, named after Bernard Osterman, one of the four, at whose home the meeting first took place.
 
Fassett, Stennings and Danforth first have to persuade Tanner, a critic of Danforth (who wants to become President of the United States), that his three friends are spies. Tanner has to watch tapes showing his friends in compromising situations. After his wife and son are almost kidnapped, he is convinced. Tanner's home, where the Osterman-meeting takes place this time, gets completely wired and video surveillance is installed.
 
When they arrive, the friends already know that they are under surveillance. The situation is tense. Everybody is watching everybody. But nothing is at it seems to be: Danforth, Fassett, Tanner, the friends, their wives nobody knows really what is going on. A psychological war is going on among all the people involved. Tension increases as Fassett makes strange signs such as "Omega" appear on his television. Things get out of control and violence starts.
 
The film is great on the psychological level. The acting by John Hurt, Rutger Hauer, Burt Lancaster and all the other actors is impressive. As the story goes on, one learns that some things are different than they seemed to be. Less convincing is the violence which dominates the second part of the film. Things get out of control - also regarding the director's work. A subtle psychological thriller becomes an orgy of not always convincing violence. Still, The Osterman Weekend is one of Peckinpah's best films. - For more articles on movies: Film.

 
 
 
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 6, May 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  Advertise  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.