Requiem For Billy The Kid

Requiem For Billy The Kid


Reviewed by: James Gracey

Requiem For Billy The Kid is a rather dreamy and strangely haunting documentary concerned with investigating the myth that Henry McCarty AKA William Bonney AKA Billy the Kid was never gunned down by Pat Garrett; but actually lived out the rest of his days in peace and to a ripe old age.

Requiem’s narrative unfurls like fragments of a waking dream, with Kris Kristofferson speaking as Billy from beyond the grave and doing his best gruff ‘ole boy voice-over, imbued with calm sincerity and tender reflection. Director and co-writer Anne Feinsilber also narrates, and at times she and Kristofferson even interact as though she had resurrected Billy the Kid for one last interview. These moments are strangely touching as they each appear so unguarded, familiar and earnest.

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A treatise on the American Old West, Requiem drips with a kind of nostalgic pathos, richly enhanced by the breathtakingly beautiful photography courtesy of Patrick Ghiringhelli, capturing the grandeur and intimacy of New Mexico with its vast plains, canyons, rugged vistas and sparse, never-ending scope - it’s all enough to make Sergio Leone blush.

Ponderous and reflective but never dull, Feinsilber visits Lincoln County in her attempts to explore the myths surrounding McCarty’s death, and she carries out candid and beautifully lensed interviews with various locals and ancestors of the myriad of individuals who played a part in the life and downfall of Billy the Kid.

Among those she shares time with are Tom Sullivan, who was sheriff of Lincoln County when the film was shot. He discusses, at length, his efforts to delve into the mystery surrounding the death of Billy the Kid and the bureaucracy that prevented him from doing so. At one stage we are even treated to a re-enactment of the assassination of John Tunstall, featuring several of Feinsilber’s interviewees. A close friend of Billy the Kid’s, Tunstall’s death instigated the Lincoln County War. Elsewhere, clips from The Left-Handed Gun (1958) starring Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, and Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973), with Kris Kristofferson, convey some of the key moments in the outlaw’s life story.

Perhaps a little less successful are Feinsilber’s attempts to draw parallels between Billy the Kid and French poet Arthur Rimbaud; though her efforts are extremely thought-provoking nonetheless. The screenplay by Feinsilber and Jean-Christophe Cavallin incorporates interviews, poetry, hear-say, accounts passed down through various families and song. The plaintive and evocative soundtrack - echoic slide guitar and Alt-Country compositions courtesy of Claire Diterzi – collide to striking effect. Diterzi even provides a breathless and sultry rendition of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.

Requiem is similar in tone and scope to James Marsh’s Wisconsin Death Trip (1999), with its effortless and stunning evocation of a bygone era in American history. The film also has a revered stillness akin to Andrew Douglas’ Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2003) and evokes a latent Old West Americana and the inherent melancholy that has bled out of it from the violent heritage of the States.

Kristofferson also features in the interviews as the film comes to a close, as does Rudy Wurlitzer, screenwriter of Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Both discuss Billy the Kid’s legacy and the poetic license it has received over the years, with Wurlitzer admitting that as he grows older he finds himself more aligned with the point of view of Garrett, and not the more romanticised leanings associated with Billy.

Feinsilber has created a languid, beautifully filmed and Gallic tinged venture into the life and lore of Billy the Kid. Unique insights courtesy of the ageing men she encounters lend the film a real edge: locals residing in Lincoln County, descendents of the men whose lives were allegedly entwined with Billy the Kid's, old timers propping up bars elevated to the status of all-seeing prophets whose intimate familiarity with the stories all combine to weave a rich tapestry of low-spoken truth.

Poetic, poignant and provocative; as the film’s title indicates this is a fitting requiem for one of the most famous, allegedly misunderstood and mysterious figures in American history.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2009
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Documentary examining the myth surrounding the death of Billy the Kid.
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Director: Anne Feinsilber

Writer: Jean-Christophe Cavallin, Anne Feinsilber

Starring: Arthur H, Kris Kristofferson

Year: 2006

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: France, US


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